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Two games is a small sample size. But to me, it was Sample B or not to be.
Sample A made you nauseous and left you with a headache. Sample B was intoxicating.
True, Connor McDavid had one of his otherworldly games scoring three goals and an assist in Sample B and if they’d been going in for him in the Oilers lid-lifter, a 5-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Edmonton Oilers would probably be 2-0 to start the season instead of 1-1.
In the Oilers’ 5-2 win Thursday over the Canucks, not only did McDavid go 3-1-4 but Leon Draisaitl was 0-4-4 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 2-1-3. Edmonton was two for four on the power play that was No. 1 in the league last year. And the league’s No. 2 penalty killers from last season held the Canuck to zero for five with the man advantage.
So off what we’ve seen so far, maybe this is situation normal — as McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins, the power play and the penalty killing go, so go the Edmonton Oilers.
But if you believe that the Oilers are on the verge of realizing achieving an identity that illustrates more depth on the roster and more understanding under their Rogers-sponsored hockey helmets, examining the first two samples was a complete contrast between the team they used to be and the team they hope to become.
In the lid-lifter, the Oilers failed to produce the intense forechecking, play-the-game-in-the-offensive-end, win-the-little-races-to-the-puck and win the-little-battles-all-over-the-ice team that is their intended identity this shortened season.
When they do, they are more than capable of becoming one of the very top teams in the league. And McDavid with many nights like coming off a healthy, hungry off-season can contemplate an Art Ross, Hart AND Rocket Richard season.
One by one the Oilers paraded their three stars into the virtual interview room after the win Thursday and their overview comments spoke to all of the above.
“That’s the position we want to be in all year long — up after two periods and able to preserve those leads,” said McDavid of what we watched.
“The first game was not the way we wanted to show up and not the way we wanted to play. We responded with a very solid game,” said Draisaitl who left the ice, once again, the league leader, alone on top of the NHL point parade with five, all assists.
“All four lines, all six D, right from the start had the right mindset,” testified Nugent-Hopkins.
“We knew we had to create something better than we did the first night. Coming back-to-back, it’s obviously a good chance to get things going right away. You don’t have too much time to think and I think we responded pretty well.
“I think our line held on to pucks much better tonight. I think we played with more desperation than we would have in a normal situation.
“We understand the way this season is going to go. Most of the time we play mini-series against teams so these mini-series are huge. Every night is a four-point game. You don’t want to give them any points let alone just getting yourself two. It’s important to beat them in regulation, too,” said Nugent-Hopkins of not giving up a loser-point by going to overtime or a shootout.
Most of the time we play mini-series against teams so these mini-series are huge. Every night is a four-point game.
For this night, the Oilers were the team head coach Dave Tippett expected to coach this year and were what the majority of Edmonton fans expected to watch.
“We had a better thought process throughout the game and a much better commitment to battling for loose pucks. And we took care of the puck instead of turning it over, so all in all, a much better result,” said Tippett.
“I liked the way we competed and I liked the way we took care of the puck more and didn’t give as many Grade-A chances away.
“You have to have a mindset about how you are going to win. It doesn’t matter if you win by two or win by eight. You just got to win. Sometimes if you want to win by eight, you don’t win by two.”
So what to make of this start to the season?
To me, the Oilers are pretty much where they were back in early August when the team was such a disappointment in Game 1 of the Qualifying Series of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks.
This one looked more like Game 2 when the Oilers had a positive response.
The next two are Saturday and Monday at home against the Montreal Canadiens so it’ll be interesting to compare those games to Games 3-4 of the Chicago series where they made their early exit from the Edmonton bubble.
If they revert to form and lose both of those, it’ll be pretty difficult to declare progress here with this team that started last season with five straight wins, won seven of their first eight and won both of their games against the Canadiens.
If they come to Rogers Place with the will to play like they did Thursday, then fasten your seat belts.
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