Not very often do you get an opportunity to spend a couple of days digesting the first game of any regular season. We have had the opportunity to do just that following the Oilers 5-2 loss to the Devils.
For years I’ve been frustrated by the lack of positivity in any Good, Bad & Ugly article so this season I’m going to mix in some great. The problem here is that I’m not sure I’d use the word great to describe anything about the Oilers game on Saturday but I’m a trooper so I’ll do my damnedest.
THE GREAT: MILAN LUCIC
I’m not saying Lucic had a great game but I am willing to say that it was great to see him play the way he did. I do think it’s fair to say Lucic had a good game but I don’t think I’d go as far as saying it was one of his best as an Oiler. The big fella produced offensively, played physical and certainly looked like he gave a damn which is more than you could say about the second half of his season last year. I still think he fought the puck at times but overall it was a step in the right direction. Production aside if the Oilers can get that type of game from Lucic on a consistent basis this season they’ll happily take it. A great step in the right direction.
THE GOOD: CONNOR MCDAVID
Connor McDavid was good, not great, in the season opener and yet when it was all said and done he finished with two points. His first helper was a sign of things to come as he flew down the ice and circled around behind the net, which allowed his teammates to catch up, before finding Lucic wide open in the slot. If McDavid was just good in Game 1 what’s it going to look like the rest of the way this season? His is line had a couple of pretty good looks at even-strength that could have very easily ended up in the back of the net.
THE BAD: BENNING & NURSE
It was an awful first game of the season for Matt Benning and his partner Darnell Nurse didn’t do much better. Benning looked like a defenseman who just realized his teams needs him to play top-four minutes this season and because of that he panicked in almost every situation. Darnell Nurse should be used to top-four minutes so I’m not sure what his excuse would be but if he eventually wants to cash in on a big money contract he’ll need to avoid having any more games like that. Speaking to a small group of the media on Monday Todd McLellan did not hesitate to point out that his second pair struggled mightily.
McLellan spoke in depth about what both Nurse and Benning are capable of. “They’re both still generally young defensemen, they are playing big minutes and that’s part of growing up, eventually in years two, three of your career, maybe four, you need to assume that role. You’ve got to pick your spots when you go on offence, those two should be primetime defenders, they should be able to shut other teams offensive players down. They should be good penalty killers. They should be able to initiate breakouts and move pucks up ice. I think they can both play physical, they’ve got a lot of the tools.”
He doesn’t sound like a coach that plans on splitting the pair up before the team faces the Bruins on Thursday. I spoke about his options a bit on Inside the Nation on Monday. He could move Russell up to right side with Darnell Nurse and play Garrison on the third pair with one of Bouchard or Benning. It’s not time to make that move just yet but he may be forced to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.
THE UGLY: CAM TALBOT
What was the worst thing about Cam Talbot’s subpar 2017-18 season? If your answer was allowing a goal on the first shot of the game way too many times, congratulations you’re a winner. He was beaten on the first shot 14 times last year and then it happened again on the very first shot of the new season. That’s ugly, folks. I thought Talbot had settled in nicely and then he left a puck behind the net for nobody and all of a sudden his team was down 3-1. For a goaltender that played like he lacked confidence between the pipes last year this was a less than ideal way to start the season.
At this point, I’m not worried about Talbot but there’s no denying that it was an ugly start to the season. I’m going to drop a bold statement right now, a hot take you could say. “CAM TALBOT WILL NOT ALLOW THE FIRST SHOT ON GOAL TO GO IN 13 MORE TIMES THIS SEASON” – Dustin Nielson, October 9th, 2018.
BONUS UGLY: THE SECOND PERIOD
It’s your lucky day, a bonus ugly! If the Oilers play like they did in the second period against the Devils at any other point on this road trip they might as well not even come back to Edmonton. It was one of the most lacklustre periods I’ve seen this team play since Todd McLellan was hired. The Devils did whatever they wanted and the worst part was that the Oilers looked like they couldn’t do anything about it. Maybe we should look at this from a positive perspective, they played their worst period of the season in Game 1, it can’t get any worse, can it? I’ll let you decide.