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McDavid and Draisaitl are still unbelievable, Stuart Skinner looks like our best goalie, Ryan McLeod could be great, and other takeaways from the Oilers’ recent success.
The last time I wrote about the Oilers it was about how despite a tough first week of the season, I didn’t think we needed to be too concerned. This seems to have been the case since, over their past few games, the Oilers have looked much better than they had. Over their past five games, they’re 4-1 with their only loss coming against the Blues in a game that could’ve gone either way. Over that stretch, they’re averaging 4.2 goals per game while only allowing 3, and they’re now behind only the Boston Bruins in terms of goals per game. The last three games in particular have really shown what this team is capable of and there are a few major takeaways, both good and bad, from them.
Connor McDavid is still unequivocally the best player in the game (and Leon Draisaitl is pretty good too)
To the surprise of absolutely no one, as of right now, these two studs lead the NHL in points with 15, with McDavid’s 8 goals leading the league and Draisaitl’s 11 assists also in first. After only putting up one point in his three games prior, McDavid had his second hat trick of the season and added an assist in Chicago last game while Leon scored the game-winner with under a minute left in regulation, on a night where they looked like they were playing a different sport than everyone else. In most situations where it’s so clear that two players are elevating a team so much, there would be a concern that it’s unsustainable, but I think we all know that this is just how they are. There’s not much to analyze here, but it’s just a reminder that this team will always be competitive when they have these two.
Update: David Pastrnak has now taken the league lead in points, but don’t be surprised if these two are back on top after tonight.
Jack Campbell has been very bad and Stuart Skinner has been very good
This is something I’ll want to dig into more as the season goes on, but to this point in the season, Stuart Skinner has been the Oilers’ best goalie and it hasn’t been close. Through three games, Skinner already has 4.8 goals saved above average while Jack Campbell is -2.9 through six. Obviously, Campbell has really struggled, and while it’s certainly concerning, it definitely isn’t time to panic just yet, but it’s Skinner’s performance that has stood out so far. I said this last year when he was given his brief opportunity with the team, but he’s a legit starting caliber goalie in the NHL. He’s got everything you could want in a goalie, he makes almost all the saves he’s supposed to and lots of the ones he shouldn’t, his puck control is good, he never looks nervous, and he commands the crease. I understand that Campbell is the guy you paid and I feel pretty confident that he will get better, but right now, Skinner is so clearly your best guy that I can’t see any reason why you don’t ride with him until he cools down.
Ryan McLeod: Good at hockey
This might sound ridiculous, but if Ryan McLeod and Connor McDavid raced, I’m not confident McDavid would win. In my time watching the Oilers, I’m not sure I can remember a single bottom-six forward with as visible of an impact as Ryan McLeod. Every single time he’s on the ice he forces you to notice him, whether it be because of his speed, his defensive play, his play-making, or any number of things. We’re only eight games in and it feels like he’s locked down that third center role, and for a team that’s going to use lots of 11 forward 7 defensemen, this is very important. This also allows Nugent-Hopkins to move up in the lineup and play on the wing, which is an underrated luxury that this team has never really had. He only has three points so far, so there are obviously still some bumps in his game offensively, but he’s been playing some fantastic hockey to start the season and deserves recognition.
Most of their mistakes are fixable
Despite the recent success, the games the Oilers have played have been far from perfect and there have still been plenty of blemishes. Thankfully (or unfortunately depending on how you see it) most of these mistakes seem fixable. They’ve allowed scoring chances with lazy breakouts and bad decision-making in the neutral zone, but these are issues that I hope will iron themselves out as the season progresses. We saw this happen last year when Woodcroft came in and the team suddenly became harder to play against, so I have faith that a lot of what has hurt the team so far won’t be an issue soon enough. Mistakes are still bad, but at least these ones shouldn’t persist.
There’s a lot more I’d like to say about the team right now, but with the Battle of Alberta happening tonight, I think it might be best to wait another day or two to really dig into some of those things, so until then let’s just be happy with how the team has played as of late.
Also, let’s hope they beat the Flames.