The 2021 NHL season is well underway and it’s been a rocky road for our beloved Oilers, but the tides seem to be turning and that’s left me with a lot of random thoughts rolling around in my head.
CONNOR & LEON
I’m starting to convince myself that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl made some kind of wager amongst themselves in the offseason regarding who would win the Art Ross Trophy because both of these dudes are on a heater like I’ve never seen. I mean, we’re talking about a pair of guys that are both on pace to clear 100 points — McDavid: 112 point pace, Draisaitl: 103 point pace — in a 56-game season. That’s ridiculous. I’m too young to have seen the Gretzky/Messier years so this is the first time in my life that I’ve seen two Oilers this dominant and it’s a gift that I will never get tired of watching. Seeing these two guys basically do as they please right now is something pretty special and I hope we’re all taking a few minutes to appreciate their talent. I know the sailing isn’t always smooth around these parts, but these two dudes make every game worth the time and I am forever grateful for the entertainment.
WE STAN FOR JESSE PULJUJARVI
I don’t know if I’ve seen Oilers Twitter as happy as they were in the moments that followed Jesse Puljujarvi scoring that beautiful goal against the Senators on Tuesday night. Based on how he was playing and the chances he was creating for himself over the first couple of weeks, I felt like it was only a matter of time before the big fella would finally cash one in and he did so in spectacular fashion. After picking up a pass in flight from McDavid along the left-hand side of the ice, Puljujarvi executed a wonderful solo effort that was full of crash, bang, dangles, and effort before pumping his own rebound into an open cage. I was pumped. You were pumped. We were all pumped. It was a pretty cool moment, and it made me think of the countless articles and podcasts that happened over his time away and how many of them wouldn’t have predicted this kind of reunion. For two years, we watched the weird rollercoaster that was the relationship between franchise and player and it almost feels surreal to be watching him play alongside McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins right now.
THE PENALTY KILL
Heading into the series finale against the Senators, the Oilers’ PK was sitting at a miserably nice 69.4% and had allowed nine goals over the six previous games. Needless to say, it’s a problem that needs to get sorted out tout suite. Thankfully, the boys had a perfect night (5/5) on Tuesday and it gave them a modest bump to a 73.2% kill rate when down a man, but I don’t think anyone would argue that there’s still a long way to go before saying it’s mission accomplished. In 2019-20, the penalty kill was a major strength for this hockey club (84.42%) and a big part of getting to 37 wins in 71 games, but this season, in my opinion, the PK has done more to contribute to losses than the other way around. Not only does it suck to give up a goal on the scoreboard, but a PK goal against can also deflate the bench and we’ve seen it already a few times in failed comebacks against Winnipeg and Toronto, and the sooner the guys can figure this out the better off we’ll be. But if they don’t, we’ll probably be staring at a laundry list of missed opportunities when the end of the season rolls around.
I would advise fans to track points percentage rather than overall points in the standings. In case some teams don't play 56 games.
Points percentage leaders:
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 4, 2021
I think we all expected some weird shit to go down when the season started because of COVID-19, and having the playoff teams decided by points percentage for the second straight season because some teams won’t be able to play 56 games certainly fits the bill. Frankly, I actually feel kinda dumb for not expecting this sooner than yesterday when I read the tweet, but I guess it is what it is when the league has a finite runway of time before they have to wrap things up. The interesting thing will be to see how close this gets to happening and where the cutlines fall because there are going to be some teams that likely get screwed as a result. We shall see.
Earlier this week, Doug Armstrong was named as the General Manager for Team Canada at the 2022 Olympics and when it came to roster composition for the tournament, the St. Louis Blues boss raised a few eyebrows when he joined Sportsnet 590 The Fan and said “We’re not picking an All-Star team. We have to have players that can touch every facet – penalty kill, power play, five-on-five play.” For some reason, there was a small segment of folks on Twitter that were BIG mad and it made me laugh.
No All-Star team? Why not?! That’s outrageous!
Personally, I always think it’s hilarious that we Canadians love hockey so much that we start arguing about a hypothetical roster for a tournament that is still more than a year away. This country has such an incredible talent pool to fill up one roster with that there’s always going to be arguments about some of the guys that made the team and some that don’t, but the reality of the situation is that we’ll be good no matter who ends up representing. It reminded how mad some people got about Chris Kunitz being named to the team the last time NHL players were allowed to participate only to have it not matter at all because Canada walked through the tournament on their way to a gold medal anyway.
Another year+ of this nonsense? I love it. It’s going to be entertaining.