One of the unsung heroes in the Edmonton Oilers shining 5-0 start has been a player that far too many critics love to hate: 9 Things – Edmonton Journal

One of the unsung heroes in the Edmonton Oilers shining 5-0 start has been a player that far too many critics love to hate: 9 Things - Edmonton Journal
McDavid, Draisaitl help unbeaten Oilers defeat Rangers
The Oilers have roared out of the gate and have banked 10 points that will be precious indeed when it comes to making the playoffs in 2019-20. Remember: Just under 80% of teams that sit in a playoffs spot on American Thanksgiving make the post-season come April. We’re just at Canadian Thanksgiving now. U.S. Turkey day is at approximately the 20-game mark. So, we’re at the quarter pole of the quarter pole, if you will. But since we’re talking bird…

Last year at U.S. Turkey time, Dallas held down the final wild card spot in the West with 24 points. Can the Oilers scrape up 14 points in their next 15 games? Last year at U.S. Thanksgiving Calgary was 1st in the Pacific with 27 points. The Oilers will need just 17 in 15 games to equal that. Barely .500 hockey from here.

Oilers patient play propelling Edmonton to unexpected, record-setting start

9. Unsuccessful Oilers PTO hopeful Anton Burdasov has signed a 1-year deal with SKA of the KHL. It’s thought that they and Moscow Dynamo were the 2 biggest bidders for the tall winger. That would allow him another NHL opportunity next Fall if Burdasov is still interested and can get his affairs in order much sooner. He has a goal in 2 games for St. Petersburg so far.

"One thing Ive figured out quickly with this team – especially with some of the talented players that we have – is that theres more incentive to keep the game close," said goalie Mike Smith, who allowed the games first goal but was not beaten again on just 21 Rangers shots. "You have guys on this team that can change the game in the blink of an eye … one goal is nothing. Guys are starting to figure that out."

8. Unless one of his goaltenders really falls off, I will be surprised if Dave Tippett leans heavily on one over the other. For one thing, Mikko Koskinen was much better last year with regular rest. He really only hit the wall after Cam Talbot was traded and the back-up brought in (Anthony Stolarz) ended up hurt. And at 37 you must think that Mike Smith will be better with regular rest too. I do.

7. One of Connor McDavids precious few weaknesses thus far into his young NHL career has been face-offs. His success rate has been under 43%. But so far this season McDavid is over 54%. And I’m seeing him take more D-zone draws than he did last year. While all players have a fault or two the truly great ones have both the talent and drive to over-come most of them. Small sample but perhaps that’s what we’re seeing here?

The Oilers won their first seven in 1983-84 in the franchises first Stanley Cup season, and two years later had a 5-0 start. On this day they killed a 40-second five-on-three in the opening eight minutes of the game, as Smith robbed Mika Zibanejad and Brendan Lemieux on what seemed like certain goals.

Young Oilers defencemen a big key to Edmontons success

6. It is true that the NHL’s leading goal scorer James Neal (7) is sporting a shooting percentage (36.8%) that won’t last (for his entire career he’s 11.9%). But it does suggest that last year’s 5.0% in Calgary was an aberration. Neal is not shooting much more this year (TSA of 3.8/game versus 3.7/game in 2018-19). But he is playing with better players more often (o.k., all the time). Where Neal ends up this season in terms of production remains to be seen. But you have to wonder whether one of the biggest issues he had down South was simply usage.

Former Oilers coach Green dies at 79

5. Colby Cave was placed on waivers Saturday as Josh Archibald was activated from the I.R. While not a guarantee, I expect that Cave will pass through unclaimed and report to Bakersfield. While Colby Cave has some attributes that make him a useful player, facts are a guy like Markus Granlund can do more for you: Play all 3 forward positions, kill penalties well, and Granlund had 12 goals in 77 games last year in Vancouver. Cave’s offence is…un-apparent. Granlund had his best game of the season so far Saturday at pivot. It seemed like the change got his feet moving. The switch came at the suggestion of Oilers Assistant Coach Glen Gulutzan.

But the theme here is of a team that has figured out that if it hangs around long enough, McDavid and Draisaitl are likely enough to find a game-tying goal. Or someone else, like Oscar Klefbom, who has seven points in his first five games, scoring the 1-1 goal Saturday.

4. There continues to be some talk that the Oilers may be interested in Julien Gauthier in Carolina. The right-shot winger was the Hurricanes 1st over-all pick in 2016. That’s the same draft as you-know-who. Gauthier scored 27 for AHL Charlotte last season and 2 more in 2 games this year before his call-up. If indeed Edmonton scouts watched Saturday’s ‘Canes game against Columbus they would have seen Gauthier play 4th line minutes (8:25 TOI, and all but a few seconds of it 5×5) and register 0 points, 0 shots and 2 hits. One thing that perhaps may make the player attractive in such a deal though is the fact that Gauthier is waivers exempt. He could go to the AHL without fear of losing him for nothing.

Longtime @NHL d-man & #Oilers coach Ted Green has passed away at the age of 79. Coach Green was part of all five Cup teams & will be dearly missed. Our sincerest condolences go out to his family. The Rangers honoured him pre-game today & well be doing the same on Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/01sA9eNjqO

3. I have noticed that at 5-on-5 Jim Playfair has strictly limited Kris Russell to his strong (left-hand) side. But on the PK, Russell has frequently been deployed on the right side (often, but not always) in place of rookies Ethan Bear and Joel Persson. Playing his strong side has helped Russell headman the puck much more effectively so far this season than last. But that is not nearly as important when you are short-handed. Getting it up and out is just fine on the PK, thank you. And this allows the coaches to shelter the kids a bit. Russell played 3:28 short-handed on Saturday. Only Oscar Klefbom logged more minutes 4×5. Whether this lasts past Adam Larssons return is a good question. But that is at least 6-weeks away.

Simone Biles won the womens vault competition at the gymnastics world championships on Saturday to tie the record for most world medals by any gymnast, but couldnt add another in the uneven bars.

2. I believe that we are seeing Leon Draisaitl making a case for being the best 2-way forward in the NHL today. His defensive game has really reached a new level. Draisaitl dominated on Saturday while facing a heavy parade of the Rangers’ best players. By the time the game was over Draisaitl was 2nd over-all in NHL scoring (4-7-11 in 5 games). Yet in 9 and a half minutes of PK work so far this season Draisaitl has allowed 0 goals against and just 7 total scoring chances (just 1 Grade “A”) against while on the ice. And that’s with 100% 4×5 D-Zone starts. I believe some day Draisaitl will contend for the Selke. Will it be this year? Perhaps. But one thing about the Selke…it tends to demand longevity which to no fault of Leon’s…he doesn’t quite have yet.

Green, known as "Terrible Ted" through his playing days as a defenceman, appeared in 620 games in the NHL and 452 in the WHA with the New England Whalers and Winnipeg Jets.

1.Saturday was Matt Bennings best game of the season. In fact…maybe his best game as an Oiler. At least that’s what my eyes told me. But when I got some Twitter blow-back that Benning was “hot garbage”, I wondered how much of that bile was merely ABB (Anti-Benning Bias). After all, for all the guff the guy takes Benning has been a plus-player every season that he has been in the league for and on some pretty bad teams. Well…Matt Benning has yet to be on the ice for a single goal against 5 games into the 2019-20 season including Saturday. And he has faced extreme D-zone starts (73.1%) while doing so. Yet he remains the favorite whipping boy of many.

Green won the Stanley Cup as a player with the Boston Bruins in 1970 and 1972, and five more times as an assistant coach with Edmonton (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988) and co-coach (1990).

Drill down deeper into Saturday’s Rangers game: Benning played 16:48. During that time he was successful in keeping the play in between the face-off dots and the boards in his own D-zone during practically every play that he was involved in. Yet most of his even strength TOI was with the Riley Sheahan and Markus Granlund lines (the Oilers 3rd and 4th best lines at even strength). So, Benning wasn’t getting a significant “lift” from the Oilers most gifted players at all.

He led the team to the conference finals in 1992, but Edmonton missed the playoffs the following year and Green was fired in 1993 after a 3-18-3 start to the season.

It is true that as a 3rd pairing guy Matt Benning (and any 3rd pairing man in the league for that matter) tends to get a softer parade in terms of quality of competition. Yet against the Ranger’s very best offensive skaters? Matt Benning didn’t allow a single 5×5 chance against in 3:09 versus Artemi Panarin or in 2:31 5×5 versus Mika Zibanejad.

So if that’s “hot garbage” then I’ll have me a steaming pile of it, please. And while you’re at it…spare me the ABB.

#44 Zack Kassian, 5. Strange game where his body played pretty well but his stick betrayed him time and again. 6 shot attempts but just 1 was on target, 4 giveaways, but 4 hits and a strong physical presence throughout.   Had a great chance from a tough angle but missed the open net. Took a highly-dubious goalie interference penalty that robbed the Oilers of an apparent tying goal. (New rules likely prevented a coach’s challenge, which if unsuccessful would have resulted in a delay of game penalty and a full 2-minute 3v5.) Blew a great chance when McDavid sent him clear but tried to pass it off to Draisaitl and flubbed the attempt.  Couldn’t handle another pass from McDavid on the doorstep. Whiffed yet another McDavid setup but was finally rewarded on the continuation when he jammed at Lundqvist’s pads at a puck that trickled over the line. The goal was officially credited to Draisaitl but that puck doesn’t squirt through without Kassian bashing away at it, as if he’d learned how to use the apparent anti-magnet in his stick for good.

14h ago McDavid, Draisaitl help unbeaten Oilers defeat Rangers Connor McDavid scored the tiebreaking goal and Leon Draisaitl had two goals and an assist, all in the third period, and the Edmonton Oilers beat the New York Rangers 4-1 Saturday for their season-opening fifth straight win. The Canadian Press

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 9. Took a bit to get going, making a series of moderate-to-high-risk passes in the offensive zone, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. Unable to finish McDavid’s pass from a low angle in the first, then rang iron on a great chance early in the second. Blew into New York territory to test Lundqvist with a pair of backhand shots from close range. Set up the game winner with a rote pass after first winning three straight faceoffs on the powerplay (10/21=48% on the day). Scored the clincher himself when his close-range shot trickled through Lundqvist, then added the cherry on top with a terrific solo effort for the empty netter. Played a strong game behind his own blueline; his 2:27 on the penalty kill led the forward group, and included the entirety of the 40-second 2-man disadvantage. Made major contributions to 8 Grade A scoring chances for, 0 against. Led the Oilers in TOi (23:24), shots (4), shot attempts (8), and boxcars (2-1-3, +2). His 11 points rank 2nd in the NHL, just 1 behind his super linemate McDavid.

NEW YORK — Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers arent satisfied with their strong start. They know they can improve.

#60 Markus Granlund, 6. Moved into the middle on the fourth line to fill in for Gaetan Haas (healthy scratch) and Colby Cave (waived before game time). Made one decent play to corral Russell’s lob pass and create a good look which barely missed the top shelf. Another nifty play in the neutral zone sprang Chiasson and Nygard for a semi-2-on-1.  Got hauled down twice on the same d-zone sequence but the zebra was in see-no-evil mode, leaving Granlund to complain bitterly about the injustice of it all.  Drew a call on his next shift when he got decked from behind in a neutral zone puck battle. Had 2 takeaways and chipped in 1:45 on the PK in a quietly effective game that was his best to date.

McDavid scored the tiebreaking goal and Leon Draisaitl had two goals and an assist, all in the third period, and the Edmonton Oilers beat the New York Rangers 4-1 Saturday for their season-opening fifth straight win.

#83 Matt Benning, 7. Great shot block and clear late in the extended penalty kill, paying a physical price in  the process. Made another big-time shot block in the low slot to erase another dangerous NYR chance. Did a fine job standing up at the defensive blueline to prevent multiple zone entries. His terrific stretch pass to Khaira led to a good look from the slot. Hammered a one-timer off an RNH feed off the post. Made one loose clearance into the neutral zone that came back hard into Oilers territory, otherwise did a splendid job retrieving, protecting and moving the disc all afternoon long. Without it he was stellar, as supported by a statistical line with 3 hits, 2 blocks, 2 takeaways, and +1.

Kakkos first NHL goal with the theme from Titanic is everything you need today

“Its nice to be 5-0 but we have to keep getting better,” said McDavid, who also had an assist. “I thought we were really effective as a line tonight. Theres a few times we tried to force plays, turned the puck over a little bit in the first (period).”

Connor McDavid staying level as Oilers hot start continues

Oscar Klefbom had a goal and an assist, and Mike Smith stopped 20 shots to help Edmonton improve to 5-0-0 for the first time in 34 years and become the first NHL team to win its first five games after trailing in each.

#77 Oscar Klefbom, 7. Got on the wrong side of Kaapo Kakko on the game’s first goal, leaving the hotshot rookie a free pass to the net for the easy finish. Made up for that by beating Lundqvist with a screened point shot to tie the score a few minutes later, then earned a secondary assist on the game winner to up his early season production to an impressive 1-6-7 through 5 games. Oilers dominated possession during his time at even strength, while he chipped in over 7 minutes on special teams which collectively were a key to victory.

“We got scored on early tonight and a lot of time in the game left to come back,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. “We dont think about that, we think about playing well. First period was all right, but I thought we got a lot better as the game went on. … We just went about our business and found a way to win.”

“That was a goal of ours coming in,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “It was the other way last year, we took more penalties than we had power plays. I still think we can do a better job of it. (Tomas) Jurco took a penalty at the offensive blue line the other night, so there are some penalties we can take out of our game. If you can come out on the plus in that every night, it’s not a bad position to be in.”

Ted Green was tough on ice but kind-hearted off it

Edmonton completed a sweep of the New York area teams. The Oilers beat the Islanders 4-1 on Tuesday night, and then edged New Jersey 4-3 in a shootout Thursday night.

“That’s what you need within a team. If someone goes down you need other guys to pick up the slack,” said Nurse. “That’s what we’ve done so far. Anytime you lose a guy like Lars it’s a big hit, it’s hard to fill his shoes the way he defends and competes every night, but we’re trying to that as a committee.”

Rookie Kaapo Kakko had his first NHL goal for the Rangers, who had won their first two games but were playing for the first time in a week. Henrik Lundqvist finished with 23 saves.

That also translates into more power-play opportunities as opponents struggle with Edmonton’s speed through the neutral zone or cycles in the offensive end. The Oilers have drawn 15 penalties this season, the fifth-highest total in the league behind Toronto, Washington, San Jose and Pittsburgh. The Leafs, Caps and Sharks have all played one more game.

“As the game went on we just got sloppier and sloppier,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “We played with the wrong pace. … At the end of the day, we werent good all the way up and through lineup.”

The Oilers have been cutting down on the penalties on this trip, taking just four minors through the first four games. It’s taking a lot of stress off the penalty killers, leaving them fresher for five-on-five play. It also means they don’t have to win back the momentum after spending two minutes on the kill.

With the score 1-1, Edmonton took the lead when McDavid was credited with a power-play goal at 9:44 of the third period. His pass for Neal in front deflected off Rangers defenceman Jacob Troubas leg and past Lundqvist. It was McDavids fourth of the season.

“He’s working hard away from the puck, he’s trying to do the little things right. He’s maturing into that two-way forward he can really become. He’s a big body, he’s good in the circle. He can be a real force on both sides of the puck.” — McDavid on Leon Draisaitl.

Draisaitl made it 3-1, knocking in a loose puck in front of Lundqvist with 6:42 left. Lundqvist appeared to believe he had smothered the puck, but officials didnt blow a whistle. Draisaitl kept whacking at the puck.

“He’s such a smart player, very confident with the puck,” said Nurse. “With that confidence and his patience, he’s stepped in and played great so far. It’s been fun. As we play more and more together we get more comfortable as a pair. He’s done really well so far.”

The Rangers pulled Lundqvist for an extra skater, but Draisaitl got an empty-netter, his fourth goal of the season, with 15 seconds left to seal the win.

“I dont think we were at our best, halfway through the second maybe,” Smith said. “The third period was our best period. We just kind of stuck with an ugly game for the first two periods. … Were finding ways to get it done and thats what its about really.”

Hockey commentator Don Cherry, who coached the Bruins shortly after Green left for the World Hockey Association, praised the former defenceman on his weekly Coachs Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

Trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes, the Oilers picked up their intensity in the second period. Draisaitl hit a goalpost 27 seconds into the period, and Edmonton had a goal waved off because Zack Kassian skated into Lundqvist in the crease.

However, Klefbom tied it at 6:45 as he got the puck off faceoff, skated to his right and fired a shot from the centre of the blue line through traffic that beat Lundqvist for his first.

He led the team to the conference finals in 1992, but Edmonton missed the playoffs the following year and Green was fired in 1993 after a 3-18-3 start to the season.

Lundqvist was caught out of position up out of his crease when the puck deflected to Neal in front, but the goalie made a diving save with his glove.

Kakko, the second overall pick in Junes NHL draft, gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 1:32 left in the opening period. On a give-and-go with Ryan Strome on an odd-man rush, Kakko got the puck back and went forehand to backhand and lifted the puck over a sprawled Smith for his first.

Green, known as “Terrible Ted” through his playing days, appeared in 620 games in the NHL and 452 in the WHA with the New England Whalers and Winnipeg Jets.

NOTES: Greg McKegg, signed to a one-year deal in the off-season, made his Rangers debut. McKegg was a healthy scratch the first two games but slotted into the open spot on the fourth line following the trade of Vladislav Namestnikov to Ottawa this week. … The teams conclude the season series at Edmonton on Dec. 31. The Oilers have won three straight meetings after losing the previous five. … Neal was held off the scoresheet after he had seven goals in the previous three games.