And away we go.
That was some kind of show on the ice tonight. Lots of entertaining moments and lots of "uh oh", but never any give up, which was huge.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on details of the new arena - it is too easy for me to drift into negativity and missed expectations there. Let's focus on the fun for a while if we can.
I will share a bit about the game going experience - it does feel new. It feels more upscale in many ways now, though that effort is concentrated in the lower bowl. I could easily see us moving seats to the lower bowl in the next year or two because the atmosphere down there seems great.
Where my seat is right now is very similar to the Rexall experience in a lot of ways, but the old routines are completely gone. There will be a settling in period of course - that can be expected, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. We've already noticed that it is a bit harder to track the game from where we are. The players mannerisms and detail such as helmets etc aren't as obvious so you have to be more active in terms of looking for players. Every now and again you mistake Pouliot for McDavid for instance. It will take some getting used to.
Got there very early tonight - mainly just due to the absurdly late start (seriously, who thought that was okay? I've got a flight at 8 tomorrow morning...). Wandered around a bit - found my way to my seat and settled in. The pre-game was fairly over-hyped and oddly shorter than I thought. It basically ended with Connor McDavid in the spotlight, charging in and putting a puck into the net. I was quick to point out that this was the wrong net, and despite the fact that the Flames had come out before the end of the presentation (who does that??), Connor should have charged the other net anyway. Make a statement. One that begins with F and ends with you.
Once the game started - many interesting things happening.
To my dismay, the Oilers are still using the systems play that was shown not to work last season. There are several better players trying to do it, but it still doesn't work. A couple specific areas leap out at me:
- Both 5-and-5 and on the PK, the forwards are way too low in the offensive zone. Especially against a team like the Flames those wingers have to be high. So many chances for the Flames D to blast away and create chances. How the coaching/video staff isn't catching this and adjusting I have no idea. It generates multiple chances every game including this one.
- That power play is just atrocious. Needs a complete system reboot. They don't control the puck or make things happen unless McDavid and to a much lesser extent Draisaitl make an outstanding play. This is no way to deploy talented players and win games. They were very fortunate this didn't cost them tonight.
With that said - this is a different team in terms of the player makeup. The two most striking differences right off the bat were the amount of large players who can also skate and forecheck, as well as a number of quick releases on the squad. The first change meant that Calgary couldn't withstand the fact that the Oilers kept coming. The forechecked and skated so well that the Flames never had time to get a foothold. This despite two horrendous SH goals against. Puljujarvi and Pitlick showed very quickly what a strong release can do.
You never felt the Oilers would lose this one, which was nice. The fans are still quite nervous though and when combined with what seems to be a noise-dampening building, meant it was fairly quiet a lot of the time. This will go away if they win and do so regularly. It's really that simple.
This was an odd game in that it could easily have been a blowout for the Oilers, but wasn't, and it felt like the Flames had more chances than they really did. Let's talk a little more about that below.
- Honestly, the only one who brought his 'A' game was McDavid. He essentially willed this team to a sure victory tonight. I had a hunch that especially after Matthews did what he did, #97 would mean business tonight. I'm not sure what you even say about him anymore. He's a force of nature. That penalty shot goal was something else - being able to elevate the puck from that position at that speed? Just crazy. He could've had at least 3 more points as well. Eberle was just okay. He had a couple of chances he should have been able to finish. The most obvious one was in the third when McDavid left a puck in the crease for him and he simply didn't put enough weight on his stick to finish. There were a number of instances where he just didn't seem ready. Lucic was not good. Didn't really blow anyone up, didn't move the puck well and couldn't finish any chances except one into his own net. Ugh. I know he's a slow starter, but that looked really really rough on a night when most of the Oilers forwards played pretty well.
- This line did solid, if unspectacular work. I liked watching Slepyshev look pretty comfortable as he did at the beginning of last season. So long as people don't expect him to light the world on fire offensively, he'll do well. The guy has an excellent skillset for a depth player - he's large, shoots well and can skate. Hopkins played like a vet. I liked his leadership on the ice and the way he was able to shut down some Flames chances. I'm not sure if he'll find the high gear offensively again. It's really hard to know at this point. Pouliot had a couple very nice chances and didn't take any dumb penalties - that's a solid night for him really. He didn't need to be an offensive star tonight either.
- 2/3 of this line was excellent. Maroon got the first goal with a classic tip-in that you could call a mile away. Lovely in its simplicity. The rest of his game I really enjoyed as well. He got to pucks and the front of the net all night. He played at least one shift with McDavid after Lucic fought and looked much more at home than #27. I hope he's finally found his consistency here in Edmonton because if he strings together nights like that, he's such a useful player. Leon looked great. He really moves like a veteran out there and has succeeded in adding more power elements to his game. I like him a bunch at C and don't really see how he could be better on the wing. I'd like to see him get set up for more shooting chances on the PP though. I didn't much like Puljujarvi's game though. He seemed behind the play or fumbly and rushed all night. Even his goal (which was a phenomenal release) was rushed. He went by pucks a lot, turned some over and didn't really impose himself much. Great little hit on Brodie I think it was in the third but that's it. I'm of the opinion that he's not ready and should be in the AHL, but oh well. Glad to see one go in for him soon, and maybe that gives him a big confidence boost.
- Great games for the wingers on this line. Pitlick's goal was the result of an excellent, assertive decision to shoot off the rush. To then see our most injury-prone player go careening into the boards was rather alarming, but somehow he jumped up. He was generally effective during the rest of his time as well, earning some extra ice at the end of the game and looking like an NHL-level player for sure. Good for him. I just feel like his leg is going to fall off at any moment. Kassian too played an excellent game. He was all over the ice - skating really well and getting in some faces along the way. Absolutely beautiful deke on his goal. There might be 3 or 4 guys on the team that can do that. Beauty. Letestu was just okay by my eye and I didn't notice him a lot other than being behind the play on the PK.
- Good night for this pairing generally. They led the D group as a whole in simply moving the puck out faster and smoother than the last number of years. The forwards are such that if you just get the puck up quick, they can run. This needs to continue so, so badly. I was alarmed at one thing Larsson did on a number of occasions though - he has a tendency to just throw the puck to areas without looking first. This resulted in 4 or 5 losses of possession. Oddly enough one of them turned into Pitlick's goal because Calgary was turning to attack so hard and bungled it. He was fairly physical though, which was great to see because he does it in a positionally responsible way. Klefbom was rock solid - shocking precisely no one at this point. That laser to Kassian was MINT.
- This pair did fairly well. I'm not a huge fan of the Russell signing, but he looked pretty good tonight. Got pushed around and beat a little bit, but he made some excellent first passes and some very smart defensive plays as well. I hope he finds his place here as we're committed to him now. Sekera looked to be in midseason form. You can definitely tell the World Cup helped him out a bunch. Really led the play when he was on the ice and I enjoyed watching him very much. The one thing I would like to see better than tonight were his shooting choices.
- This pairing didn't really work. As good as Davidson is, he couldn't bail out Nurse's wandering which cost them early as he wasn't covering anyone on a number of occasions including the goal. Real shame to see Davidson go down on a dirty play from a dirty piece of trash like Keith's kid. Someone needs to re-arrange his face on Friday. Nurse or Kassian are my bets, but it needs to happen. This guy can't be allowed to run around. Thankfully the refs aren't fooled but they can't save you from injuries.
- He was not good. It wasn't so much about the goals either - a couple weren't really his fault. The thing was, he turned a bunch of easy saves into hard stops. He was late to almost every puck until the third period which isn't a good sign for a goalie who's usually so square. He needs to get things righted in a hurry. A sharper team could've hung 8 on him tonight and sent us all home sad.
Great to get that win. People really wanted to smile after this one. Great to see.
Great to be back. I hope this is a happy year filled with a ton of these reports. Night!