14
Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: The best defence is a good… offence?

Whether they intended to or not, the Edmonton Oilers came into the season with a game plan that alluded to them outscoring their opponents 6-5 — much like last night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Of course, this isn’t a stable game plan and undoubtedly one the Oilers didn’t intentionally create by bringing in Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci as well as re-signing Tyson Barrie to a longer-term deal. No matter how you cut it, those three nearly cost Edmonton the game.

Last night, it was all out there for the world to see. Each defenceman had tough nights in their own right. Keith and Ceci got caught watching the puck on an early Ducks goal, while later leaving another man out front on the fifth. Slater Koekkoek and Evan Bouchard left a man unblocked on the Ducks’ second goal, while Tyson Barrie got beat on both of Anaheim’s third and fourth goals — the latter of who was demoted after the gaffs.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“You don’t want to give up five goals ever,” said Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl. “That means you have got to scramble offensively to win a game, we don’t want to be a team like that. The two points are big… but there’s lots of things we can do better defensively.”

But thankfully for the Oilers, their depth up front came in key. While Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each scored, Zack Kassian also found the net twice last night equalling his goal total from the previous season.

Sure, there were things to like. Kassian’s strong offensive game was one of them. So was Bouchard’s. Despite a gaffe earlier in the game, he logged nearly 20 minutes of ice time spread out across every facet of the game. He showed his big shot on the powerplay, his defensive prowess on the penalty kill, and was relied on in the dying minutes of the game where he calmly cleared the front of the net and broke up key passing lanes.

“I just want to play my game, not really focus too much on the minutes. I just want to play a hard, strong game in those crucial minutes I can play,” said Bouchard who also scored when he flicked the puck out from the offensive corner, adding “I honestly still don’t know how it went in, but I’ll take it.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

It’s easy to focus on the defensive gaffes on a night like last night and rightly so. Edmonton didn’t do themselves any favors with sloppy turnovers and a middling transition game.

But what they did do is show their early season resilience by consistently fighting from behind to come back and secure the win. While giving up five is far from a recipe for success, scoring six from behind shows that this team has some fight.

It typically doesn’t take long in NHL seasons for playoff pictures to take shape, and right now the 3-0 Edmonton Oilers sit atop the Pacific Divison with a plus-five goal differential.

Backhanders…

  • Mike Smith left the game partway through the third period after it looked like Devin Shore fell on him. Head coach Dave Tippett said after the game that Smith tweaked something in his lower body and would be seeing a doctor Wednesday. At the time of this writing, he’s considered day-to-day.
  • Edmonton heads to the States for a little road trip, their first out-of-country trip since early March 2020. Tippett said the team would take a few days in Vegas following a brief two-game roadie. The Oilers visit Arizona Thursday before taking on Vegas Friday. If Smith isn’t able to go in the back-to-back, look for the Oilers to recall Stuart Skinner for one of the two.
  • Draisaitl’s goal at the end of the first period was the 200th of his career and came in game 481. He became the seventh Oilers skater to score 200 goals with the franchise. Of the other six, only four required fewer games to do so: Wayne Gretzky (242 GP), Jari Kurri (328 GP), Glenn Anderson (348 GP) and Mark Messier (442 GP). McDavid’s goal, meanwhile, was the 199th of his career and came in his 410th game.
  • For Draisaitl, it was also his 14th career game with four or more points — the seventh most in Oilers history behind Gretzky (158), Kurri (45), Messier (27), Anderson (25), Paul Coffey (23) and McDavid (19).
  • It also marked McDavid’s 74th career game with at least three points, top among all players since he entered the league in 2015. In fact, it’s also 24 more than the next closest player, teammate Leon Draisaitl, who has 50.
  • You can’t go without mentioning the game Jesse Puljujarvi had last night. Again, he is proving himself to be everything and then some the club thought they were getting when they selected him fourth overall in the 2016 draft. Against Anaheim, he did a tremendous job in creating space for himself in the offensive zone. One of my favourite moments of the night was late in the second frame. He just got away with a hooking penalty in the offensive zone as the lone forechecker and forced the Ducks’ defenceman to try and move the puck through the middle of the defensive zone with a pass. Puljujarvi got his big paddle on it and managed to tip it on the net. It’s small stuff like this that goes a long way.
  • Through their first three games of the season, the Edmonton Oilers have the fourth-best faceoff percentage in the NHL winning 57.1 percent of their draws. Leon Drasiatil (38-20), Derek Ryan (23-14) and Connor McDavid (13-7) are all above 62.2 percent on their draws, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (12-21) and Kyle Turris (4-4) are the only centers below that mark.

What they’re saying…

Trevor Zegras worked his magic first, sending a clever pass toward open patch of ice, allowing hard-charging Ducks teammate Kevin Shattenkirk to collect the puck and fire a quick shot past Oilers goaltender Mike Smith in the opening minutes Tuesday at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

In the end, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl had their moments of brilliance for the Oilers, per usual, and pinned a 6-5 defeat on the Ducks one night after they rallied for a 3-2 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames. It was fast, furious and fun. Well, for the Oilers, anyway.

“I’m proud of that group, back-to-back games, playing against an elite team, and the way we battled and stayed in it and kept coming back and never quit, that’s a big step forward even though we didn’t get the points,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “They’ve got a lot of belief in themselves.”- Elliott Teaford, Orange County Register 


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]