HOCKEY'S BACK, EVERYONE.
Oilers fans have really come to understand the true meaning of thirst. Not having made the playoffs for ten consecutive years means a longer time dreaming about the return of hockey than most, and that means an even more intense rush of feels when hockey finally makes its way back into our lives. When the players were announced, culminating in the rousing ovation for the newly-minted captain Connor McDavid, I felt that uniquely familiar physical sensation, the simultaneous rush of blood to the head and goosebumps, that's accompanied every season opener of my hockey viewing career.
This game quenched that thirst. In many ways, this 6-4 win by the Oilers against Calgary in their first game at the new Rogers Arena had all the elements of what we expect from the team in the years to come- dazzling speed, frustrating inconsistencies, and so much Connor McDavid. The new captain of the team really hard carried today in the moments that mattered, as his resilience and hard-nosed hustle is what made the difference in a rather erratic game from a young, energetic Oilers team.
Here's how it went down.
First Period: A Good Start
The Oilers didn't wait long to get things going; just as we were still getting used to the sights and sounds of having hockey in our lives again, Draisaitl sent a shot to the net that was deflected in by Patrick Maroon just 1:10 into the first period. And then as we were getting used to the beauty and joy of the Oilers having a lead, Chiasson scored just 36 seconds later, tapping in his own rebound to even the score at 1-1. In a pattern that would continue throughout the game, the Oilers had a quick response for any offense from the Flames, as Tyler Pitlick quickly responded with a goal right after the Oilers powerplay to snatch the lead right back. Larsson and Russell also tallied their first points as Oilers, drawing the two assists on that goal.
Adam Larsson then smashed his huge golf club-breaking body into Michael Ferland, giving a tantalizing taste of what would be a very welcome physical edge to his game. His defensive partner on the Swede Dream Blueline™ then relayed a nice pass to Zack Kassian for a snippy breakaway goal, capitalizing on a bad change by the Flames to put the Oilers up 3-1 by the end of the first period.
It is important to note at this point that newly-minted #98 Jesse Puljujarvi was on the ice for Oilers' first two goals, both times smiling like he was the freaking sun.
Second Period: His Name is Connor McDavid
After a shaky first goal, Talbot looked much steadier throughout the rest of the first period and beginning of second, making a couple of critical saves to preserve the lead. But one man can only control the flooding for so long, and largely unsteady play from the Oilers, which led them to be outshot 17-4 by the 12-minute point in the period, led to two shorthanded goals surrendered, courtesy of Troy Brouwer and Michael Frolik. After a riveting start, the game was suddenly tied 3-3 at the halfway point.
It was at this point that a young man named Connor McDavid decided to put the entire team on his 19-year old back and hard carry the Oilers to a win.
After the Frolik goal at 10:51, the momentum was entirely on the Flames’ side, having scored on two consecutive Oilers powerplays (both penalties drawn by Connor McDavid, as well). Jordan Eberle was terribly out of position on both goals, standing and watching by the side of the net like he was enjoying an episode of Seinfeld as Frolik had his way. The rest of the team was slow-footed and complacent with the lead.
Connor decided that if drawing penalties for his team was just going to put them in inexplicably more vulnerable positions, he would just do the logical thing and score the goals himself. After many explosive rushes the whole first half of the game, he finally broke through with a goal at 12:17 in the second period to put the Oilers back on top, and then another one off a penalty shot two minutes later to firmly negate those two shorthanded goals and give the Oilers a 5-3 goal at the end of the second period.
Third Period: You Get a Goal, You Get a Goal
To be quite honest, the game was largely decided by McDavid going Super Saiyan at the halfway point and completely changing the complexion of the entire game. Jesse ":]" Puljujarvi scored his first goal as an Oiler in the third period off a giveaway, radiating more beams of Finnish sunshine from his face. Save this gif of his young, happy face for days when you are sad.
Then, Dennis Wideman scored a goal but really, who cares. Eberle put the game away with an empty-netter at 18:38, and the Oilers had scored a whopping 7 GOALS en route to a 7-4 win.
For some reason, the Flames have been like annoying Alberta-made kryptonite to the Oilers, 10-1-1 in their last 12 games against Edmonton, but today's freshly charged team arm-wrestled them into submission. For every time the Flames scored a goal or had some good shifts, the Oilers were ready with a response (or two), displaying a wonderful resilience and ability to create chances all over the ice. Despite being outshot 41-28, the Oilers were dangerous all night long, except for those horrid first ten minutes of the second period, and each time Connor McDavid had the puck on his stick, things just happened.
- Connor McDavid- The captain played like a captain. Consistently the most dangerous Oiler on the ice, he skated like he had freaking jet packs strapped to his ankles and finished with a team-high 6 shots on goal and +3 rating. Leadership was obvious in moments like when he gathered his wingers for a chat before a draw in the second period and immediately drew a penalty in the ensuing play. It brought a tear to my eye to see how hard he was fighting after faceoffs to get possession, no matter what it took. Also made a filial play near the end of the third period, feeding Father Lucic on a breakaway instead of going for his own hat trick.
- It was nice to see Milan Lucic defending his son’s honor early on with a fight against Deryk Engelland. The broadcasters mentioned that he had only been in three fights all of last year, so while he’s not here to serve as Connor’s personal bodyguard, Milan was setting the tone early on with this fight that plebs should think twice before touching the holy body of Connor. Looch also finished with a team-high 6 hits, throwing that body around like nobody’s business.
- Kris Russell, for someone not expected to tally much on the scoresheet, had a great first game as an Oiler, finishing the night with two points. Russell also made a couple of great defensive plays, including suppressing a Flames counter rush in the first period as Tkachuk came out of the penalty box, leading directly to the Pitlick goal. Maybe this is the #4 we’ve really been waiting for. (‘Tis joke! Please don’t kill me.)
- Oscar Klefbom led the team in ice time at 24:47, soothing for those who were worried about lingering effects of his injury. Looked steady for the most part and saved a few goals with his stick.
- The offense had a breakout night-- not completely unexpected, but following the departure of two number-one picks, it’s certainly reassuring to see.
- Leon Draisaitl had an interesting game (a CF% of 38.24% is certainly interesting) with his most glaring error being a careless backhand pass at center ice on the powerplay that led to the first shorthanded goal.
- The defense was rather erratic— four goals given up is not great, obviously, and the offense bailed them out on this particular night, but Darnell Nurse looked particularly lost, misreading the play badly on the Flames’ first goal.
- Really, Matthew Tkachuk? You’re going to be a twat and slewfoot Brandon Davidson in the first period of your first NHL game? These kids need to read some Confucius and understand the importance of respecting your elders. I’m glad we didn’t draft you, and you're going to have some big men coming after you on Friday. Davidson left the game after that vicious play and finished the night with just over seven minutes of ice time, which is rather concerning; his burgeoning career is constantly being threatened with injuries, and we are hoping this is the year he establishes himself, not the year he becomes Tyler Pitlick 2.0.
- Jordan Eberle- Jordan Eberle has been my Canadian hero since I was 16 and I will forever extol the virtues of his beautiful front teeth, but nothing excuses his performance tonight. So out of position on those two Flames shorthanded goals, the lack of backcheck is still an issue this season and very frustrating to watch. I almost felt like he didn’t deserve that empty netter in the end.
Extra Emotions and Feelings
- Seeing Kris Russell wearing #4 is weird; it’s like nothing has changed, but everything has changed.
- It was really nice to see the refs finally corral that goon 20-year-old-18-year-old Sam Bennett into the penalty box after that scrum. Serves him right.
Game in a Haiku
My name is Connor.
I will save the rainforest
and score some goals, too.