The NHL season is five days old and there have already been many great individual performances. We have seen 19 three-point (or more) performances thus far. Connor McDavid has two while 17 other players including Leon Draisaitl have one. Brad Marchand had a five-point game, Auston Matthews had a four-goal performance while Ryan O’Reilly and David Pastrnak each had a 2-2-4 performance.
It has been fun to watch and hopefully the offence continues.
TEN THINGS I SAW
1. The Oilers are so much better at breaking the puck out of the zone this year. Rarely do we see passes in skates, or high up on glass and out. We haven’t seen them hemmed in for lengthy periods every second or third shift, which is what occurred often last season. I know some stats suggested Kris Russell struggled on zone exits, but his outlet passing has been great. I like how when Sekera sets up behind net with time, Russell slides over to left side so he has better passing lanes. He’s shown really good hockey sense, and he’s also not being asked to block a lot of shots, which helps him showcase his best skills.
2. Tyler Pitlick looks like a completely different player. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s using his size and speed every game. He ran over Johan Larsson last night and in his limited minutes he’s looked good.
3. The Oilers are clearly not a dominant team yet. Sweeping Calgary was a great way to start the season, but the Oilers laid an egg last night versus the Sabres. The loss was met with extreme nervousness among many in Oilersnation. I understand your concern, considering you’ve witnessed ten years of losing, but I wouldn’t be too worried until I see how they play on Tuesday.
Every team will have a bad game, but the good ones respond in their next game. In previous years the Oilers would be brutal for weeks, but I don’t expect we will see that this year. They will have losing streaks, of course, but I wouldn’t be asking to fire the coach, trade the goalie or trade half the team after one bad loss. The frustrating aspect is it seems every time they taste success then end up throwing it up soon after.
4. Benoit Pouliot’s six minor penalties in seven periods is not good. He didn’t play a shift in the second or third period yesterday and missed a few shifts in Calgary as well. He has to find the fine line between forechecking aggressively and making dumb plays. The rest of the team will take notice when a coach benches a veteran, especially after Pouliot scored in the first period. He took his second penatly a few shifts after his goal and didn’t see the ice again. It’s a tough decision for a coach to bench a veteran, but McLellan doing it this early in the season was the right move.
The Oilers need Pouliot. He does more good than bad, and historically he has drawn more penalties than he’s taken. However, through seven periods this year it was clearly one-sided in favour of him making trips to the sin bin. This benching was about the past two games, nothing more. I believe Pouliot will help the Oilers and the coach sent him, and the team, a reminder they must avoid losing habits.
5. Pouliot didn’t hide after the game. I, as well as Ryan Rishaug, asked for him to come out and talk and he did. “I had it coming to me,” he started. “I know I can’t do that. For me my game is my stick and being first on the forecheck, but it is about being smarter. I don’t want to be less aggressive. It is a big part of my game, but I don’t want to play on my heels. Next game I will be fine,” he said.
“I knew it was coming to be honest. It is tough. It sucks. You see a coach do that to any player and you don’t want to be in that situation. It was the right message to send,” Pouliot replied when I asked him about the timing of the benching so early in the season.
It was the right move by the coach. Benching a second line player carries much more weight and gets the attention of the team much more than sitting a fourth line player. The Oilers need Pouliot and he’ll be motivated to show his coach he can be aggressive and smart at the same time.
6. Russell has been the Oilers best D-man though three games. He has been good in both ends. His passing has been stellar, and he isn’t being asked to block a lot of shots. It allows him to play to his strength — puck skills. His skating has also been a huge addition to Oilers blueline. He gets to pucks quickly and has consistently been making tape-to-tape passes.
7. Milan Lucic was signed to add some experience and skill to this team. He said this about the performance.
“It is on us as players. We didn’t come to play like we did in the first two games where we played with emotion and excitement. It is nice we got the first two wins, but we need to realize there is a long way to go before we get our game where we really need to be. It doesn’t come down to systems or anything like that, tonight it was more about not having emotion and not being ready to play,” said Milan Lucic.
Lucic wasn’t irate, at least not outwardly, when I spoke with him after the game. He was disappointed of course, but he wasn’t ranting and raving. He spoke calmly, like a veteran who has seen his team soil the sheets before, but he sounded more interested in how they would respond moving forward.
“Come ready to play like we did in the first two games. It was fun, it is nice to play with excitement, emotion and intensity. You have to be willing to look yourself in the mirror and know the mistakes you made in a game like this, but you have to have short-term memory and turn the page and be ready to play the next one. That is what character teams do. It is what winning teams do and teams who have an identity do. It is something you have to build, and it is not something that happens overnight. We are still learning as a group and today was a learning lesson on how not to play,” said Lucic.
8. Head coach Todd McLellan was not impressed and was very clear what irked him the most.
“The preparation. We looked like the Bad News Bears. We had a five o’clock game and we had guys falling all over the place, we didn’t execute, our passing was poor, positionally from the goalie thru to the forwards no one was ready to play. I think you learn lessons from each and every game, and we learnt we aren’t quite ready to take a step, we can’t handle prosperity yet. We just got kicked right between the legs and we deserved it.”
He was open about why he benched Pouliot.
“He took three penalties in Calgary in a 15-minute span and he took two in about a 12-minute span. I don’t want to be out there if I’m penalty killing, blocking shots all the time for him for stupid penalties. He can sit and watch, pretty simple. We have some foundation or fabric things that we have to continue to fix as an organization and stupidity is one of them.”
He wasn’t buying you could blame the loss on Talbot.
“Or would a better team recover from it (bad third goal by Talbot) and help him out, because I saw him save 22 in Calgary in the first period and save our asses. Cam struggled immensely, but sometimes the team bails out the goaltender,” McLellan said.
How will the Oilers work on being more consistent come Tuesday when Carolina is in town?
“Well, I have to get the emotion out of me and the coaching staff. We are part of the problem, we didn’t have the team prepared so I have to take a lot of the responsibility myself. The preparation and competitiveness was most concerning for me.
9. We saw the first situation of an NHL spotter decide a player needs to leave the game and be evaluated. Adam Larsson slid into the neck/head of Jonas Gustavsson and the Oilers goalie stayed down. He was attended to by Oilers trainer TD Forss, and stayed in the game. Gustavsson was moving his neck side-to-side as it took the clear brunt of contact. He stayed in the game, but a few minutes later the NHL spotter ordered him out and he went to the evaluation room.
“It was phoned to our trainer that he had to come out,” explained McLellan. I asked McLellan if Gustavsson was cleared to return after being looked at during the second intermission. “In this situation (after evaluation) we kept him out,” was his response.
The NHL is obviously very leery of head injuries, and sometimes a blow to the neck can lead to concussion symptoms so the spotter decided he would come out. Why they waited so long is the only question I have. What did the spotter see in the minutes after play resumed to make them decide Gustavsson needed to come out?
It will be interesting to watch how the system unfolds during the season.
10. The Anaheim Ducks are off to another slow start, 0-2-1, and the longer Hampus Lindholm sits out the better their chances of NOT making the playoffs become. The Ducks overcome a brutal 1-9 start last season, but if they dig a deep hole again this year they won’t be climbing out of it. Lindholm and his agent gain more bargaining strength with every Ducks loss.
- I don’t understand why some people were so up in arms about the Oilers moving their mandated day off from today to Wednesday. If the players agree it is allowed. They knew they played like crap and the captains, along with the coaching staff, agreed to practice today instead.
One underlying potential benefit of moving the day off to Wednesday is it allowed Cam Talbot to get some practice time in. He and his wife will be having their twins on Wednesday. She will be induced and he would have missed Wednesdays practice, so this allowed him to avoid going four days without a practice.
- We are having another hockey draft for Tuesday night’s games. It is free to enter and you win cash if your team has the most points. It is exclusive for Gregor Show listeners and Oilersnation readers. You can enter to play at draftkings.com/gregor1260. Good luck.
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