This five-game road trip for the Oilers certainly came to an eventful end in Calgary but don’t lose focus on what was a very positive five game roadie for the club. The Oil return home with a 3-1-1 record for seven of a possible ten points and are sitting in the top wild card spot, just two points out of first place in the Pacific.
There is no shortage of storylines coming out of the recent journey away from home.
THE RESURGENCE OF Mike Smith
Mike Smith was absolutely brilliant on the trip for the Oilers. The only loss he took was due to a penalty shot by Jack Eichel in overtime of the opener in Buffalo. The following three games of the trip were a busy time for Smith, he stopped 35 of 36 against Boston, 32 of 36 against the Leafs and 35 of 37 in Montreal. I thought Tippett would have let him finish the trip off in Calgary but it wasn’t meant to be. Overall his save percentage on the trip was a stellar .926.
Smith has put himself in a spot where his coach could very well go back to him against Nashville on Tuesday and he’s likely earned at worst a spot back in a two-game rotation with Koskinen. I know the haters still exist and you may not be wrong to still lack confidence in Smith but if you are only as good as your last game Smith is pretty damn good right now.
THE EMERGENCE OF Kailer Yamamoto
How about the first impression left by Kailer Yamamoto? I was 100 percent against any Yamamoto call up the first month of the season and to be honest I remained a little skeptical even when they gave him a promotion this time around but he looks like he belongs. Prior to being recalled this year Yamamoto had one goal and five points in 26 career games, this time around he has the same amount of points in just six games. He’s been a breath of fresh air on the second line and fits in well with Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins. It appears as though he’s here to stay which is good news as long as he stays away from his stalker Rick from Oilersnation Radio.
MORE McDAVID MAGIC
Captain Connor had two oh my goodness goals on the trip. In Toronto, he humiliated Morgan Rielly and then in Calgary he scored a goal that I’ve now watched a dozen times, and have a hard time believing that someone didn’t hit fast forward on the film.
He was clocked at 44 KM per hour which means he couldn’t skate that fast through a school zone here in Edmonton without getting a ticket.
McDAVID AND DRAISAITL REMAIN APART
There were some calls from my fellow members of the media for Draisaitl and McDavid to be put back together for the third period in Montreal but Dave Tippett kept them separated and I loved it. For the first time in a long time an Oilers coach has fought the urge to simply go back to what has worked in the past.
Wins over very good teams in Boston and Toronto have proven that this team can beat elite clubs with McDavid and Draisaitl each anchoring their own line. We’ve said for months that the team is too weak on the wings for this to work but Yamamoto fitting in is the first step in solving that problem. I’m sure Tippett will still go back to the dynamic duo at some point in the season but if Benson arrives, or another winger is brought in via trade, the team may be able to keep them separated.
WAKE UP CALL FOR KHAIRA
Jujhar Khaira was healthy scratched against the Flames and it was absolutely the right call by Tippett. The big forward has two assists in his last 14 games and hasn’t score a goal since December 4th. He still contributes to the penalty kill but that job could be just as easily done by Patrick Russell. His decision making and effort simply hasn’t been there for a while and Tippett had finally seen enough. You have to think that Khaira had a lot to think about as he watched his team from the press box in their biggest game of the season against the Flames.
KASSIAN VS TKACHUK
The fireworks were saved for the final stop on the road trip and they did not disappoint. I’ve seen Oilers fans calling for Matthew Tkachuk’s head and I’ve seen other Oilers fans disappointed in Kassian because his penalty ended up being a big difference maker and to be honest, I can see it both ways. I can’t really blame Kassian for losing his mind after a player had been constantly targeting him the entire game. I also can’t understand how Tkachuk wasn’t called for a charge on either of the two big hits.
This feud has no doubt added some much-needed fire to the battle of Alberta and I’m very interested to see how Kassian handles himself in their next meeting on January 29th, which will be the Oilers first game in 11 days.
As for Tkachuk, he’s a great player but you know the way he plays is going to come back and bite him. At some point in his career, someone will see an opportunity to take advantage of him with a head shot and nobody is going to feel bad for him, until then he’ll continue to pick his spots.
Previously by Dustin Nielson:
- The Ex-Oiler Cup
- Oilers Top 10 Prospects: Winter Edition
- Blame the Keepers?
- Nielson’s Notes: Oilers/Hurricanes Edition
- Overtime Issues?