The Edmonton Oilers’ hot start to the season has the city excited for what could come from our favourite team. (Nobody said the P-word). It is easy to get excited but these points need to be considered before we contact Mayor Don Iveson about the parade.
The best start in 30 seasons is due in large part to goalie Cam Talbot’s first-star-of-the-week style performances, as he has started every game so far this season. This should raise some eyebrows. After nine games, the backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson has not gotten a start and, if you want a balance to give your No. 1 netminder rest down the stretch, you are going to have to find dates to maximize his usefulness. Coach Todd McLellan needs to find 20 games to give to his backup and so far he hasn’t given him one. This is a cause for concern.
The Oilers have played 10 games so far this season. Only four have been away from home. Those three games were in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa. It is safe to say the Oilers are untested when it comes to difficult road trips. Many teams don’t have this friendly a schedule. The Carolina Hurricanes started the season on a six-game road trip. The Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets have gone through the gauntlet of California. The Tampa Bay Lightning just finished battling in a tough six-game trip against the top teams in the East. Let’s reevaluate what the Oilers have after this next stretch. The New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins are legitimate NHL squads. The Oilers will have to be ready or they will be exposed as not ready for prime time.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been slotted as the second-line centre behind Connor McDavid, with Leon Draisaitl waiting in the wings. So far, his offensive production has been rather pedestrian with four assists. McLellan seems comfortable putting Nuge in a two-way role but for how long? And with his faceoff numbers unimproved, will they look at their German star Draisaitl to become the second driver for the forward lines? His faceoff numbers are over 50 per cent this season and he has two goals already. Not to mention – could GM Peter Chiarelli influence the coach’s decision and lean on Draisaitl, considering that Nugent-Hopkins is much pricier and has been linked to trade talks around the league? Time will tell. So far the second and third lines are receiving comparable minutes, so it looks the better player will materialize naturally. The Oilers hope their six-million-dollar man is the answer but, if not, will be pleasantly surprised on the up-and-coming Draitsaitl.
The Oilers, despite a 7-2-1 record, are faced with several long-term injuries to their depth players. Rookie centre Drake Caggiula had a terrific pre-season but now has been sitting for the first few weeks. Veterans Matt Hendricks, Mark Fayne and Brandon Davidson all have injuries that are still weeks away from healing. But if the bigger names start to get hurt, especially in an already thin defence corps, it could be all hands on deck. Oilers fans hold their collective breaths when McDavid gets edged into the boards at ridiculous speeds and pray on their Steve Tambellini charm bracelets that they won’t have another Philly situation. If the Oilers can get these players back and remain relatively healthy, they have every chance to continue contending for tops in the Pacific Division.
– Michael Menzies, Assistant Sports Editor
Image from NHL