Kailer Yamamoto scored just 64 seconds in, giving the Edmonton Oilers a lead they never lost on Tuesday night. Conor McDavid tacked on a pair, and Patrick Russell finally found the back of the net as the Oilers took a 4-1 decision.
Now that the rust is off, the real games begin. The next time we see the Edmonton Oilers, it will be on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoff Qualification Round.
Although the Oilers got the victory on Tuesday, it wasn’t all fun and games for the club.
Goaltending was a question mark for the Oilers coming into the bubble. It was their biggest strength on Tuesday night. Mikko Koskinen was in control, making 17 saves on 17 shots in 29:41 of action. Koskinen made a couple of terrific saves and I thought his rebound control was really good. He was calm and collected in net, and further strengthened his case to start on Saturday.
Mike Smith needed a spectacular outing to stay in the conversation. He turned one in. Smith made 19 saves on 20 shots, including a few on high-danger chances against. The one goal against Smith very likely would have been challenged for goalie interference had the game meant anything.
The Oilers powerplay was, not surprisingly, sensational. McDavid scored his first on the man advantage just 7:44 into the game, and the Oilers puck movement on the powerplay was terrific all night. The third powerplay opportunity featured a little sloppiness, but overall the man advantage was lethal.
McDavid, by the way, was strong in a game that he clearly wasn’t going 100% in. No, McDavid isn’t hurt or anything, but he was clearly feeling his way into the contest and using it as a chance to shake off the rust. He still scored two goals and dominated at times. That’s a scary thought for the Chicago Blackhawks.
James Neal played a strong game, was physical and agitated the Flames. Jujhar Khaira also played a strong game. In six total games, including the final five prior to ‘the pause’, Khaira has looked immensely better at center than on the wing.
The Oilers dominated the first 25 minutes. That was good. The didn’t play a strong final 35 minutes. That’s the bad.
Granted, the Oilers were up 2-0 at the time and it was a game that didn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. It’s tough to nitpick a preseason tilt, because the intensity isn’t the same and guys are aware of the situation.
If anything, the Oilers will need to smarten up with the puck. In the final 35 minutes, it was like they were trying to pass the puck into the net. You simply can’t do that against a goalie like Corey Crawford. The Oilers need to create shooting lanes and blast the puck on net every chance they have. You can’t play an overly pretty game in the playoffs. It doesn’t work.
There were to many legit scoring chances that were passed up for an extra pass. That’s not a recipe for success. The Oilers know that. They also turned the puck over a little too much, trying to force passes that weren’t there.
Tuesday’s exhibition was a success solely because no one got hurt. Health is key, as a healthy Oilers team SHOULD take care of the Blackhawks in the Qualification Round. Edmonton’s start was strong, the powerplay looked good and the goaltending was locked in. Those are all positives.
It was a good night on Tuesday. There are things to work on, but expecting perfection in that game was never realistic. Head coach Dave Tippett has plenty to be pleased with, and plenty to harp on in the lead up to Saturday’s tilt.