| October 22, 2021, 2:10 AM
October 22, 2021, 2:10 AM
If you can find something not to like about the Edmonton Oilers start this season, please hit me up on Twitter. Because right now, they look like a very good hockey club, clicking along in all areas early through their first four games.
A 4-0 record, a powerplay that has scored in every game, a superstar that has notched a multi-point game in each of four outings this year, and a new third line that scratches nearly every itch this team took into the summer. Those are the highlights of an Oilers team that walked over the Arizona Coyotes with a 5-1 win, becoming one of just two clubs (along with Florida) to start the season with four straight wins.
Sure, the Coyotes are a weak side. And they couldn’t handle an Oilers attack that had Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl centring separate lines, with a heavy, hard-skating third line coming over the boards as well.
But Mikko Koskinen gave the Oilers the goaltending, the best powerplay in the National Hockey League put the game on ice with two third period goals, and all the new guys showed why Ken Holland brought them to town this past summer.
Here are some takeaways on a 4-0 start, and a Coyotes team that might not win 20 games this season:
Let’s start at the top, where McDavid scored career goals No. 200 and 201 Thursday. It happened one game after Draisaitl had scored his 200th, as the two continue to trade “feats of strength,” en route to what they hope will be the ultimate award.
“We’ve come up together, grown up together, really,” McDavid said of he and Draisaitl, the only two NHL players to accumulate more than 200 points over the previous two seasons and the beginning of 2021-22. “To be going through this whole thing together, it’s fun. It’s special to be a part of that. We’ve grown real close, and it’s really fun both on and off the ice right now.”
As suspected, head coach Dave Tippett played the pair on separate lines for the first time this season, a strategy we thought he would employ on the road where the Oilers can’t control line matchups as easily.
“We’ve played together, played apart, and been successful both ways,” shrugged McDavid, who had a three-point night while Draisaitl was shut out. “It’s fun to play with him, and even fun to watch him from the bench.”
Tippett has watched the two mature while winning individual awards, and sees two players who now have the ultimate team trophy in their sights.
“They’re good people,” Tippett said. “They want to play hard, they want to play the right way and they want to win. They know they have to do their part — which is a big part with our team — but you love their attitude. You love their commitment to helping our team win.”
The victory was Edmonton’s eighth consecutive road win, going back to last season.
Third and Gone
Warren Foegele scored his first goal with the Oilers, dancing around young Dysin Mayo — the former Edmonton Oil King playing his first NHL game — before zipping an off-balance wrist shot into the net for the game-opening goal.
The line of Derek Ryan (67 per cent in the faceoff circle Thursday), Zack Kassian (four points in three games) and Foegele was dominant once again. It’s a new-look third line that is performing exactly as GM Holland had hoped when he went out and secured Foegele and Ryan this past summer.
“They’ve been so good for us. In our four games they’ve got our first goal in three of them,” McDavid said. “They’ve got an identity, and… the most impressive thing is how well they all skate, and their forechecking. They get rolling around in the O-zone, it’s impressive to watch.”
“Big goal, and a great individual effort,” Tippett said of Foegele’s goal. “He just bulled his way down the ice and got it on net and it went in. He comes as advertised. He’s hard and heavy and goes to the net.”
Foegele, a resurgent Kassian, Zack Hyman — who scored a shorty and a powerplay goal — and big Jesse Puljujarvi have changed the Oilers’ landscape somewhat. It’s a transition that translates to the post-season.
“You look at the front of the net,” Tippett said. “Puljujarvi, Hyman, Kassian, Foegele are all there. It’s a different look for our team this year.”
The Oilers powerplay, tops in the NHL now for two seasons running, has converted on seven of 14 attempts thus far in the young season. That’s an astounding 50 per cent, averaging 1.75 powerplay goals per game.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s penalty kill has allowed six goals in nine attempts, for a success rate of 33.3 per cent. To have a higher powerplay percentage than your opponent’s PK number tells us one thing:
It’s early. But here are a couple of stats with some longevity.
The Oilers are tied with Washington as the best team in the league on the road since 2020-21. Both the Oilers and Capitals have a 20-7-2 mark going back to the beginning of last season.
In goal, Koskinen got his first start Thursday, and Tippett expects to give him his second start Friday night in Vegas. Koskinen’s numbers are stellar: a .959 saves percentage, a 1.57 GAA, and a tidy 2-0 record.
He salvaged a game against Anaheim when Mike Smith left due to an injury. Now he’ll likely get the chance to prove that the newer, more chilled version of himself can carry the ball through a back-to-back, with a tough divisional foe in the Golden Knights awaiting Edmonton on Friday.
“I changed a little bit my mentality,” Koskinen said. “Try to be more relaxed, try to have fun. It’s not always going to be like that. You’re going to have bad times during the season. But you always have to try to keep those bad times as short as possible.”
Koskinen was excellent early in Arizona, then stopped everything he had to the rest of the night as his teammates took the game over.