The Oilers began the season with another difficult start losing their first four games. It wasn’t a shocking turn of events considering they faced strong Western Conference opponents in the St. Louis Blues twice, the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars. The Oilers had still yet to show they could play a strong enough game to keep up with the big, imposing teams in the West. The powerplay was embarrassing in the first few games, failing to even get set up on the majority of occasions. The Oilers were obviously missing Jordan Eberle as they failed to score a goal with a shot on net until their third game. The combination of Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid did not seem to be working out. McDavid also looked tentative in his first few games, easing into his NHL career. Despite all this, these were not the same Oilers who had rough starts in years past; there were positives to take out of the first four games that have not been seen in Edmonton in recent times.
The goaltending over the first four games was outstanding. The Oilers goalies posted a save percentage above 0.920 in three out of four games, highlighted by Anders Nilsson keeping them in a game in which they were completely outplayed by the Dallas Stars by making 48 saves on 51 shots.
The Oilers were actually engaging in battles and remained in the hockey game for a full sixty minutes. The lone exception was the game against Dallas, but in the other games the Oilers had a chance to win each game. A lack of offense and a couple egregious turnovers had cost them.
The penalty kill went 15/16 in the first four games, a complete turnaround from last season where the the Oilers were 28th on the PK.
Head coach Todd McLellan was quick to realize the combination of Hall and McDavid wasn’t working out, as both players are better when they are carrying the puck for their line. Hall was moved up with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov slotted in beside McDavid on reformed lines. There was an obvious chemistry somewhat instantly between Yakupov and McDavid.
The next two games were much better for the Oilers. The Oilers outplayed the Calgary Flames and McDavid had a breakout game, posting three points and looked dominant all game. He was robbed on an absolutely stunning play that turned a potential goal of the year candidate into the possible save of the year.
Hall had three points as well and looked more like the player who put up 80 points in 2013-14. However, I feel Hall could still help himself out by using his teammates more. Dishing off to his teammates to receive a quick pass back could create space and speed for him to use against opposing defenders.
Against the Vancouver Canucks, the Oilers came out with a decent effort for their second game in as many nights, taking the lead early with McDavid feeding a wide open Yakupov for a one timer; a play that Oiler fans are hoping to see many times for years to come. They managed to stay in the game, despite some familiar defensive breakdowns, with another great outing from Nilsson and some luck in the form of Daniel Sedin completely missing on an open net. Lauri Korpikoski capped off a great game in which he was buzzing with energy all night with the overtime winner.
Edmonton has been better than their 2-4 record suggests, but they need to keep working to turn the ship around. The offense should hit its stride if McDavid and Yakupov can continue their early success and only will become more potent when Eberle returns and slots back in on the top line. The defense is still a work in progress, with Justin Schultz and Eric Gryba looking like the best defenders so far. Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera need to continue to come around from their slow starts. If the Oilers can clean up the defensive mistakes and bad turnovers then they will stand a much better chance this season. The goaltending has been hot to start the season, and you can’t expect it to remain at this level, but everyone in Edmonton is hoping that this duo can provide above average goaltending this team has desperately needed. All in all, early signs show the Oilers will be more competitive this year, but how much better they will be still remains to be seen.