Well, the Oilers really couldn’t have gotten off to a better start to the regular season than they did. A pair of victories against division opponents on home ice has the fan base feeling good and I would imagine the players in the room are loving life.
That’s not to say that there aren’t reasons to be concerned. They blew a third-period lead against Vancouver and they let the Flames put up nearly 47 shots on Saturday. They haven’t played perfect hockey by any means, but these two victories have still been impressive.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the Oilers first two games of the season:
MIKE SMITH IS STILL MIKE SMITH
There was a lot of talk during the offseason about whether or not Mike Smith would be able to repeat what he did in his 38-year-old season. Most people who follow this team, myself included, assumed that because of his age he would take a step back this year.
Now, I’m still not necessarily expecting Smith to have a .920 or better save percentage this season, but you can’t deny that he looks like the exact same goalie that we saw last season. He’s fiery, he’s animated, and he’s making some massive saves for this team. If it wasn’t for his performance in overtime and the shootout against Vancouver, this team wouldn’t have gotten off to a 2-0 start.
The Oilers will need to make sure they’re managing his workload this season and that’s where they’ll need Mikko Koskinen to be better than he was last year, but after two games, I’m not nearly as concerned about the Oilers goaltending as I was this summer.
CONNOR MCDAVID IS STILL CONNOR MCDAVID
With five points in two games, it’s clear that Connor McDavid still can’t be stopped. Everyone is talking about his one-timer and how that could lead to a 50-goal season for the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner but he’s also still putting up offence in vintage Connor McDavid fashion.
The opposition still struggles to contain him off the rush and his ability to work around the offensive zone is still unmatched. I didn’t think that McDavid would take a step back by any means this season, but I wasn’t sure if his production would be able to take a step forward from what he did last year. After two games, I’m starting to think it just might.
Forget 150 points, let’s talk about #97 reaching the two points per game mark. *eyes emoji*
THEY MIGHT NEED A BLUELINER
We are a long way from the NHL trade deadline but this hot start from the Oilers has me thinking: what could Ken Holland do before March 21, 2022?
The general sense is that the Oilers will keep looking for an upgrade on Mikko Koskinen throughout the season but I’m starting to think that acquiring a left-shot defenseman might be more important than that.
If the Oilers are in a position to be major buyers at the deadline, it would be because they’re close to the top of their division and that would likely mean that Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen are both giving them above average results.
Looking at the Oilers blueline right now, I think they could really use a top-four left-shot defenseman. This isn’t a knock on Duncan Keith, but this blueline would look a lot better if Keith was playing sheltered third-pairing minutes and the Oilers had a better shutdown option in their top four. Acquiring a player who can comfortably play 20+ minutes a night and allow Keith to thrive in a third-pairing role could take the Oilers blueline from the middle of the pack, to really damn good.
Like I said off the top, the 2-0 start has everyone feeling good. I’ve really noticed how much fun it seems the players are having though. The emotion that Connor McDavid has been showing after every goal seems to be on another level and the hugs he’s been giving Mike Smith have been great to see. Smith’s post-game celebrations have been awesome to see as well.
We’re also seeing Leon Draisaitl have some fun during his press conferences, same with Jesse Puljujarvi, Zack Kassian was blowing kisses to the Flames bench, and Yamamoto was smiling on the bench after his scrum during the Battle of Alberta.
The vibes this team is giving off right now are exceptional.
The season will have its down points, but getting off to a good start was really important for this group considering the number of changes they had this offseason. In the standings, a two-game winning streak right now is worth just as much as a two-game winning streak in the middle of January but I can’t help but think that these first two games could have a significant impact on how this team carries itself throughout the season.
They have a really good chance to keep the ball rolling this week against the Ducks and Coyotes and will face a very tough test on Friday night as they visit the Vegas Golden Knights. If the Oilers want to win the Pacific Division this year, which I think they’re certainly capable of, then winning these head-to-head matchups against the Golden Knights will be massive. The Golden Knights also haven’t looked like themselves early on this season.
Looking at the schedule, all three of these games appear to be winnable. Let’s see if the Oilers can turn two solid games into a real heater.