Youuuuuuuuur Edmonton Oilers (0-0-0) were back in action after a (too) long hiatus on Wednesday night, playing host to the visiting Vancouver Canucks (0-0-0) to open the 2020-21 NHL season. With every game being a divisional one this year, both sides were looking to start their campaign on the front foot with two critical points.
I’ll be honest, folks. It felt so good to watch an Oilers game again that I didn’t — no, I couldn’t — even keep notes. I was just Tweeting and watching. And eating. For a brief moment, I knew what it meant to be content again.
Which is perhaps just an annoying way to say that this recap’s probably going to mirror the Oilers’ performance tonight: you might find some good in here if you’re looking for it, but you’ll probably leave uninspired and it will, objectively, be a mess. Let’s go.
The first period began without incident. Neither side was able to generate much offense, with Edmonton’s best (half) chances coming from one-and-done rushes and Vancouver’s best looks coming from distance. One of Edmonton’s chances was of the high danger variety though, as newcomers Slater Koekkoek and Dominik Kahun almost hooked up for their first points with the Oilers:
dominik kahun with a great early chance for the oilers pic.twitter.com/04OtgvY2nG— zach laing (@zjlaing) January 14, 2021
Otherwise, the first half of the first period was pretty uneventful. Shortly past the halfway point, Edmonton was forced to kill a Kailer Yamamoto tripping penalty. Mikko Koskinen looked especially sharp early, and the Oilers were able to kill it without incident.
As Yamamoto returned to the ice, he immediately planted himself in front of Braden Holtby’s crease and drew a crosschecking penalty to give Edmonton their first man advantage of the season.
Unfortunately, last year’s scintillating form was nowhere to be seen on that first power play. The Oilers wasted everybody’s time for two minutes before returning to even strength without even a single shot on goal for their trouble.
And it would cost them.
Less than a minute after killing the penalty, Bo Horvat found himself all alone with time and space after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ignored his check and Adam Larsson ignored the middle of the ice. He made no mistake from in close to put the visitors ahead. 0-1.
Vancouver’s grip on the game strengthened after the goal and they were able to see out the rest of the first period with relative ease.
Now we’re talking. The Oilers traded good chances with Vancouver early in P2 but the Oilers’ chances, at least anecdotally, seemed more dangerous. We finally got our first look at Connor McDavid in full flight but he couldn’t find his first goal of the young season. It didn’t take his teammates too long though.
Kailer Yamamoto, fresh off an extremely impressive rookie season, hauled the puck from zone to zone before losing it along the far boards. He would not be denied, however, and his dogged pursuit of Olli Juolevi saw the puck fall to a lurking Leon Draisaitl. He turned the corner and put it on a platter in the slot for Yamamoto to one-time past Holtby’s right ear and tie it up. 1-1.
Edmonton’s influence over proceedings grew after the goal, but they weren’t able to capitalize on their newfound momentum before drawing a penalty through McDavid. This time, the Oilers PP looked a little more like last year’s historically good version, but still they couldn’t find a breakthrough.
And once again, it would cost them.
Vancouver began to assert themselves almost immediately after the penalty expired, and it was one-way traffic toward Mikko Koskinen until they found the go-ahead goal. Darnell Nurse sent it to Tyler Ennis along the wall but he was closed down immediately and turned over. Jujhar Khaira was guarding air and that meant someone was open. Ultimately it was Nils Hoglander who capitalized on the series of Oilers mistakes to put Vancouver ahead. 1-2.
Edmonton drew another penalty via McDavid toward the end of the period but, again, the Oilers PP couldn’t find one to tie it.
The Oilers needed a quick goal to start the third period and that’s exactly what they got after winning the opening faceoff. The puck drew back to Ethan Bear who found Zack Kassian on the right boards. He carried it over the blue before whipping a cross-seam pass to a trailing Darnell Nurse. Nurse collected and ripped one from the high slot over Holtby’s left shoulder just 10 seconds into the period. 2-2.
Unfortunately, the Oilers didn’t really generate any momentum from the quick goal and Vancouver jumped on them almost immediately. Less than two minutes later, they restored their lead through Adam Gaudette. Another blown coverage in the Edmonton zone meant another Canuck was able to find and exploit space in the middle. 2-3.
Less than two minutes after that, Vancouver scored again. Another just absolutely insane blown coverage meant Brock Boeser had epochs to make a play in tight, and he beat Koskinen clean to extend the visitors’ lead. 2-4.
After the goal, Vancouver continued to press for a couple more minutes before Edmonton finally gained a foothold in the game once more.
Dominik Kahun made a nice play to maintain possession down low before working the puck back to Caleb Jones on the right point. He flicked it over to Adam Larsson to take a touch and slap home from just inside the left blueline. It avoided all the bodies in front — Holtby’s most importantly — and the Oilers were back in it. 3-4.
Edmonton continued to push but Holtby was answering every question, and eventually the Canucks found some insurance. A lovely bank pass from Elias Pettersson hit Brock Boeser in stride with only Koskinen to beat. He did, cleanly. 3-5.
The Oilers had another power play with a few minutes remaining but couldn’t beat Holtby, despite playing a portion of it 6v4 Mikko Koskinen on the bench. Jesse Puljuarvi, who actually aquitted himself well this evening by my eye, was caught with his hand in the cookie jar trying a little too hard to turn the puck over. Tyler Motte grabbed his blade and drew a hooking penalty from him, effectively putting the game to bed for good.
I’ve gotta write
better some notes.
But in all honesty, what sort of conclusions can be drawn from their first game in months? Everyone looked rusty. Passes were hitting legs, coverages were diabolical, and the goaltending eventually buckled after starting pretty well. I also thought McDavid could have had a couple, the Draisaitl line was strong, and JP looked at home in an Oilers sweater.
I will say though that they better knock that rust off pretty quickly, because they can’t afford too many games like this one.
That’s how many wins are left to play for. The road to 55-1-0 begins tomorrow night when the Oilers and Canucks run it back.