Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Dominating Defence

Edmonton Oilers fans were treated to another outstanding performance from Connor McDavid last night. The 20-year-old scored a hat-trick, had seven shots on goal and made at least ten dazzling plays. Just in case the NHL forgot how good the reigning MVP is, McDavid provided a healthy reminder of his skill set, and the scary fact for his opponents is he still hasn’t reached his prime.

He scored the first opening-night hat-trick in Oilers history, and he was only the fifth player in NHL history to have a natural hat-trick (three consecutive goals) on opening night, joining right-winger Radim Vrbata from 2013, left-winger Ray Getliffe in 1937, right-winger Bill Boucher in 1924 and defenceman Bert Corbeau in 1919.

McDavid was the first star, and rightfully so, but the Oilers’ defensive game was also excellent.

The Flames generated very little offensively, and Cam Talbot had an easy opening night in goal.

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“They played a heck of a team game in front of me,” said Talbot. “It was one of the most complete games we’ve played here in a long time. The guys did a great job of eliminating their odd man rushes and their quality scoring chances and I didn’t have to do a whole lot from there,” continued Talbot.

By my count, Calgary only had two quality chances. They rarely had sustained offensive zone pressure. Talbot didn’t face one rebound situation all night. The quickest shot sequence he faced was six seconds apart. That was the only time the Flames had two shots on net in under 15 seconds. The Oilers defencemen were excellent all-around. I know some people will look at the CF% of the Benning/Russell pair and cringe, but last night was an example of shot attempts that weren’t dangerous. Very few of the Flames shots were from in close. Their forwards combined for only 16 shots. The Oilers defence had 18 shots on net.

“It felt like I was going four or five minutes without a shot. Other than having to make a few saves in the second period I had an easy night. It was great,” smiled Talbot.

It was only one game and it was against the Flames, who ranked 17th in goals for last season, but I didn’t see one major breakdown last night from the Oilers defence. Their structure was sound. They moved the puck efficiently and they rarely allowed the Flames to penetrate the dangerous scoring areas.

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Their EV ice time was very even.

Klefbom  19:27
Larsson   19:11
Nurse      17:39
Russell    17:27
Benning   17:26
Gryba      17:23

The Oilers don’t have a dominant top-15 defender right now, but they have a very good top pair, and last night their second and third pairs were solid.

The forwards helped out as well, and while McDavid was a skating high-lite reel every shift, the Oilers defensive play shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Oilers were seventh in goals against last season, yet many still questioned if their defence is good enough. They don’t have an all-star cast, but they play with structure and they know the system. It is a massive advantage having the same six defenders in the same system in consecutive seasons. When Andrej Sekera returns, they will have seven who know the system. I’m certain Peter Chiarelli will add a defender at some point this season — you can never have enough good D-men in the playoffs — but last night the Oilers D corps showed they can play a sound defensive game, and contribute in the offensive zone.

Klefbom had nine shots on goal and 15 shot attempts. Larsson had eight attempts, Nurse six, Russell and Gryba four and Benning three. Thirty-four attempts from your blueline illustrates how much offensive zone time the Oilers had, but also a willingness from the defenders to be involved offensively.

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I repeat, it was only one game, but it was a very solid defensive effort for the first game of the season.


  • Strome’s line was the second best forward line. They were around the puck a lot, but just missed some quality chances. Caggiula was feisty, which he must be to be successful, and lead the Oilers with eight hits in 13 minutes. He left the game twice to get repairs, and that disrupted the line’s rhythm a bit, but overall I thought they were good for a trio that has never played in the regular season together.
  • Kailer Yamamoto looked nervous, which is normal, and when Zack Kassian was double shifting with Lucic/RNH that line was much better. Yamamoto will get better, but I always remind people the regular season is much different than the preseason. Jason Strudwick said on our show last week he believes the preseason intensity and pace is about 50% of the regular season. It is a major adjustment, especially for young players.
  • Maroon and Draisaitl manhandled the Flames defence on the Oilers first goal. Hamonic and Brodie couldn’t handle their size and as the shift unfolded you knew a goal was coming. Skilled size is such a major advantage and the Oilers have a lot of it.
  • Some of the Flames offensive players were invisible. I barely noticed Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund or Michael Frolik. Those three combined for one shot on goal. Not a good night.
  • The pre-game opening lacked excitement. Good video quality, but it didn’t pump you up. The player introductions were a debacle. The best part was when constable Michael Chernyk walked onto the ice only five days after being run over by a car. He earned a well-deserved standing ovation and ignited the crowd.


We’re trying to raise as much money as possible for the victims of last Saturday’s attack in Edmonton and we could use your help. Tickets to the Season Launch Party are on sale now for $30 and will remain on sale straight through until the date of the party, or until they sell out — whichever happens first. Your ticket will also enter you into all of the draws for NationGear prizes and the jersey giveaways that will happen throughout the night.

  • Where: The Pint Downtown
  • When: Saturday, October 7th starting at 6pm
  • Why: Because we’ve got a hankerin’ for some partyin’
  • How Much: Tickets are $30 with net proceeds going to the victims of last week’s attack in Downtown Edmonton
  • How: Tickets are available here
  • Can’t Make It but want to help? We’ll ship the swag bag to you.

For each ticket you buy, you’ll get one of the exclusive season opener t-shirts (shown above), a $10 Denizen Hall GC, a card for FREE perogies and tacos for a year at the Pint, $10 Oodle Noodle GC, a Nation sticker package, and, most importantly, a chance to kick off the season with your Nation brothers and sisters.

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  • Reinman

    Indeed a good night for the Oilers. Going forward though, I cringe everytime Ithink of Lucic’s 6 million dollar contract and NMC. I mean Maroon outplays him night in and night out. Lucic’s board play is not half of what Maroon’s is on a nightly basis. Personally I think they need to put Lucic up with McDavid and Drai, and give Maroon to RNH. So many times I see RNH slide the puck to Lucic behind the net, and he loses it. For 6 million dollars he needs to be our first line LW. And I think Maroon’s board play would help get the most out of RNH.

    • Dan 1919

      They tried that to start last year, there was hardly any chemistry between Lucic and McDavid. After a while it was clear that they had to be split up and that’s when Maroon ran with his opportunity.

      Ebs, we all knew what you see is what you get, and everyone is kind of done waiting for Nuge unfortunately because of his contract. But it still seems like Nuge is on the cusp of being an impact player, hopefully he starts capitalizing on his play and forces Chiarelli to keep him.

    • SaskFan

      I think plugging him on the top line because of his salary would be a huge mistake. There was a number of times I cringed with Lucic’s play, but I liked what he did when he was with Nuge and Kassian.

      • Reinman

        The point is that he hurts the second line more than he hurts the first. SO to get a more balanced attack, I think it would be better. Drai and McDavid can run the first line… Throw Nuge a bone here. I also hate that we are likely to lose nuge because of Lucic’s contract. These are the types of contracts and decisions that keep you from winning cups. Good thing our D is relatively economical.

      • Reinman

        Solid defensively sure, but he didn’t make many plays with the puck. The hit at the end of the game was nice, but that was nearly the first time I saw him.

      • ConAir NicCagevid

        Not hating on the guy and I obviously want him to do well, but man he is horrific handling the puck. I dont expect him to be Kane or Tavares out there, but please just learn how to accept a pass without it flying off, or be able to stickhandle with your head up. His got size, decent speed to go along with that, but some practice just handling the puck would make a lot of these negative comments disappear.

        **blows Cheeto dust off of keyboard, chugs Dr Pepper**

  • chickenStew

    Whoever put together that pre-game disaster is out of touch and incompetent. Did they honestly think that opening “song” would resonate with the average season ticket holder?
    First rule of entertainment is to know your audience.
    Second rule is to know your sh!t.

  • OriginalPouzar

    It makes sense to question if the defence is good enough given the GM expressly stated it wasn’t good enough to compete with the likes of the Ducks in the season end verbal last year and its the same defence minus a very important piece for a material portion.

    I have been very worried about the 2nd and 3rd pairings – I believe that Sekera was a big part of Russell’s game last year and, frankly, Benning hasn’t proven to be a 2nd pairing d-man and had an uneven preseason.

    Last night was a different story – Benning played exactly the way that we hoped he would on the 2nd pairing – he was excellent. Russell had been a much better puck mover throughout camp on his left side and that continued last night. If they can continue playing that way, the team will be just fine.

    I was worried about the third pairing because Nurse has lost his stable, calm, puck-moving partner (Benning) and both he and Gryba has uneven camps. Again, that wasn’t the case last night. Draryl was very good and Gryba played a solid and simple game.

    It remains to be seen if the 2nd and 3rd pairings can play this way consistently against better forwards but so far so good.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I agree that the Oilers don’t have a top 15 d-man but a very solid first pairing. WIth that said, the game Klefbom provided last night was a top 15 d-man performance, in fact, it was an elite #1 performance.

    15 shot attempts, 9 shots on net, essentially flawless defence – it doesn’t get much better. If he can provide that game night in and night out he will have developed in to a true upper echeon #1.

    Again, it remains to be seen if this type of game will be the exception for Klef or the norm. Even if its the exception, the “norm” is still pretty darn good.

  • That pre-game was embarrassing. The video was just okay. The song was horrible. The announcer really made me miss Mark Lewis. I was cringing through the whole thing – even though Gene couldn’t seem to get enough.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I agree, Jason, that the Strome line was very good. Strome is a smart player as is Jokinen and Drake was a little pitbull last night. With that said, I also thought the 2nd line had a good night, in particular Nugent-Hopkings – he was a driver out there, playing his responsible 2-way game, creating turnovers, transitioning the puck and, also, creating offensive chances – its a shame he wasn’t rewarded on the scoreboard and if he had a consistent right winger (which he’ll get once Yamamoto gets returned to Spokane at some point in the next few days/weeks), he would have produced.

    Insert Slepy as 3RW and we are even deeper.

  • What was nice last night was seeing a complete, sound game by everyone in orange. Some guys had better nights then others but there wasn’t any deadweight. Everybody knew their roles within the system and what spots to go to, nobody tried to do too much or too little. Everything looked soo routine and in rhythm to everyone. I could only re-call ONE stretch when Calgary actually had it pinned in our own zone. Why were we freaking out about the lack of moves again?

  • pynetime

    The top pairing was fantastic last night and I believe they will be for the next few years. I didn’t even notice Nurse and Gryba on the ice so I guess that means they are doing their job. Benning was good and will only get better. Kris Russell defends really well but he is a tire fire with the puck on his stick. He’s the worst passer in the league and having a guy with that contract that has no ability to produce offensively, or even get the puck out of his own zone, will hurt this team down the road.

    When you commit to paying two players $21M (those two are well worth it IMO) you cant afford to have $4M boat anchors on your team. I’m a big fan of most of the moves Chia has made, even bringing in Russell for only one year was fine last year, but this team will have a hard time finding success with Russell at 4M for 4 years. They’re gonna have a hard time giving new contracts to both Nurse and Benning after this season.

    Anything can happen when you have McDavid but they need to win the cup this year because Kris Russell will hold this team back when they run into cap issues.

  • pkam

    I don`t know if it is our defense being very good, or is the Flames offense being too bad. We need a real team, not a pretender, to prove if our defense is really good.

  • 916oiler

    Seriously though, gaudreau was barely noticeable except for the couple of times he turned the puck over to us. Ugly game from him. Keep em comin lil guy!! haha

  • OilCan2

    The best defence is keeping the puck most of the night. It’s great to see our top pair get the green light on shooting. Also in the quietly great department our bloggers have nothing to talk about this season in respect to the coaches: they are all the (greatly) same as last season.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    Okay, so this isn’t about the article, but I promised madjam I’d be around to take my shots.

    So, Connor. A while back Todd was commenting on how mature Connor was, about how he was a leader in the locker room before they even gave him a C. I thought it was just the usual coach positive reinforcement thing. But it’s not. Watching him talk and bark commands on the ice, you’d think he has been a captain for years. Also, based on what I’ve seen of him, he’s coachable. I also saw him listening to a defenseman before a faceoff.

    Which brings me to my next point. We here at FN like to think you guys are screwed in the long term and that if anyone of your big three- Cam, Connor or Leon-goes down you guys are screwed. But with Todd as your coach…I’ve said on this site before that Edmonton’s best chance at a cup lies in Todd’s hands. Last night two good teams met, battled, and we were soundly out-coached.

    You can have all the generational pieces you want, but if you don’t have the coach to move the other pieces around said generational talents…well, you’ll have Calgary during the Iggy years. Good goalie and number 1 center and nuthin’ doin’ for ten years.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that I’m a convert to the; “This thing in Edmonton is sustainable” camp.

    * fist to sky *

    I can’t help but feel a little good for Edmonton fans!! I’m sorry, Theo!! I’m sorry Lanny!!

    Madjam, and the rest of ON, sincere congrats.

    • Archer

      My hat’s off to you BtF2, it’s very hard to come on the rival fans’ website and be calm and reasonable. I’ve never trolled on another team’s fans’ site but have sure been tempted! Kudos to you for showing us how it (posting, not trolling) should be done. I think the Flames will get their spit together and that the BOA will be worth watching for years to come. When we inevitably lose some games to the Flames due to our team underperforming or the Flames just being better on a given night I hope we respond with the same grace you have displayed. Well done.

    • Not a First Tier Fan

      Class act, Bringthefire… Well put.

      Don’t worry – despite what some sensitive souls on FN write, having grudging respect for your provincial rivals doesn’t mean you have to burn your jerseys or anything.


    • Dreadguy

      Hockey discussions are generally good on both FN and ON. There are some very knowledgeable NHL fans in Alberta. BringtheFire’s post is a perfect example, not because it is Oiler-friendly, but because it is insightful. I posted twice on FN yesterday to (naively) try and stop what I thought was a few ON members trolling an interesting hockey discussion. More importantly, I wanted to contribute to what was an intelligent conversation about coaching and talent usage – something that the Oilers were among the worst in the league at for years. One more thing, the fools/trolls that keep posting on FN about how the Flames D are crap have clearly forgotten that the Oilers tried to acquire 2 of those guys in the past. Thanks for your insightful post BringtheFire.

  • Abagofpucks

    ok ill say this 2.0 class act to show up , also i think that anybodys i of the top top three players go down that team suffers so, im not gonna think about it if it happens it happens besides we had ten years of pure hell if theres a team in the nhl that can handle it its us oilers and fans , now lets kick some vancouver ass on hockey night in CANADA

  • madjam

    Do goals score stout count also as individual stats . Ovechkin got 3 goals in third period tonight plus one in shootout . Chicago hammering Pittsburg – already 9-1 , and Kane and Saad(with a hat trick) have 4 points each with Hartman . Does not look like they miss Panarin with Saad back .

  • VC Glaswegian

    10/4 good buddy grew up in both cowtown and the chuk in the late sixties and seventies in fact two brothers born in cowtown and mom and dad emigrated there from Bonnie Scotland the brave anyhews twist of fate we wound up fAn attics of wild bills Alberta oilers and I will never forget slats stating he was cheering for the flames to win that ol tin cup Stanley after they eliminated us on that own goal playoff kinda opened up my eyes on that battle of Alberta stuff which was on the brink of another civil war at that time be that as it may (Cosell Yiddish) the battle is back to whom does return our holy bit o tin Stanley back to its rightful home coup de Gris ! Eh? Si senor

    • hagar

      Where do you get the idea any battle of alberta is back? I see one team overwhelmingly destroying the other… no battle to see here. We have more important things to pay attention to than the flames… that is kid sh.t, we have real stuff to take care of.

      • theJason

        I completely agree. I do think the flames will be a good team, but all this talk about the “best defense” in the league rhetoric exists to try and hype a BOA that will not be real until the flames step things up. I think the real stuff to take care of is LA with Quick back, the Ducks, the Preds and I hate to say this but the Leafs. I really think they are the real deal and it should be a lot of fun to see those two team battle it out two times a year and hopefully in a certain playoff series which I will not name…

  • they played back to backs having just come out of training camp, compounded by suspect goaltending in each game, its not time to panic but there are obvious things to improve on, including conditioning, which is a coaches velvet hammer. Poor Phil. He may want to call in sick for a day or two.

  • The pregame was so bad I thought Sportsnet was producing it. OEG must be saving money for Connors contract already as that was a weak sauce offering for a home opener. I suspect they worked long and hard on the offering but it died like a Wanye pick up line.
    Connor on the other hand did not.

  • Connor McFly

    Looking ahead at the Oilers shedule for Oct. they only play 10 games. Nov has 17 sheduled contests against some fairly stiff competition. If the forwards continue to engage in the back-check allowing the D to step a bit they will win a lot of puck battles, recover pucks and break up cycles. That is a lot of ‘ifs’ over a now 81 game regular season. I believe the basic structure is established, now the Oil have to stay committed to it. Chiarelli and the coaches can address individual player performance as needed. GO OIL !

    • camdog

      Most people are confused by our defence. Some think an AHL defence man in Marancin is an upgrade over Russell. You can have all the good advanced stats in the world, but like with Fayne that doesn’t necessarily make you an NHL d-man.

      • Chris Prongers Rake

        I’m not an advanced stat guy, if the defenseman can keep the guy to the outside, clear the front of the net, block the odd shot and make a good first pass he is useful and that is what Russell does. Is he flashy? Nope, but he doesn’t bleed grade A scoring chances when he’s on the ice, his lack of offense I am fine with, that’s what Benning, Klefbom and the Shin Pad Assassin (Sekera) are for. Russell fills a role, one that can’t be measured using advanced stats.

  • smiliegirl15

    Having the same coach sure makes a difference too doesn’t it? The stability of a well run management office and coaching staff has certainly contributed to their overall success as well. Now it’s up to the players to play as many games like they did on Wednesday as they can.
    Hopefully someday soon, Drai can run his own line and make the Oilers a scoring machine.