Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Highlights and Numbers: Oilers outplay Canucks at even-strength, Zach Hyman shines in debut

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The Oilers kicked off their 2021-22 season by hosting the Vancouver Canucks, a team that, just like them, underwent some pretty significant changes to their roster over the summer.

Vancouver was miserable in all the All-Canadian Division last year, finishing dead last in the standings due in part to a month-long battle with a COVID outbreak. They added Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, and Tucker Poolman in the offseason and have a healthy Elias Pettersson in the mix and the Canucks’ goal is to get back to the playoffs.

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There were a lot of things to like about Edmonton’s performance on Wednesday night but blowing a third-period lead and handing out a point to a division rival isn’t ideal. Let’s go through some notes from the game…

What happened…

Things started off slowly but the Oilers began to gain control of the game as the first period moved along. By the final few minutes of the first frame, Edmonton was outshooting Vancouver handily and they were the team controlling play and generating chances. The Oilers finally broke through with about three minutes left on the clock, as Jesse Puljujarvi parked himself in front of the net and buried a rebound from a Darnell Nurse wrist shot…

This sequence almost looks like the Oilers are on a power-play when they’re actually at even-strength and it shows how effective the Nurse and Tyson Barrie pair are at joining the offence from the point. Puljujarvi is going to score a lot of goals if he continues going to the front of the net like this. His combination of size and smooth hands is a perfect fit for the Connor McDavid line.

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Speaking of the power-play, the Oilers got an opportunity late in the second frame on the man advantage after Vancouver was caught with too many men on the ice. McDavid made a cross-zone pass to Leon Draisaitl who then one-time passed the puck to Zach Hyman who snuck behind Vancouver’s defenders to find himself with a wide-open net…

Hyman will be a great addition to an already very good power-play. He was parked in front of the net, the role that we had seen Alex Chiasson and James Neal play in over the past few seasons. Just as I said with Puljujarvi above, Hyman will score a lot of goals this season in this spot. He isn’t afraid to battle in front of the net and make space for himself.

The Canucks started to battle back in the third period as the Oilers went into a defensive shell. At around the mid-point of the third, Barrie took a penalty for tripping, giving the Canucks their fifth power-play opportunity of the game. The Oilers killed off the first four but they weren’t able to stop the fifth. Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a wrister from the point that was deflected by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins past a screened Mike Smith.

While Smith was excellent on the night, ultimately stopping 36 of 38 shots, he did allow one soft goal. With three minutes left in the game and the Oilers up 2-1, Quinn Hughes skated in with the puck from the blueline and tossed a quick shot at Smith that he let squeeze between his blocker and body. It was a bit of a knuckleball but this is one Smith has to have and, based on his reaction, he knew it.

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As bad as that was, Smith made up for it with some huge saves later on, including this dandy in overtime…

And this one in the shootout on Pettersson…

There were quite a few fans scratching their heads when Kyle Turris was on the ice late in third and in the overtime, but, ironically enough, he was the one who gave the Oilers the win in the shootout with this quick snipe between Thatcher Demko’s legs…

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By the numbers…

The Oilers were the better team at even-strength on Wednesday night.

They had a big first period, firing 25 shots towards Demko while the Canucks had 16. Things balanced out the rest of the way, as the teams went 11 and 11 in the second and the Oilers edged out the Canucks in the third 14 to 12. Where you can really see Edmonton’s five-on-five dominance, though, is in terms of scoring chances, as the Oilers had 28 all told and the Canucks had 17.

The thing that unraveled Edmonton’s momentum and ultimately allowed the Canucks to swim was the Oilers’ inability to stay out of the penalty box. The Oilers spent six minutes in the box in the second period and four in the third period. This hurt not only because the Canucks added a power-play goal in the third, but because it kept a group that was killing it at five-on-five on the bench.

The Oilers’ new forward depth came as advertised and the Canucks didn’t have an answer for it other than Demko standing tall.

After the Oilers lost to the Jets last spring, we all agreed that the Oilers needed to figure out a way to put together three lines that could outshoot their opponents. All four of them did on Wednesday.

  • McDavid, Draisaitl, Puljujarvi: 16-to-15 shot attempts, 57.97 expected goals for percentage
  • Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman, Yamamoto: 15-to-6 shot attempts, 90.26 expected goals for percentage
  • Ryan, Foegele, Sceviour: 10-to-7 shot attempts, 68.12 expected goals for percentage 
  • McLeod, Turris, Perlini: 5-to-4 shot attempts, 59.74 expected goals for percentage 

It was the second line that really dominated for the Oilers against the Canucks, more so than the McDrai duo. Though they didn’t score a goal, RNH, Hyman, and Yamamoto had the Canucks chasing all night. It felt as though every time this trio was playing the ice was tilted in Edmonton’s favour and the Canucks didn’t have an answer for them.

Hyman is a very nice addition to this team because he can fit in so many places. He was great in Toronto when playing with Auston Matthews because he was the first one in on the forecheck and he created room for the Leafs’ skill players to move around in the offensive zone. We saw that against the Canucks as he operated as RNH’s puck retriever.

Circling back to McDrai, this line wasn’t as dynamite as it has been in the past, but the strategy still worked because the Canucks had to focus virtually all of their energy on shutting it down, which left the Hyman line with a lot of room to feast on weaker opponents.

It’ll be interesting to see how heavily Dave Tippett leans on the McDrai duo. The Oilers now have the depth to split up all three of their centres and, personally, I’d love to see them give that a whirl. Draisaitl is fairly similar stylistically to Matthews and I figure that could be a successful duo.

We shall see. Good start, all told.