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The day after: James Neal and a new look Oilers group

Welcome to the day after where we dive into what’s happening with the Oilers the day after a game. Here’s last night’s post-game article. 

There was one notable member of the Edmonton Oilers who rejoined the team yesterday: James Neal.

Arguably he’s one of the most controversial players on the roster but Edmonton looks different last night. They played a more mature game and arguably a tighter game than two days prior against the Leafs.

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Edmonton didn’t give up many major glaring chances, beyond Adam Larsson’s horrible giveaway on the Jimmy Vesey goal that made it a 2-1 game, and they played tight in nearly all facets of the game. I’d like to think that in some way, Neal had some sort of an impact in that way. He’s a veteran player and all night, Louie DeBrusk made mention of Neal talking strategy on the bench with different groups.

While Neal in his own right looked sluggish and slow, there’s no denying that was likely to be the case after missing training camp and the first games of the regular season. He did, however, give the Oilers some great looks down low in front of the Leafs net and on the powerplay, was able to actually make some plays instead of having the puck die on his stick.

At one point, McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins were seemingly strategizing about a 5×5 shift, and Neal popped over to chat too. Sometimes it’s the small things from these vets that can make the difference.

Say what you will about Neal and his contract, but there’s undeniably still value to be had in him as a player and a leader for this young Oilers group.

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The way the Oilers played, too, was a much tighter game than they have all year. Yes, Toronto controlled much of the game in the first period with more pressure in the offensive zone, but Edmonton responded well to it Edmonton controlled the shot advantage at 5×5 26-22 and they dominated in expected goals with 56.57 percent share.

There’s one thing that’s impressed me after their last two showings and it’s that the Oilers are playing different styles of game. Against the Leafs, they recommitted themselves to playing a defensive style of game and it’s a game the team needs to play. They’ve bled chances, shots and goals early in the season and their scoring wasn’t there. It led to Edmonton losing.

Playing defence first is going to give the Oilers more chances to turn the tide the other way and allow for opportunities of their own. Edmonton needs to continue to work on their transition game, too.

All in all, it was a game the Oilers really should’ve won, or at the very least been able to squeeze out a Bettman point.

In terms of impact to the Oilers’ playoff chances, the loss in regulation drops Edmonton five percentage points from 42 percent down to 37 percent, while the Leafs climb to 81 percent.

Edmonton’s now off to Winnipeg for a Sunday game against the Jets.

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Backhanders…

  • Jesse Puljujarvi. Man, does he look good early on. You’re probably getting annoyed of me saying that but I’ll continue to stand by him until the day I die. Last night he played 2:30 minutes at 5×5 with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the trio out shot-attempted the Leafs 8-0, and generated six scoring chances. They should get a longer look. More on this later today…
  • Mikko Koskinen posted a .955 save percentage at 5×5 last night, which is just tremendous. He was rock solid, once again, for the Oilers and kept them in the game all night long.
  • Alex Chiasson, Caleb Jones and William Lagesson were all scratches for the Oilers. I’d like to see Jones get back into some more games here sooner rather than later.
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Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]