After splitting the first two games of the 2021 season with the Vancouver Canucks, the Oilers will now host the Montreal Canadiens for a two-game set going tonight and Monday.
1. I know it’s been said before, but one of the things I love most about this strange season is the two-and three-game baseball-style series teams are going to be playing against each other. It’ll definitely add intensity and help build rivalries as it adds a completely new dimension to how the season is played. Going in and pulling off a two-game sweep against a divisional rival is a huge swing. If you’re the team that lost the first game of the mini-series, as the Oilers did on Wednesday, the next game suddenly becomes a must-win.
2. That’s exactly what happened in the two-game set against Vancouver. The Oilers came out a bit sluggish in the first game and looked somewhat rusty, especially on the power-play. The Canucks ended up with a 5-3 victory and a chance to kick the season off with a series sweep on the road, which would have been a huge early four-point swing for them in the standings. But the Oilers came out and looked much, much better in game two. They played like a team that had to win.
3. Connor McDavid looked like a man possessed on Thursday. There was quite a bit to like about Edmonton’s game two performance, but it really was one of those ‘McDavid Goes Nuclear’ games. McDavid got held off the scoresheet on Wednesday night and it looked like he took that personally and completely exploded in the re-match.
4. It isn’t often that you see a player score a hat-trick and still think “wow, he could have had more.” McDavid completely dominated the Canucks when he was on the ice. In the 16 minutes he played at even strength, the Oilers fired 25 shots towards the net while the Canucks were only able to muster eight. The Oilers also generated a whopping 11 high-danger chances with McDavid on the ice, meaning they had more legitimate, in-close scoring chances than Vancouver did shot attempts in those 16 minutes. Absolutely insane stuff.
5. In the first game, Bo Horvat was matched up against McDavid and Vancouver’s captain won the head-to-head battle. The Canucks outshot the Oilers 11-to-6 in the eight even-strength minutes in which Horvat and McDavid were on the ice together. This, again, is why I like the back-to-backs and the mini-series between teams. McDavid immediately got a chance for a re-match and he completely dominated. In the second game, the Canucks didn’t put a single puck towards the net in the five minutes in which Horvat and McDavid were on the ice together.
6. As fun as it is to watch one of those absurd McDavid games, the Oilers can’t expect that to happen every night. The team needs more from other players in the lineup if they’re going to be successful. A key part of Ken Holland’s off-season was adding depth up front so the top two lines didn’t have to be relied on exclusively to win the team games. Through two games, the bottom-six has been outscored 4-to-0 at even strength.
7. The fourth line has been completely caved in so far. Jujhar Khaira and Alex Chiasson have been outshot 23-to-4 and 24-to-5 respectively at even strength and they’ve been on the ice for two goals against. Tyler Ennis, who played the first game, was outshot 10-to-3, and Devin Shore, who drew in for the second game, got outshot 15-to-3. Nobody is expecting the fourth line to be world-beaters, but they can’t be getting hammered this hard.
8. On the other side, the Oilers will be hosting a Montreal Canadiens team that hasn’t played since its season-opener on Wednesday night, where they were edged out by the Leafs 5-4 in overtime. They’ll be well-rested and hungry for their first win of the season tonight.
9. The Habs will be a very interesting team to watch this year. They were wildly mediocre last season, going 31-31-9 before the season was paused, but snuck into the expanded playoffs and won their play-in round against the Penguins. I don’t think a five-game series after a three-month break is something to look too far into, but the interesting thing with Montreal is how good they were against Canadian teams last season. They put together a 10-3-2 record against the other Canadian clubs, suggesting they match up well head-to-head against their new divisional rivals.
10. The only Canadian team the Habs didn’t beat last season? The Oilers. Edmonton edged out the Habs in the first meeting between the two teams by a score of 4-3 with the shots even at 26-to-26. In the second meeting, Montreal heavily outshot the Oilers but Edmonton earned a 4-2 win on the strength of a 35-save performance by Mike Smith.
11. The Habs will feature a different challenge for the Oilers than the Canucks did. While Montreal doesn’t have a superstar up front, they boast quality depth and four forward lines with speed and skill that forecheck very effectively and can score goals. I mentioned earlier that Edmonton’s bottom-six needs to be better. That’ll be especially key against the Habs. McDavid will see a lot of ice-time against a very good defender in Shea Weber and a strong two-way centre in Phil Danault. The third and fourth lines will have to step up their play in order to take some pressure off of McDavid as he goes up against some stronger defensive opponents than Vancouver could offer.