Well, surprise surprise. The Edmonton Oilers have started the season on a 4-0 run, and they’re doing it on the road. Although the team has been led by regular heroes Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, they are far from alone. Perhaps the biggest surprises include the play of how-lucky-we-got-him James Neal, whose seven goals lead the NHL, and perhaps-I-found-a-place-on-the-top-line Zach Kassian, who’s riding a four-game point streak.
Anyway, is it possible the Oilers can surprise people and make the playoffs this season? Hard to say right now, but so far they’re on fire in the won-lost column. Sometimes sloppy, sometimes lucky – one way or another, they’re getting it done.
In this post, I want to offer five takeaways from the most recent of the four victories – the 4-3 overtime, shootout victory over the Taylor Hall-led Devils. By the way, for long-time Oilers’ fans, Hall had a chance to win it in overtime as he came in alone two times – once he was stopped by a crossbar and the other he was stoned by Oilers’ goalie Mikko Koskinen.
Takeaway #1: James Neal Is Still On Fire
For those counting, James Neal’s seventh goal of the season matched his entire output for last season. Neal scored a power-play goal on Thursday. Although it must have disappointing after his four-goal game against the New York Islanders to come back to Earth a bit, he’s still on fire and has now scored seven goals in four games to start the year.
Five of these goals have come on the power play, which helps fuel the stellar 40 percent success rate for the team. That success won’t last for the entire season, but it’s enjoyable while it does last. Keep those goals headed home, James, and don’t spare the horses.
Takeaway #2: Leon Draisaitl Might Beat Last Season’s 105 Points
The Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl had a great season in 2019-20, but could this season be even better? Draisaitl scored a goal halfway through the first period and added the shootout winner in the victory. The first-period goal tied the score at 1-1 and came on a great assist by Darnell Nurse. It was Draisaitl’s second goal and eighth point in four games.
The 23-year-old Draisaitl ended the game by scoring the only shootout goal for either team, and it came during the third round. He’s coming off a 105-point season but it looks as if there’s a chance he might even do better this season. Together, Connor McDavid, Zach Kassian, and Draisaitl’s first line has been dominant, and everyone’s benefiting.
Takeaway #3: Zack Kassian Keeps His Four-Game Point Streak Alive
Speaking of Zack Kassian, has he found his spot on the first line? So far, he’s looking solid in first-line action, but then – well – everyone is so far. Against the Devils, Kassian had an assist and a couple of hits. His assist came on linemate’s Leon Draisaitl’s first-period goal.
It’s early in the season, but so far Kassian’s produced three goals and two assists during his four-game point streak. People forget that, although he’s had a reputation as a bit of a bad seed during his NHL career, he was a first-round pick from 2009.
In addition, the physical edge to his game remains. He’s racked up (no pun intended) 11 hits. It looks as if he’s found a place on the right-wing beside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Takeaway #4: Mikko Koskinen Plays Well Enough to Win
After a solid performance against the Islanders in New York, Oilers’ goalie Mikko Koskinen started his second game in a row. He didn’t have the same solid performance, but he made key stops at key times and played well enough to keeps the Oilers undefeated.
In Thursday’s game, Koskinen stopped 28 of 31 shots (including overtime) and all three shootout attempts. Although he gave up a single goal in each of the three periods, he really played tough in the overtime and the shootout. It’ll be interesting to see who starts on Saturday morning [Western Canada time] as the Oilers play the New York Rangers in an early-morning tilt.
Takeaway #5: Connor McDavid Is Tied for the NHL Lead in Points with Ten
Oilers’ Connor McDavid scored a power-play goal and assist in Thursday’s win over the Devils. He had a helper on Neal’s seventh goal in the last three games in the second period, then scored himself with Edmonton’s net empty and 1:06 to play. He’s tied for the NHL lead in points with 10.
What’s Next for the Edmonton Oilers?
Saturday morning in Madison Square Garden, two surprisingly unbeaten teams go skate-to-skate. The New York Rangers have a 2-0 record but have enjoyed a week’s hiatus from play. On the other hand, the Oilers are finishing up their first long road trip of the season. The circumstances favor the Rangers.
The Rangers are led by Mika Zibanejad and newcomer, free-agent acquisition Artemi Panarin who played last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. It should be a tough game, and the Oilers are playing with confidence. But, and I hope I’m wrong, I’m thinking the Rangers will take this high-scoring game by the score of 5-4.