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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

First Impressions: Good and Bad

Research has shown that people form conclusions — which rarely change — the moment they see or hear another person for the first time. It is an interesting phenomenon, and one that definitely exists in sports. However, I do believe some people will change their original opinions on players, but often it takes a long time and usually their first impression remains in their subconscious and when they see a play that reminds them of their original evaluation, it surfaces.

Here is an interesting article on explicit and implicit measurements pertaining to impressions. “Research from many labs has also consistently shown that implicit impressions are resistant to change. For example, after learning that the person who took the elevator up one flight on several occasions actually works out regularly, perceivers update their initial explicit judgment of her being lazy. However, they still tend to classify the person as lazy in an implicit memory task. Thus, implicit biases can persist and affect interpersonal interactions in significant ways, even when perceivers are convinced that they have changed their impressions in light of new information.”

It is difficult to alter our impressions and why many believe strongly in the phrase “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.”

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A few Oilers did exactly that last night.

Zach Hyman had a strong game all over the ice. He scored his first goal on the power play. He killed penalties. He won five of six faceoffs. He was relentless tracking down pucks, made numerous smart, strong plays along the boards, and he had dominant possession numbers. He and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had identical stats. When on the ice at 5×5 they outshot the Canucks 9-4 (69.2SF%), their scoring chances were 10-0 (although I do believe Natural Stat Trick is way too generous on scoring chances for all teams) and they had an 88.6xGF%. They were unable to bury any of their quality chances, but when you create that many it is only a matter of time before the puck goes in. It is a positive sign for the Oilers when Connor McDavid’s line is not the best line on the ice and the team still wins.

Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith were a solid pair. Ceci sprung Kailer Yamamoto for a breakaway with an excellent cross-ice pass through the entire neutral zone. Ceci and Keith didn’t give up any high danger scoring chances and moved the puck efficiently. Keith got rocked by a clean, hard hit from Tyler Myers and left the game for a few minutes late in the second period, but he returned for the third.

Warren Foegele was dogged on the puck. His speed, size and tenacity should be a nice complement with Zack Kassian, who Dave Tippett said will play Saturday. I liked Foegele’s play in traffic and on puck battles. He doesn’t get knocked off the puck easily like Gaetan Haas or Joakim Nygard did. Foegele likely won’t wow you with offensive plays, but he is very smart positionally and strong on the forecheck.

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Derek Ryan won 62% of his faceoffs. He logged 4:24 on the PK and was only on for four shots against, while he and Kailer Yamamoto actually fired two shots on net while shorthanded. Playing 4:24 on the PK and being -2 on shots against is solid work. He reads the play very well and he and Foegele finished he game with a 65xGF% and 61.2xGF respectively.

Brendan Perlini only skated 5:37 so it is hard to do much. But in the limited time he wasn’t overwhelmed or in trouble. He got lost in the shuffle due to the Oilers and Canucks combining for nine PP chances. Not being on the PK or PP makes it difficult to stay in the game.

He isn’t a new player, but Evan Bouchard had a really strong game in his first as a guaranteed, regular every night defender. He played a total of 22:07, behind only Darnell Nurse (32:24), Leon Draisaitl (24:40), Connor McDavid (24:18) and Tyson Barrie (23:04). Bouchard actually played the second most minutes, after Nurse, in regulation time. He logged 6:01 on the PK with Nurse and they didn’t allow a goal, and 4:19 of that was against the Canucks first PP unit.

At 5×5 Bouchard and Kris Russell had a strong night posting a 60SF%, 71.9xGF% and 78.5SCF%. Bouchard logged 11:19 with Russell and skated 3:51 with Nurse. He had three shifts with Nurse in the second period. One was right after an Oilers power play, another where Nurse remained out after Barrie changed and the third came after an Oilers penalty expired and they remained in their own end. He did play 54 seconds with Nurse in the final 90 seconds of the game as well. With Nurse and Bouchard penalty killing together we will see them get some 5×5 time together, and often those shifts will be an extension of the PK where they are already in their own end. It is something to consider when you look at possession numbers together, because once the penalty killer steps on the ice it takes time before they are back in the play and the opponents often fire shots on goal before the penalized player is back in the play. Those stats count as 5×5.

Bad Impressions…

Oct 13, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman (18) and Vancouver Canucks defensemen Quinn Hughes (43) chase a loose puck during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers pre-game ceremony. It was incredibly uneventful. Having a short sequence of pictures honouring the passing of Joey Moss, Colby Cave, John Muckler, Walter Gretzky and Barry Katz was fitting. No issue with that. I also enjoyed the Willie Littlechild video about Treaty Six. Those were were well done, but they are different than a pre-game intro.

The pre-game intro had no hype. No excitement. The irony is the Oilers were welcoming back fans in the building and thanking some health care workers, but then the Oilers thanked them with no actual hype video. Nothing. I was shocked.

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The Oilers need to realize entertainment matters. People want more than just the 60 minutes of hockey. Edmonton has a state-of-the-art facility with incredible potential for special effects, but it is rarely used. I couldn’t believe there was nothing to fire up the fans with. I’m writing as a season ticket holder. Last night was a massive let down.

Fans hadn’t been in the building since March 11th, 2020. Over 19 months and the Oilers decided there was no need for an energetic, pump-you-up intro to get some energy in the building. It was the most flat, uninspired intro I can recall in the past 20 years.

And they did player and staff introductions backwards. The loudest cheer was when they introduced Connor McDavid last, but after him then they called out the reserve players and introduced the trainers, equipment staff and the coaches. All the momentum from the McDavid introduction was gone. They should have started on the bench, then do the player introductions to build the excitement. The players stood at centre ice for close to three minutes while the people on the bench were introduced.

The business side of the Edmonton Oilers and their pre-game and in-game entertainment needs to improve. The hockey ops side has built a strong team. This is probably the best team they’ve iced since 2006. But the building had almost 2,500 empty seats last night. The official attendance was 16,034. Capacity is 18,500. Usually season openers are the hottest ticket in town, but not last night. And then to deliver that underwhelming of an intro is very perplexing.

The in-game entertainment needs to work with the fans to create a fun, exciting atmosphere. You can’t just rely on the fans to get excited, or for the players to be the sole entertainment. I hope Saturday’s pre-game is better. Get the crowd excited.

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