The Oilers started their season off with a 3-2 win over the Canucks, how did they look?
Last night the Oilers played in front of a full capacity Rogers Place for the first time since March 2020 and they welcomed fans back with a 3-2 win in a shoot-out over the Canucks. The Oilers led 2-0 in the late 3rd but the Canucks rallied to tie it up, and after a scoreless overtime the game went to a shoot-out where Kyle Turris (not who you might’ve expected) scored the game-winner. With it being the first game of a new season, there’s a lot to take away so let’s get right into what I saw from the Oilers last night.
New Forwards Looking Good: The Oilers brought in a lot of new players this offseason and through one game, they’ve looked pretty good. The big addition of the summer was Zach Hyman who played alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto on the Oilers’ second line last night. In 5-on-5 play, Hyman looked great, showing his ability to generate sustained pressure in the offensive end which led to a few scoring chances. What impressed me most though was his breakout work, an area that the Oilers have really struggled with in recent years. Hyman looked very comfortable getting the puck out of the Oilers’ end and really helped drive the play. He also notched his first goal as an Oiler, finishing off a tic-tac-toe on the powerplay from McDavid and Draisaitl. Expect to see many more of these over the course of the season. Another new forward who impressed was Warren Foegele. Although I will never forgive Ken Holland for trading Ethan Bear (and I do mean never), at least the return they got for him looked pretty good. Foegele stood out whenever he was on the ice with him seemingly always near the puck and did a great job putting the pressure on the Canucks in their own end. He’s certainly not the flashiest player but after what he showed last night he’s someone I’m ecstatic to have on our third line. Aside from these two, we saw Oilers debuts from Brendan Perlini and Colton Sceviour who both looked fine but played too little to warrant any real evaluation.
Defense Still Inconsistent: Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci both made their Oilers debuts playing on the same defensive pairing last night and looked pretty solid together. Aside from one Canucks breakaway that Keith got caught behind the play on, these two moved the puck well and played some tough defense in the Oilers end. This pairing should stick if they continue to play like this. Evan Bouchard saw an increased role last night, playing 22 minutes where he looked mostly good, providing an imposing presence in the offensive zone despite some inconsistency in his own end. Darnell Nurse looked his usual self, playing over 32 minutes last night and consistently helping drive the play from the back end. His partner, however, did not look as consistent. Tyson Barrie was as good as usual on the powerplay, which is where his best hockey is played, but in 5-on-5 situations, he looked much worse. He continued to struggle with breakouts and was often a noticeable weak spot in the defensive zone. This has to be improved if he wants to stay on the top pairing with Nurse throughout the year. Not to mention that for some strange reason, he was the Oilers’ third shooter in the shoot-out and completely whiffed on his attempt. Despite all this though, I would consider last night a positive for the Oilers D.
First Line Looked Great: To some people’s surprise, the Oilers started the season off with McDavid and Draisaitl on a line together as opposed to seeing Hyman with the captain. To absolutely no one’s surprise, this line looked great. These two played alongside Jesse Puljujarvi and were without a doubt the best players on the ice. This has come to be expected from McDavid and Draisaitl but seeing Pulju continuing his strong two-way play following his breakout season last year is great as he opened last night’s scoring by notching his first of the year. Not much else to say about these guys. They’re three great hockey players that Oilers fans should be ecstatic to see every time they step on the ice.
The Return of Schmidty: Mike Smith faced 34 shots last night and was absolutely stellar for most of them. He shut down chance after chance from the Canucks and entering the final minutes, the only goal he had allowed was an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot from the point on a Vancouver powerplay that was tipped by the Nuge and that no one could have stopped. Then, out of nowhere, he let in an inexplicably bad goal under his blocker that tied the game. Schmidty made up for it though with some great saves in OT and an absolute robbery of Elias Pettersson in the shoot-out. Overall a very solid start from the vet as he seemed to build off his fantastic 2020-21 campaign.
Last night the Oilers didn’t play a perfect game by any means, but they got a win nonetheless. The first line looked great, the new guys came to play and Schmidty had a nice game between the pipes. As the Oilers start to face better teams they may have to up their game a bit, but for now, 82-0 is still on the table. Now let’s get ready for the Battle of Alberta this Saturday.