1) We're six game in and a lot is going to change. Give me one aspect of the Oilers' game that going to change in the next couple months, could be good or bad.
Shona: Injuries which is bad. Right now you’re looking at fairly minor players being injured, but it’s unreal to expect that at some point this season someone higher in the depth chart isn’t going to get hurt. Someone higher in the depth chart always seems to get hurt. Also the defense, I’d expect that things will change there for the better when some of the players return from injury. Of course, that’s not a sure thing. It may all go down the toilet despite an increase in NHL experience and the defensive pairings getting a better idea of exactly what the person they’re playing with will do.
Derek: Teams are going to focus more and more on McDavid. Calgary basically left him alone and he torched them. The last 4 opponents (especially Buffalo) have been a lot more focused on him. In the Buffalo game, the Oilers seemed to expect McDavid to do most of the offensive work like he did vs Calgary. After that game, the others seemed to have understood that he can't be the only one to carry the water.
Jeff: Oilers are 5-1 in their first six games, so let's keep this one relatively upbeat. The second line is going to have to start producing sooner than later, yeah? Particularly 67 and 93, they can't be huffing zeroes all year. Nugent-Hopkins has just 2 assists in six games, while Benoit Pouliot has 1-1-2 in the same period. Nuge has averaged two shots per game all year, you've got to think that he'll start finding the back of the net before too long.
Alan: Well an awful lot has been going right for Edmonton through the first six games and if history tells us anything it is that things tend to regress to the mean over the longer term. There are any number of things that could and in some cases will play out on. Right now everyone is pleasantly surprised by the results Kris Russell has had, but if we dig a little deeper, you'll see that his PDO is a full 4.8 points higher than any other full-time player on the team not named McDavid. You could make a case that Connor's might stay slightly elevated due to his obscene skill (I suspect his drops too though) but Russell's bound to plummet back to reality a bit and I'm curious what people will be saying about his game when that happens. It's easy to have a GF% in the low 70's when your teammates are converting on their chances and your goalie is stopping every shot when you're on the ice. That said I'm not trying to knock what Russell's done so far, I just think people are all warm and fuzzy over the team's strong start and are overlooking red flags that would be obvious if he played for any team other than your favourite one when they are winning games. The same regression point applies to Tyler Pitlick and his 19% shooting percentage.
Scott: The Oilers have scored more goals per game than anyone else in the league. I doubt that continues. They have 12 goals so far from McDavid, Eberle, Lucic, Nugent-Hopkins, Pouliot, and Draisaitl (2.0 per game) and 10 from their other forwards (1.7 per game). Their top six will probably regress a little, but it's really that second number that I think takes a big hit. Last season, they got 112 goals from McDavid, Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Pouliot, and Draisaitl (1.4 per game), and just 63 from all of their other forwards (0.8 per game). I don't think the support forwards have improved that much.
Ben: This is a common mistake. In fact, there are only two parts of the season that matter: the beginning of the season, when everything that happens over 82 games is determined permanently, and the end of the season, when we decide who wants it most. Those fifty-odd games in the middle never count and in fact are often not played, fans relying on fictionalized "live-tweets" of 50-50 draws that were never awarded and Japanese girls that never resisted. Therefore, I think we can confidently say that Taylor Hall and the old arena were the problems all along, and the Oilers are great.
Matt: The Oilers obviously won't continue to win 83% of their games. A lot of things have broken the Oilers way through the first month, and that will certainly not continue. That said, points are already in the bank, and the Oilers are well-posited to make their most legitimate run at a playoff berth in some time. Caution for the optimists, however, the Oilers rode a two-week spell of Khabibulin's best hockey and RNH's coming out party to a great record a few years ago, only to draft Yakupov that summer. Even still, I think Talbot will settle somewhere between his god-awful and god-mode variants and provide league average goaltending. Kris Russell will continue his decline from the high water mark of his career (G1 vs Calgary), and completely revert back to the form that gives the Copper and Blue staff the pukes. Benoit Pouliot will stop taking 46 penalties every three minutes, Darnell Nurse will continue to improve (hopefully), and Ryan Nugent Hopkins will contribute a little more offensively.
Ryan: Winning games is a lot of fun, but something tells me that the Oilers aren’t going to keep winning five out of every six. Maybe I’m being crazy, I just don’t see the team winning 68 games this season. Yeah it’s a lazy answer but sometimes you just want to be right.
2) Now what can we expect to stay the same?
Shona: Connor McDavid will continue to be awesome. The fans will continue to vacillate between this being the best thing ever and the end of the world. And the Oilers will continue to have the ability to lose big if the house of cards falls apart.
Derek: We've already seen the ebbs and flows of goaltending. Talbot was pedestrian to downright awful the first 3 games, and was just brilliant the last 3. I think we are going to be in for this all season, which isn't really a surprise, once you get outside top handful of goaltenders, this is how they typically all perform.
Jeff: I think Cam Talbot has established some normalcy after a couple of curvy weeks. Right now he's batting .924 SV%, which isn't too far from his last season finish of .921%. Some wavy waters to begin the season for Cam Talbot, but I think he's straightened the ship and he's going to be the Oilers' go-to for the next six months. The Oilers are going to need him.
Alan: I think the McDavid line will continue to produce at a strong rate. I'm not sure how good I feel about that being the best combination for the team because I think the skill and offence could be a little better distributed amongst the top 9 to balance out the roster, but there's no denying how successful Lucic-McDavid-Eberle has been, nor is it really all that surprising. I think the strong play of Klefbom and Larsson will continue as well. I'd like to see them hopefully be able to generate a little more offensively, even just from a creating chances perspective, but their ratios are really strong in terms of what they create vs. what they allow. I actually think that might come too as the Oilers middle six starts to figure itself out. They are already maximizing their minutes with the top line and if they can help drive RNH's line a little then they could emerge as one of the better tandems in the league. I don't really think the counting stats are coming for Larsson, but Klefbom could but some points on the board this year.
Scott: I think the goaltending has been pretty close to expectations so far. Cam Talbot is the clear top guy, and I expect him to get more than sixty starts. I said at the start of the year that I expected him to perform at his career average or better, and he's just one goal off that mark through six games.
Ben: I don't see why we should expect anything to stay the same after only six games. That's 7.3% of the regular season. If you looked at the first 7.3% of your life and said "what do you expect to stay the same?" you'd say "well I imagine I'll spend a lot of time sucking on boobies and crapping myself," and in some of our cases you'd be right but it would hardly validate the concept. Anybody who says we can confidently say anything is behaving with the rashness of the American general who got his troops surrounded and shouted "they can't get away from us now!"
Matt: The Oilers will continue to be in games. The Oilers have the best player in hockey and he is virtually unstoppable. The curious thing, for me at least, is that the Oilers are still .500 when teams DO stop him. Of course, with a 2 game sample size, your mileage may vary. But, one thing to remember: McDavid will not be held off the scoresheet very much this year. He's that good.
Ryan: The Klefbom/Larsson pairing is going to continue to be solid. There is a lot to like about their play so far this season and I think things only get better as they get more familiar with each other. So maybe that’s not the same after all. These questions are hard.
3) Tyler Pitlick and Anton Slepyshev, what are you thinking? Are these guys actual NHLers?
Shona: I like Pitlick but Slepyshev has never been a favourite of mine. Watching him in Oilers rookie camps was almost painful. However, I would argue that logically by playing in the NHL, these guys are actual NHLers. Since the Oilers aren’t the worst team in the league right now, they’re even NHLers on possibly more than one team. If they belong in the NHL long term will depend on if they can keep up. Like everyone else, they will need to prove continued value to the Oilers. If they can do that, or the Oilers rack up more injuries, I see them staying in the NHL longer.
Derek: Pitlick has always had the tools, his problem was something always seemed to break on his toolbox. If there's an injury to be had, he's had it and it's set him back several times. Kudos to the Oilers for sticking with him. Slepyshev is another who seems to be able to play at this level. He's very good on the cycle but I don't think he'll ever have the offense people might have hoped from him. One thing to consider though, is the season is still early. Players tend to come into the NHL and go all out for several games before tapering off. This has mostly to do with the fact that it's hard to play that way consistently (and what separates regular NHL players from fill ins). We'll have to see if these 2 can maintain that style over a long stretch.
Jeff: I'm more bullish on Tyler Pitlick than I am on Anton Slepyshev, but that's partly due to the fact that Pitlick has three goals already this season. A 6'2" forward who can crash and bang has some time available to him on a Chiarelli roster. If you see 15 goals out of Pitlick this year, wouldn't you call that a success?
Alan: I've always been a fan of Pitlick and feel bad that injuries have had such a harsh impact on his career. I also felt like Slepyshev should have been drafted in the top 100 in his first draft year and then he went on to be a middle round pick in his 2nd year of eligibility after being completely passed over the first time. I think there possibly players there in both of those guys. If Pitlick can leave his injury trouble behind, then certainly I believe it's there for him to take. That said, if you're looking at these two and thinking "future top six forward" I think you'll be disappointed. I think Pitlick can be a nice piece in a depth role serving as an upgrade on some of the lousy 4th line pieces Edmonton has had in recent years. If he grows into a 3rd line role I think he'll have exceeded my expectations, which would be great. Slepyshev probably not all that different. I actually think they may end up competing with one another for a job at some point, which is just fine.
Scott: I'll interpret this as guys who will be regulars for at least a couple of years. Slepyshev at least has a couple of paths to regular status. He may develop the skills to be a solid fourth line player, but he may also develop the offense to play up the lineup a little. He's already got one game this year where he played almost fourteen minutes and performed quite well. I think he probably gets sent down to the AHL sometime this season and hopefully gets a chance to develop that offense. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back. With Pitlick, I think the possibilities are more limited. He hasn't played more than ten minutes in a game yet this year. When he did a couple of years ago, he wasn't particularly successful. His ability to hold a fourth line job long term probably depends on his ability to PK, which he hasn't ever done at the NHL level, but they're trying to ease him into it. His three minutes on the PK this season are the most of his NHL career.
Ben: I'm not buying Sleepy for a second. No doubt the Oilers have and will run out worse players, so in that sense he may be an "actual NHLer" because we won't have anyone capable of taking his job for like three years (the Jean-Francois Jacques story), but given the one-dimensionality of his game he should probably, y'know, stretch that dimension pretty far. He has never done so, not in any league, unless we say "well he had a reasonable 20-year-old KHL season considering" which is damning with faint praise indeed.
Pitlick is a bit different. Pitlick's more well-rounded game means that coaches will be looking for reasons to give him minutes instead of reasons to deny him. His offense isn't in advance of Sleepy's or anything (no he is not going to score 30 goals this year) despite being older, but he does more things and does them acceptably. I won't say "he is an actual NHLer," rather "he'll go on some bottom sixes and not totally humiliate himself and the Oilers will probably not be his last NHL shot, though he may not get a third." How's that?
Matt: Both players possess the most important skill, IMO, for a bottom six player in today's NHL: speed. They can both skate, and they can both skate well. Tyler Pitlick has had an NHL release forever, but he's also had an NHL team's worth of injuries so far in his young career. Slepyshev scored at every level he played at before coming to North America, so there's some puck skills there as well. I imagine we'll only see flashes of it though, while he simplifies his game to suit a North-South bottom six role as per the coaching staff.
Ryan: If I had to pick one I’d go with Pitlick – three goals so far this season – but I’m not sure either is still around two years from now though. Looking at what the Oilers have now, what they still need to add to be truly competitive, and what these two likely are be, I don’t see where they fit. So for either to be an NHLer they’d have to beat expectations and I don’t predict players to do that.
4) Who is your favourite Muppet?
Shona: Beaker because I had a co-worker that people thought looked like him. It drove that guy crazy!
Derek: Mahna Mahna, and I'll fight anyone over it.
Jeff: Dr. Teeth. I was a band nerd in high school.
Alan: The correct answer to this question is the duo of Statler and Waldorf. DB has no idea what he's talking about.
Note: At this point the email thread is derailed by discussion regarding Statler and Waldorf and whether or not the duo truly counts as a single Muppet. References to Salt-N-Pepa follow.
Scott: Statler and Waldorf. Loved those guys as a kid.
Ben: Kevin Lowe
Matt: Fozzy Bear and it's not close. Waka waka.
Ryan: Wow, seven answers and not one of them right. Rowlf the Dog. No other answer is acceptable. Maybe Ben’s.