The Edmonton Oilers returned home from their first road trip of the season with six of a possible eight points and an overall record of five wins and one loss. You’ll take it.
General Manager Ken Holland was pretty active during the summer but there were still a number of question marks heading into the regular season, let’s take a look the early returns on some areas of concern.
Nugent-Hopkins with a career-high two point blank saves tonight.
— Dustin Nielson (@nielsonTSN1260) October 15, 2019
Heading into the season, goaltending was the biggest concern I had, and with the exception of a couple of giveaways from Mike Smith, I’d say so far, so good.
Even after taking the loss in Chicago, Mike Smith has a save percentage of .917 in four starts. Mikko Koskinen won both of his starts and sports a .914 save percentage and 2.41 goals against average.
If Smith and Koskinen can continue to play this well they won’t be the reason the team comes up short of a playoff spot, if they do. I’ll be very interested to see how Dave Tippett handles the rotation moving forward.
THE BLUE LINE
I think most of the fan base and local media were concerned about the right side of the Oilers blue line to start the year and that was before the team lost Adam Larsson.
Ethan Bear has looked better than everyone could have hoped and while he hasn’t been perfect he also hasn’t looked in over his head. He’ll need to keep his intensity level up and attention to detail high if he is going to continue to be asked to play over 19 minutes a night.
Joel Persson hasn’t found a way to hit the score sheet yet but he also hasn’t looked completely lost in his own end. I think he’s pretty fortunate to be playing alongside Oscar Klefbom and hopefully, he’ll be able to keep learning from his fellow Swede.
I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying the right side of the blue line has been contributing in a major way to victories but they haven’t been hurting the team as much as I thought they might.
There are two levels to secondary scoring on the Oilers. First, we have to look at the players getting an opportunity to play alongside McDavid, Draisaitl and Nuge in the top six.
James Neal has already found the back of the net eight times, with the majority of his damage being done on the power play. Zack Kassian has three goals and five points in six games and with a little luck, he probably could have had a couple more snipes. Tomas Jurco has a couple of assists in the five games he’s played and despite showing a couple of flashes he will need to be more consistent if he doesn’t want to lose his job to Nygard.
As for the bottom six, I’d say there has been more positive than negative. The only offence provided by the group was a little “European Showtime” from Haas and Nygard. The majority of players on the bottom two lines are also being asked to kill penalties and so far they’ve done an excellent job. The Oilers have one of the top penalty kills in the league and Sheahan, Khaira, Granlund and Archibald have been a major part of it. Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins lead the Oilers forwards in shorthanded time on ice but the previously mentioned forwards are the next four in line. Connor McDavid has played just over a minute on the PK through six games, last year he played almost 50 minutes in the 78 games he played.
I didn’t question Oscar Klefbom heading into the season but he definitely deserves some love. Klefbom has been an absolute stud for the Oilers. He’s made it clear to me that he is the number one defenseman and to be honest, I think they’d be screwed without him. He’s playing almost 25 minutes a night and carrying an inexperienced partner.
He’s fifth in the league in scoring among defenseman. Outside of Connor McDavid, he’s the most valuable player on this team.
THE ONLY ISSUE…SO FAR
In my opinion, the only aspect of the Oilers game that isn’t reaching or exceeding expectations would be offensive production from the bottom six but when you have a couple of the best offensive players in the entire league they can probably make up for that over the course of a season.
Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t found the back of the net yet but that’s about to change, you heard it hear first. Nuge scores against the Flyers, twice.
Previously by Dustin Nielson:
- Prediction Time
- Five Things to Ponder
- Tomas Jurco’s Road to Edmonton
- THE GREAT, GOOD, BAD & UGLY: Pre-Season Edition
- The Battle on the Blue