The wait is finally over. Oilersnation is ready to explode with excitement. I sense most fans are not expecting Connor McDavid to deliver a playoff spot in his inaugural NHL campaign, but you’ve been patiently waiting 172 days to see McDavid play his first NHL game.
The anticipation has been building ever since Bill Daly unveiled the Oilers logo on the gold card back on April 18th. Fans across the NHL are excited for another season, but in Edmonton there is a renewed passion among a fanbase that hasn’t been this enthusiastic since the spring of 2006.
McDavid isn’t the only new face in the lineup tonight. Nine players will play their first NHL game in Oilers colours, and the opening night roster has eleven different names from last year’s opening roster.
The Oilers have had a major overhaul since we saw them last April, and the fans and every person within the Oilers organization is hoping “last place hockey” is a thing of the past.
I’m curious to see which line Ken Hitchcock tries to match up against McDavid. Will he go with Stastny’s skilled line or have Backes try to wear him down? The absence of Eberle makes it easier for opposing coaches to decide which line to run your top D pair against.
Backes, who isn’t afraid to try and intimidate skilled players, said this about McDavid:”We play a hard nosed, blue collar, in your face style. He’s going to experience that. We’ll see how he responds.”
This is not earth shattering. Of course teams will get in his face, but he possesses speed very few NHL players have. The NHL is the best league in the world, and even a phenom like McDavid will need time to adjust.
I think Nugent-Hopkins will benefit a lot from not having to face the top D pair all the time. I expect a 60-point season from RNH this year. He looks poised for a career year.
I’m also interested to see if Todd McLellan tries to match lines and D pairs early, or if he wants to see how players react in different situations. It is only one game, and I’m certain he will switch things up as the season goes, but tonight will give us a peak into his thinking on line match ups.
- The Oilers are 19-12-4 in season openers. They’ve lost their last two, but Hall, Eberle, RNH and Yakupov were all victorious in their first NHL games.
- Only the Tampa Bay Lightning (59%) and Minnesota Wild (57.1%) have a better winning percentage than the Oilers in season openers. The Lightning have won 13 of 22 games, the Wild won eight of 14, while the Oilers and Avalanche have won 19 of 35 games (54.2%).
- Blues D-man Colton Parayko is from St.Albert. He was drafted 86th overall in 2012 after staring for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in the AJHL. He spent the past three seasons at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. When his NCAA season ended last spring he then played 17 regular season and five playoff games for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. What a great success story. His family and friends should be extremely excited tonight. The 6’5″, 215 pound defender has a cannon of a shot.
- Since 1987, the only 18 year old rookies to have a multi-point game in their NHL debut were Alexandre Daigle (1993), Shane Doan (1995) and Nathan MacKinnon (2013). They all registered two assists.
- I’m already starting to read and hear “He isn’t a #1 D-man” in regards to Andrej Sekera. Of course he isn’t, and no one should expect him to be. He is more of a #2 or a great #3, very similar to Jeff Petry. No one should expect Sekera to control the game. Most dominant elite defenders make $7 million, unless they are younger players in the final year(s) of a long deal like Victor Hedman for instance. Before you start piling on Sekera, you should realize he isn’t a #1 defender, and he isn’t paid like one either.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Besides McDavid, what else does Edmonton have to offer? They have plenty of offensive weapons, but outside of the McDavid and Taylor Hall line they should be no problem. With an injury to Jordan Eberle, it seems Anton Slepyshev will get the first crack at being McDavid’s right wing.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins centers the second line with Benoit Pouliot and Teddy Purcell on his wings, and could prove to be a moderate threat. The Oilers bottom six is a scattered group of forwards who just can’t seem to get settled into the NHL. The Blues defense should have a fairly easy night to start the season, and a nice shot of confidence before starting their road trip.
Speaking of defense, the Oilers back end is riddled with even more question marks than the offense. St. Louis will likely be shredding the Oiler defensemen all night, like they did all of last season. Vladimir Tarasenko managed four points in three games against the Oilers last year and I predict he will open the season with a goal Thursday.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers aren’t overwhelmed, but the Blues are a bad matchup. Oilers lose 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid registers a point. Crosby (0-1-1), Lindros (1-0-1), Lemieux (1-1-2) and Gretzky (0-1-1) all produced a point in the NHL debut.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Midway through the first period, Hall drives the net and is stopped by Elliott. Backes comes and gives Hall a facewash, but Slepyshev and McDavid enter the pile immediately, Gryba and Reinhart race in from the blueline and a scrum ensues. Oilers fans watching live at the Pint are momentarily stunned and watch in silence, but then they erupt in cheering. The Oilers are unified. Baggedmilk gets a little too excited cheering and spills his beer on a guy wearing a new Oilers orange jersey. They stare at one another, but Jeanshorts jumps in and yelps, “If the Oilers are unified we have to be as well!” The crowd ignores him and goes back to watching the game. Baggedmilk buys the jersey guy a beer.
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