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Highlights and Numbers: Evan Bouchard gets a promotion during a wild Oilers victory

For the seventh time in franchise history, the Oilers are 3-0 to start a season.

This was the first time since August of 2020 in the playoff bubble that we saw Edmonton square off against an American opponent. It was a strange, sloppy game, but it was certainly exciting and a win is a win no matter how it goes down.

The Oilers allowed the Anaheim Ducks to bury five goals as their defence was suspect and Mike Smith wasn’t as sharp as he had been in his first two outings, but the team also exploded for six goals and flashed the deep, high-quality offence we were looking forward to during the off-season.

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Let’s go through some highlights and take a look at some numbers from the 6-5 win over those pesky Ducks…

What happened…

The Ducks grabbed a 1-0 lead just five minutes into the game but the Oilers evened things up a few minutes later when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins feathered a beautiful pass to Zack Kassian for a tap-in goal.

This goal featured some very nice work in the offensive zone from Edmonton’s third-line wingers. Warren Foegele supports Nugent-Hopkins on the break-in and picks up a loose puck, allowing the Oilers to maintain possession. Foegele gets the puck to Nugent-Hopkins behind the net, who then waits for a second for Kassian to find open room at the side of the net before threading that beautiful pass…

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A few minutes later, the Oilers’ top line connected for a goal to make the score 2-1. The Jesse Puljujarvi, Leon Driasaitl, Connor McDavid trio manage to take an Anaheim scoring chance and turn it around for a goal of their own in six seconds. Puljujarvi picks up the puck after Smith stopped it, he takes a look up the ice, fires a perfect breakout pass to Draisatl who then hits McDavid in stride for a partial breakaway.

There’s a lot to like about this play because it shows just how quickly Edmonton’s elites can turn the ice around and generate a scoring chance for themselves, but I particularly appreciate Puljujarvi’s excellent breakout pass that got it all started. He’s becoming a very good two-way winger.

The Oilers went into the first intermission with a 3-2 lead but the Ducks managed to pull ahead in the second frame with a pair of goals. The 4-3 goal came at the halfway point of the game as Sam Steel absolutely walked Tyson Barrie before pulling around Smith and sliding a backhander into the open net. It was a rough night for Barrie on the defensive end of the puck and this pay stuck out…

Barrie found himself watching a good chunk of the game from the bench after that play and Evan Bouchard was given the opportunity to play bigger minutes. Five minutes into the third period, the Oilers tied the game at 4-4 with a power-play goal from Kassian. Bouchard winds up for a one-timer, Darnell Nurse feeds him the puck, and Bouchard instead fires a pass into the slot that Kassian manages to redirect past Anthony Stolarz…

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Bouchard then ended up giving the Oilers a 5-4 lead a few minutes later. Now, this is obviously a hideous goal for Stolarz to allow, but it ultimately shows how effective Bouchard is at jumping into the play and joining Edmonton’s forwards offensively…

By the numbers…

A major key to Edmonton’s success early on this season has been their forward depth. Gone are the days where we have to worry every time Connor McDavid isn’t on the ice. Both of the Oilers’ bottom-six lines outshot their opponents and neither were on the ice for a goal against at even-strength.

The winger duo that was exceptionally effective for the Oilers last night was Kassian and Foegele. They both contributed to Edmonton’s first goal when they were on the ice with Nugent-Hopkins and they dominated the Ducks when on the ice with Derek Ryan the rest of the time. The Ryan, Kassian, Foegele trio went 11-to-7 in shot attempts in 10 minutes at even strength and had a 91.96 expected goals for percentage.

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On the flip side of that, Edmonton’s second line had a rough outing. In 11:31 at even strength, Zach Hyman was outshot 19-6, and, in 9:10 at even strength, Kailer Yamamoto was caved in 13-to-2. Both of them were on the ice for three goals against at evens, as well. The Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman, Yamamoto trio played 6:52 together and had just one shot attempt on Anaheim’s net.

I figure it would be worthwhile to shuffle the forward lines a little bit in order to keep the offence difficult to predict. I would split McDavid and Draisaitl, give Hyman a look with the top unit and get Yamamoto back on Draisaitl’s wing as the two tend to play well together. Foegele and Kassian on Nugent-Hopkins’ wings for a whole game would be interesting, too.

Finally, we have Bouchard, who was one of the biggest positives from this game. With Barrie struggling, Bouchard was given more prime minutes in the back half of the game and he capitalized on the opportunity. All told, Bouchard played 14:58 at even-strength and had a 20-to-16 shot differential. Anaheim only had three high-danger chances while Bouchard was on the ice.

Bouchard had that excellent pass on the power-play that tied the game and he scored a greasy goal shortly after to give the Oilers the lead. After that, Dave Tippett was using him on the penalty kill and he was one of the defenders on the ice late in the game when Anaheim had the goalie pulled for the extra attacker. That level of trust in Bouchard from Tippett is encouraging.

It’ll be interesting to see if Bouchard gets a promotion in the lineup when the Oilers travel to Arizona to play the Coyotes on Thursday. I would love to see him play a full game alongside Nurse.