Oilers 4 – Hurricanes 0
You can probably tell that it is about time to wrap up the preseason when you have the Oilers taking on the Carolina Hurricanes in Saskatoon. As evidenced by the effort exerted from the majority of the roster for a good chunk of this evening’s tilt, the boys probably felt the same way too. Thankfully, only one game remains before the real deal begins, and lordy, it cannot come soon enough. On to tonight’s affair…
After a very disappointing performance against the Hurricanes at home on Monday night, the Oilers sent a veteran heavy lineup deep into the heart of the prairies. With such a disastrous outing in the rear view mirror, the Oilers were looking to exorcise whatever demons had plagued their game, against a Carolina Hurricanes roster that was much inferior to the one iced at Rogers Place. I must say that for a good chunk of this evening, it had looked as though improvement would have to wait until another day.
Fortunately, once the puck dropped for the 3rd period at the Sasktel Centre, the Oilers (ie. mainly Connor McDavid), decided that enough was enough, and that maybe it wasn’t the best look for them to be going shot for shot with such a vastly inferior squad. The gas pedal was pounded, McDavid found mid-season form, and all of Saskatoon decidedly got their money’s worth. Another Oilers win in the preseason.
Let’s take a look at how it played out…
Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Kailer Yamamoto
- Pretty quiet night for the Big Rig, with no real moments of good or bad. By this point, we know his role and what he is capable of.
- Kailer Yamamoto failed to score (the bum!) and didn’t have a game that screamed, “keep me in the NHL!”. Despite this, he still had more positives in his game than negatives. His back-checking ability continues to impress, and he didn’t look totally out of place next to McDavid, despite some natural rookie jitters. However, the missed opportunity on a pass from Connor to jam one into a gaping net will haunt his dreams tonight. He’ll get another look on Saturday, one would think.
- The Connor McDavid Show made a stop in Saskatoon and did not disappoint. Much of Saskatchewan will spend their mornings tomorrow collectively picking up their jaws from the floor.
Milan Lucic – Leon Draisaitl – Jesse Puljujarvi
- This was the best Oilers trio for much of the evening.
- Milan Lucic looked very much like his 2016/2017 self: a couple questionable moments on 5 vs. 5, but a force on the Power Play with a goal scored. Despite the couple turnovers, genuine chemistry with Draisaitl continued to emerge.
- Leon Draisaitl had himself a good night in the eyes of this observer, with a generous amount of smart, dangerous plays. Robbed on a great chance in the 2nd. I think he’ll do just fine on his own away from McDavid.
- Puljujarvi had himself a much better game than the last. He was a presence, and in a good way. Not only was he once again great on the back-check (most noticeably cleaning up the mess on a breakaway against), but he had himself a few dangerous shots on net. He very much needed a game like this. It’s god to know that if he does stick around, and takes a little while to figure out his scoring touch, he shoudn’t cost you anything defensively, when he is out there.
Drake Caggiula – Ryan Strome – Zack Kassian
- Caggiula with a “meh” sort of night. His best moment came on his feed to McDavid in the 3rd, for the breakaway goal. Is complacency an issue here?
- Strome was fine at centre, and looked better as the night wore on. Blocked a very hard shot early, that stung him badly. Still think he looks best on the wing, but having another body that can line up down the middle, and do it at a moderately effective level, is valuable.
- Kassian was a force tonight, particularly in the 1st, scoring once, and almost scoring another on a great short-handed chance. Superb bottom 6 winger for the Oil.
Brad Malone – Chris Kelly – Iiro Pakarinen
- Brad Malone has had a noticeable camp, and plays the “Chiarelli” style of hockey, which helps his cause. If he can learn to watch the penalties, he will be a very serviceable call-up for the bottom 6 of this team. His play has deemed a signing of Chris Kelly unnecessary, especially given his performance tonight.
- Chris Kelly has likely played his last game in Oilers silks. He had a decent camp, but with the Oilers at 49 contracts (including Yamamoto), and with Brad Malone on the roster, his presence just isn’t needed. Maybe he finds work elsewhere.
- Pakarinen had a very quiet night. For a guy trying to wrangle away a job from the likes of Khaira, this was not an ideal evening for the Fin.
Yohann Auvitu – Adam Larsson
- I am genuinely concerned about Auvitu’s ability to stop the cycle, or win really any physical puck battles, against heavy opponents in the Western Conference. He does have positive moments with the puck on his stick, and can be a slick skater, but with a real inability to break up the cycle, or get on the right side of the man he is covering, he will find himself in more trouble than not on most nights. If he does crack the roster, his deployment will need to be strategic, to say the least.
- Larsson had an okay game, but had clear moments of struggle, most likely attributed to his partner on the ice. Looks as physical and punishing as ever.
Kris Russell – Matt Benning
- Kris Russell had a fine game, and I must say that I like his approach to defending tonight. Instead of waiting until the top of the circle to make the first point of contact against the attacker, he was instead opting to attack at the blue line, or even earlier. This small adjustment will help his game a lot in terms of reducing clean zone entries against.
- Benning continues to be a force in the body positioning department, with an excellent ability to separate the opponent from the puck. Could definitely use some more work with the puck on his stick in his own end.
- This was the best pairing on the ice.
Darnell Nurse – Eric Gryba
- Physical game for Nurse, but some wobble. As was the case last year, his pairing can have a tendency to run around in their own end, struggling to get the puck out. It often leads to hunched over bodies, a dangerous chance against, and the occasional penalty. Wish he had a slightly better defensive partner beside him.
- Gryba’s foot speed continues to be a concern, as does his inability to stay out of the box.
- Have to think that Chiarelli is looking at adding another body to the right hand side of the blue line.
- Looked as good as he possibly could have, posting a shutout on the night. He had a much calmer presence in the net than his previous outings, and made some significant stops on the PK. He will need to be of this quality if he is going to take 20 or so starts from Talbot this season.
Player of the Game
Connor McDavid was the best player on the ice before he even scored the 2 goals. Saskatchewan will not forget his presence for a long, long time.
Bench Chatter: Jockeying for Position, Jekyll & Hyde PK
- Can anyone say with confidence whether Yamamoto and/or Puljujarvi break camp on the main roster? I still can’t. Onto Vancouver for the final preseason battle.
- Stated it above, but I am not really sold on either Gryba or Auvitu holding down the #6 position on defence at this point. Of course, Gryba has the edge if given the choice, but help in the form of a Colin Miller would sure be nice.
- The Oilers Penalty Kill is a strange beast. On one hand, it can produce Kassian and McDavid breakaways, as it features immense speed, waiting to capitalize on the slightest puck bobble. On the other hand, when no puck bobbles are present, it has a tendency to get gutted for plenty of high danger scoring chances. Hoping for a happy medium here in the near future.
Up Next: The Preseason Comes to a Close
The boys head to Vancouver on Saturday night to end the preseason The game is at 8 o’clock, and guess what? It’s televised! No more wonky, choppy, streams.