The Edmonton Oilers had the opening night game in hand for two periods and let the Vancouver Canucks creep back into the contest in the third period. A late goal by Quinn Hughes that goaltender Mike Smith probably should have had tied the game at two and sent the 2021-22 opener into overtime. Five minutes solved nothing and Smith was excellent in the shootout, bringing home a win for the team.
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There was a lot to like about the game, even if the third period wasn’t perfect. From a strong penalty kill to some big minutes by some key players, here are a few takeaways worth noting.
Mike Smith Was Excellent
The veteran netminder will be the first to admit he’d like to have that second goal from Hughes back, but outside of that blip, Smith was outstanding. He made 36 saves on 38 shots for a .947 save percentage. Many of the stops were high-grade scoring chances for the Canucks but Smith was up to the task.
Most of all, Smith was tremendous in the shootout, bouncing back and making up for the game-tieing goal. Head coach Dave Tippett
Too Many Penalties
Tippett said the Oilers took too many penalties, which was true. The bigger concern might have been that a couple of them were untimely and unnecessary ones. Kris Russell smashed Tanner Pearson into Smith and Tyson Barrie took a tripping penalty that led to a goal for Vancouver.
All that said, the Canucks were only 1-for-5 and the Oilers penalty kill was strong. Warren Foegele and Kailer Yamamoto were on point helping the Oilers keep the Canucks off the board, with Yamamoto visibly strong and getting 18:36 for the game and 4:41 seconds short-handed. Only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played more minutes down a man.
Evan Bouchard Got Big Minutes
Speaking of players who played well short-handed, Evan Bouchard was a machine with 6:01 on the penalty kill. He wasn’t just relied on in that role either. Bouchard finished the game with 22:07, which placed him third on the blue line for minutes played. In the final moments of the game, Tippett had Bouchard paired with Darnell Nurse which is a telling sign.
Bouchard was slotted in on the third pair, but quickly worked his way up and Tippett was giving him all sorts of opportunities. He finished with only one shot on goal, but he put one off the post and had a couple blocked that would have otherwise been solid chances.
Zach Hyman Produced Despite Not Being on Top Line
Hyman worked hard and scored on the power play despite not being on the top line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Hyman was a workhorse, playing in all sorts of situations. Tippett said he told Hyman in advance that he’d be using him a lot and Hyman’s response was “Ok.”
I wrote prior to the game that it was a head-scratching decision that Hyman was placed on the second line and Edmonton loaded up the top line. It’s a great sign that Hyman was able to essentially drive his own line and didn’t need the Oilers top two stars to be effective.
McDavid said of Hyman’s game, “Any time a player can come in and play in all three phases of the game and do what he did, it’s impressive and massive for a team.”
Darnell Nurse Picks Up Where He Left Off
The last fans saw of Nurse, he was playing massive minutes in a long playoff contest versus the Winnipeg Jets. On Wednesday night, Nurse was all over the ice again. He might have been the Oilers’ best player. He played 32:24, had six shots, eight hits, four blocked shots, and an assist.
If he continues to play like this, people who were critical of his new contract won’t be critical for long. He was overlooked in the Norris Trophy voting and there’s a sense he might have something to say about that this season.
Kyle Turris the Hero
You have to feel good for Turris who got the shootout winner for the Oilers. A player who was waived just ahead of the regular season, cleared waivers, and was kept on the team, Turris worked hard in the offseason and was hoping to reinvent himself as a winger in a bottom-six role.
He didn’t do much during the three periods, but Tippett had Turris on his list of five shooters if it went that far.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”