Player grades: Draisaitl the predator, Nashville the prey as Oilers hunt down 6-1 win

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Oilers 6, Predators 1

Leon Draisaitl returned to his favourite stomping grounds, Bridgestone Arena in Nashville TN, and once again it was his Edmonton Oilers doing the stomping. The Oil pounded home 4 goals in the first period to drive star goalie Juuse Saros from the net, survived a brief blip early in the middle frame, then stretched their lead to 6-1 before playing out the string in mostly controlled fashion.

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Draisaitl led the way with 2 goals, 2 assists, but it was far from a solo effort. Jack Campbell was splendid between the pipes, while Edmonton’s newly-minted second line of Warren Foegele, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman combined for 9 points including an even-strength goal by each man. Oh, and Connor McDavid scored another wonder goal.

The underlying numbers suggest this was a close game, though score effects (Edmonton’s large lead) surely played a role in the flow of play. The Preds outshot the Oil by 43-30, while different measures of dangerous shots suggested it was dead even: Natural Stat Trick had high-danger chances at 9-8 Nashville and expected goals at 2.99 to 2.97 Edmonton, while we at the Cult of Hockey had Grade A shots dead even at 16-16 and 5-alarm shots at 8-7 Preds (running count). 

The difference? This time around, Edmonton made their shots and got a bunch of saves. With both of those things, they also got their first win of the new season and none too soon after a pair of unsettling losses to Vancouver.

Player grades

game grades

#2 Evan Bouchard, 7. A primary assist at even strength, a primary assist on the powerplay after first drawing the penalty. +2/-0 in 5v5 goals with excellent shot shares. A couple of fine stretch passes. A few dicey moments but that’s part of the package. Grade A shots: ES +3/-1; ST +2/-0,

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#5 Cody Ceci, 5. Kept a clean sheet and that was the main thing. It wasn’t always pretty. Took a “good penalty” when he hooked down Gus Nyquist, and even then needed a massive assist from his netminder to keep the puck out of the net. Later returned the favour with an important shot block. Grade A shots: ES +0/-1; ST 0.

#10 Derek Ryan, 6. Oilers fourth line spent a bit too much time in their own end, but produced a couple of solid shifts at important moments Set up Erne’s one-timer on a 2-on-1. Grade A shots: ES +2/-1; ST 0.

#13 Mattias Janmark, 6. Played 13 minutes at evens and 1:53 on the penalty kill to lead all forwards in that dept. Did some good work taking the puck deep into Nashville territory, then pinning it to the end wall while mates changed up and the penalty clock ticked down.  Was sneaky good along the walls, winning and advancing the puck to good spots. Grade A shots: ES +3/-0; ST +0/-1.

#14 Mattias Ekholm, 7. A fine showing in his return to the arena he called home for a decade. Involved at both ends of the sheet, firing 3 shots on net and landing 3 hits. Was part of the problem on the lone Preds tally when he couldn’t clear the puck on the kill under heavy pressure. But put out way more fires than he started. Drew a penalty when he was dumped by his old buddy Filip Forsberg, with whom he’d had dinner the night before. Grade A shots: ES +1/-1; ST +0/-1.

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#18 Zach Hyman, 8. A splendid showing on his new line with 1-3-4, +3. In the thick of the action both around the puck and around the blue paint, making key contributions to 5 (five) scoring plays in a number of ways. Beautiful one-touch pass to Draisaitl for the 1-0. Scored the 2-0 on his only official shot of the night., jamming one home from the blue paint. Won a battle on the 3-0. Screened the goalie on the 5-1. Won another battle on the 6-1. Probably drew 2 or 3 penalties even as 0 were actually called. It was a Game Management kinda night.  Grade A shots: ES +4/-0; ST +2/-0.

#21 Adam Erne, 5. Up and down night for the newest Oiler. Some robust play with 3 hits, also dropped the mitts with Cole Smith late in the first. Had a couple of defensive lapses. A fine chance of his own when he broke in with Ryan 2-on-1, but couldn’t solve Preds backup Kevin Lankinen. Grade A shots: ES +1/-2; ST +1/-0.

#25 Darnell Nurse, 6. Played a team-high 25:30, with the Oilers “winning” his portion of the game 1-0. Some strong defensive plays, a couple of iffy moments with the most noticeable being a bad pinch that led fairly directly to a ten-bell chance, mere seconds after the one Nashville goal. 3 shots, 2 hits, 1 block. His greasy hit behind the Edmonton net rightfully earned a penalty; he plays a hard game and crosses the line at times. Grade A shots: ES +0/-3; ST 0.

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#27 Brett Kulak, 5. Up and down game, skated miles and made some fine plays at both ends. Was victimized on the lone Nashville goal when he anticipated a pass from Ekholm and abandoned both the net front and the goal scorer to receive it. Later made a superb poke check to prevent a sure goal. Creative in the o-zone, especially on a nifty give-and-go where he dished the puck to Brown, then rushed from the point to the net front to deflect Brown’s return shot-pass. 3 shots, 4 blocks. Grade A shots: ES +1/-3; ST +1/-2.

#28 Connor Brown, 6. Fit in nicely with his new linemates McLeod and Holloway, using their speed to his advantage in terms of finding good spaces in their wake. Also clicked in the centre of a give-and-go with Foegele, presumably during a line change. Did a nice job controlling the puck in his skates. Some creative puck movement and sound positional play. Grade A shots: ES +1/-0; ST 0.

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 9. Dominant game, firing home 2 powerplay goals and adding a pair of helpers at even strength while putting on a passing clinic in all 3 zones. His 5 shots on net led all Oilers, but as is frequently the case it was his passing game that was especially eye-catching. On the 2-0 Drai made a gorgeous pass on the zone exit to tuck the disc through a narrow lane to RNH who broke in 2-on-1, then a terrific puck recovery and pass under heavy pressure to find Broberg right on the blueline in the o-zone to keep the play alive, finally feeding Bouchard in a dangeous spot for the shot that led to Hyman goal. Ended one extended d-zone pressure by corralling and instantly protecting the puck, holding his opponent at bay as he surveyed the scene, found the passing lane, and made a short safe dish to Nurse who walked it out. Made an incredible backhand pass right on McDavid’s tape that didn’t lead to a shot let alone the highlight reel, other than getting a few bumps of my personal 7-second rewind. Led Oilers forwards with 21:00 TOI and 7/11=64% on the dot. Became the Oilers’ all-time leader in powerplay goals with 128, needing just 641 games to surpass the old mark it took Glenn Anderson 845 games to reach and Ryan Smyth 971 to equal. Leon’s a stone cold killer on the PP, and that’s a fact. Grade A shots: ES +5/-2; ST: +3/-0.

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#36 Jack Campbell, 9. Oilers needed a big game from one of their stoppers and Campbell delivered just that. Extremely sharp in the opening frame when he faced 15 shots, 6 of them Grade A, and turned them all aside as his teammates delivered the goods at the other end. Easily could have been 4-2 after the first, not 4-0. Beaten just the once on Nyquist’s well-placed wrist shot from the slot early in the second, but responded in the best way possible with a spectacular “scorpion” style save on Nyquist just 15 seconds later. Instead of the Preds cutting half of their 0-4 deficit within minutes, it stayed 4-1. When Draisaitl got it back on the powerplay about 6 minutes later, the 4-goal margin was restored and the competitive portion of the game effectively over. Made another stellar emergency save on a rebound off the end boards. Used every body part available to keep pucks out, including his melon. A couple of sloppy rebounds, but quite a few others that were fully contained. Tracked the puck well. 43 shots, 42 saves, .977 save percentage.

#37 Warren Foegele, 8. Promoted to the second line, he responded in the best way possible with perhaps his finest game as an Oiler. Made a splendid defensive play not a minute in, with a full length dive to hook the puck out of danger from a possible breakaway. Wonderful cross-crease pass to RNH off the backhand side for the 3-0. Received a pass from the same player and wired home a well-placed wrist shot for the 6-1. Rang another bullet off the post early in the third. Flying all night. Grade A shots: ES +3/-0; ST 0.

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#55 Dylan Holloway, 7. No points but played a sound 2-way game, flashing his speed and aggressiveness in equal measure. His defensive positioning/puck support was very good, always an encouraging sign for a young player. Got walked by Dante Fabbro. Grade A shots: ES +1/-0; ST 0. 

#71 Ryan McLeod, 5. His stat sheet doesn’t show much — a missed shot, 2 giveaways, 5/9=56% on the dot. By eye he skated miles, the puck on his blade at times and generally going in the right direction. Made a good decision to shoot on a 2-on-1 opportunity, but missed the target. Was among those beaten on the lone Nashville (PP) goal. Grade A shots: ES +0/-0; ST +0/-1.

#86 Philip Broberg, 6. Some good moments, some not-so-good ones, with the former comfortably outweighing the latter. Got a bit sloppy in the late going. Showed some very nice skills on the breakout and along the offensive blueline. Played a tick short of 15:00, including a chunk of time on each special team. He appears increasingly fluid in his offensive movements, still picking his spots in terms of when to activate. Fired an excellent wrist shot through traffic from the top of the right circle. Grade A shots: ES +1/-3; ST 0.

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#91 Evander Kane, 5. Fairly quiet game with 1 shot and 1 hit. Was also on the receiving end of a couple of heavy hits. Did earn an assist with a deft touch on the puck in the neutral zone. Grade A shots: ES +1/-2; ST +0/-1.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 8. Showed well at centre between the effective Hyman and Foegele. Earned 1-2-3 on the night, earning a powerplay assist on the 1-0 (after first drawing the penalty), scoring the 3-0 himself with a sharp finish of Foegele’s feed from a tough angle, and a fine pass to that same mate for the 6-1. Even managed to go 6/11=55% on the faceoff dot. Grade A shots: ES +4/-1; ST +1/-1.

#97 Connor McDavid, 8. His determination was on display early, when he overwhelmed Jusso Parssinen in the defensive corner with a crunching check, then made a splendid one-handed play to handle and then chip the puck up the boards to Draisaitl who walked it out. Scored a brilliant goal where he was knocked to one knee at the offensive blueline, did a 360° spin in the pike position, only to somehow come out of the crowd with the puck and promptly laser a precise shot just inside the far post. Took a cross-checking penalty in the first minute of the middle frame, leading to Nashville’s lone goal. Did some fine PK work of his own, where his 1:23 trailed only Janmark among Oilers forwards, and he was not only effective but extraordinarily dangerous. The sequence where he chased the puck the length of the ice and somehow emerged from the corner with it on his stick was breathtaking. Grade A shots: ES +4/-1; ST +2/-0.

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