The first two games of the regular season were almost complete opposites for the Edmonton Oilers. They laid an egg in the season opener and looked a lot like the team that was bounced from the qualifying round by the Chicago Blackhawks. Their struggles in the defensive zone were worrisome. However, they rebounded with an excellent performance on Thursday night and brought themselves back up to .500 on the season.
Here are ten takeaways I have from the Oilers first two games of the regular season:
1 – THE BOUNCEBACK
The Oilers responded beautifully to their opening night loss. This fan base would have gone a little crazy if the team would have fallen to 0-2 on the season, and understandably so, but you have to give credit to this group for the way they bounced back. They didn’t just win on Thursday night, they dominated the Canucks.
There’s no doubt that this group is going to suffer its fair share of crushing defeats this season so a little adversity to start the season wasn’t the worst thing in my opinion. They’ll need to be resilient this season.
Another encouraging sign about this group is how well this team plays in the second half of back-to-backs. They’re now 8-1-0 since the beginning of last season. In a season where there will be a lot of back-to-backs, ten more to be exact, being able to win more of those games than you lose will be huge.
2 – LIVE AND DIE BY THE STARS
This isn’t exactly new for the Oilers and while they did improve their depth this offseason, I still think wins will be hard to come by if McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t at their best on a given night.
That’s fine though. They have the best 1-2 punch in the league and I have faith that Draisaitl and McDavid will be able to carry the Oilers to the postseason, but I think expecting them to win a lot of games because their depth shines through or because their defence shut down the other teams’ stars might be foolish. It will happen once in a while for sure, but on most nights, the Oilers’ chances to win will live and die with their superstar forwards.
3 – HELLO SLATER KOEKOEK
A week ago, I didn’t think that Slater Koekoek would play in either of the Oilers’ first two games of the season. Well, not only did he play, but he played really well. I’d go as far as to say that Koekoek was the Oilers’ fourth-best defenseman in the two games against the Canucks.
Part of that is because the pairing of Jones and Larsson really struggled but I’ve been very impressed with a handful of things in Koekoek’s game. He skates well and he doesn’t make very many mistakes with the puck and for a third-pairing defenseman, that’s all you can really ask of him. I’m optimistic that he can continue to give Dave Tippett solid minutes on the third pairing.
4 – TALKING ABOUT THE POWERPLAY
The first powerplay attempt that the Oilers had this season was not good, they looked disorganized. Since then, they’ve been consistently looking better with each chance they’re getting and in game two, they managed to score two goals and put home one more just after a powerplay expired.
Their powerplay at a historic level last season and it looks like they’re going to be just as good this season, if not better. Having Tyson Barrie on the blueline is huge. The fact that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can set him up for one-timers gives this top powerplay unit another lethal option.
What I will say is that I wouldn’t mind seeing one of Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto get a look with the top unit over Alex Chiasson. Chiasson has been missing a lot of scoring chances and I think one of the young players might really flourish in that spot.
5 – MIKKO KOSKINEN
Surprisingly, Mikko Koskinen started both games against the Canucks and it turned out to be a good thing. After posting a 0.857 save percentage in the first game, he followed it up with a .950 SV% in game two.
With Mike Smith hitting the shelf for the next few weeks, Koskinen will need to shoulder a big load for the Oilers. After watching him handle back-to-back games well to start the season, Oilers fans should be confident in the big Finns’ ability to take on an increased workload for the rest of the month.
6 – WELCOME BACK, JESSE
I thought Puljujarvi had a bit of an up and down performance in the season opener. He made some really good plays with the puck and made a great play on Quinn Hughes, but at times still looked like he was just stumbling around the ice.
He didn’t stumble one bit in the second game against the Canucks. He was a force. He used his size well, forced turnovers, and generated seven shots on goal. Dave Tippett rewarded him with some time on the team’s top powerplay unit as well.
The first two games have been very encouraging for Puljujarvi.
7 – KAILER YAMAMOTO
If he isn’t already, Kailer Yamamoto will be a fan favourite by the end of this season. I was a little worried that some people were expecting him to be a point-per-game producer this season and I just wasn’t sure if that was a realistic expectation to put on a player who still hadn’t played a full season in the NHL.
Through two games he’s continued to be ferocious on the forecheck and has shown a willingness to crash the net. It’s great to see and is quite frankly something the Oilers top-six needs more of.
I’m still not willing to say that he’s going to get 50+ points, but he’s a legit top-six winger and I feel very confident in saying that, even though it’s only been two games.
8 – THE GERMAN CONNECTION
The duo of Leon Draisaitl and Dominik Kahun has been pretty good through two games for the Oilers. Kahun looked comfortable playing top-six minutes and there is clearly some natural chemistry between him and Draisaitl.
It’s very early, but the Kahun signing looks like $900k well spent.
9 – BAD BLOOD IS BREWING
For the most part, the Oilers’ first two games against the Canucks were pretty tame, but you can tell there is a bit of a rivalry brewing. The Canucks were not very pleased when Connor McDavid steamrolled Quinn Hughes late in the season opener and they took exception to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s hit on Brock Boeser in game two.
On top of that, I noticed Zack Kassian starting to chirp the Canucks bench a bit more in the second game and Antoinne Roussell started a few scrums with both Jujhar Khaiara and Darnell Nurse.
I expect that by the midway point of the season, there will be no shortage of bad blood between the Oilers and Canucks. I also think the same will be true for the Oilers and most teams in the division. Even if the first few games are tame, by the third or fourth time they see each other, there will be some hate.
10 – STRESS LEVEL MAX
Those were the three words I used to describe the first two games of the Oilers season and I would imagine that most Oilers fans would agree with me. This season is going to be an absolute rollercoaster and with every game being against a division rival, I would not blame fans for being on pins and needles every single night.
It’ll be fun, but damn, this year is going to be a stressful one for everyone involved.