The real Edmonton Oilers finally stand up: 9 Things

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The Edmonton Oilers faced their most intense challenge of the season to date Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Most of the questions raised over the Oilers sub-standard start to this season have been fair. But the club answered a lot of that criticism against L.A. Was that a statement game that will go on to define their 2023-24?

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Details on that and more in this New Year’s Eve edition of…

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9 Things

9. I am a fan of Derek Ryan because he is such a smart player, he displays it nightly and plays bigger than he is. It never gets old to see guys like get rewarded for their efforts, as he did with the shootout winner Saturday.

8. Raphael Lavoie got the emergency re-call Saturday with Evander Kane unable to answer the call at game time. While Lavoie only played 5:26 it appeared to me that the game had slowed down a touch for him and he used his size effectively.

7. Five Edmonton Oilers have 30+ points already this season, the most of any team in the NHL. They are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evan Bouchard, Zach Hyman, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Evander Kane is sixth at 23.

6. For the longest time, it seemed like the Edmonton Oilers were severely challenged in the faceoff circle. That has turned around this season. At the start of play Saturday, the Oilers were eighth overall on FO% at 51.7%. And Leon Draisaitl is 10th among individuals in the circle at 57.2%.

5. Much has been made about how the Oilers have improved since Connor McDavid has returned to full health. Agreed. But in my very next breath I would mention Mattias Ekholm for the same reasons. And it is not just while defending that he is making more and more of a difference. Going into Saturday, Ekholm lead all NHL Defencemen in 5v5 CF at 62.97%. And his partner Evan Bouchard is second at 62.25%. That pairing was excellent on Saturday.

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4. Connor McDavid played his 600th NHL regular season game Saturday night, also his 600th game as an Edmonton Oiler. Sometime next season, he will pass Wayne Gretzky (696) on the all-time franchise list. Meanwhile, barring injury, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who played 834 on Saturday) will pass Glenn Anderson (845) and Mark Messier (851) on that same list. The Nuge will then be second only to Ryan Smyth (971) and Kevin Lowe (1,037). That is some kind of company.

3. I like coaches who do not try to play the games for their players. Give them the tools and let them do the job. But I give Kris Knoblauch credit for one specific thing that I think helped lead to Saturday’s result in L.A. With the San Jose game a couple night earlier well out of reach, Knoblauch severely cut back on McDavid and Draisaitl’s TOI down the stretch. If they had been drained for no real reason, would they have had enough left in the tank for the Kings? Sometimes, in this game, it is the little things.

2. The Oilers downed the Kings 3-2 in a shoot-out Saturday night, their first meeting since Edmonton ousted them from the playoffs last Spring. It might have been easy to argue that under the circumstances Los Angeles might have been the hungrier of the two clubs. And they were certainly the better team over twenty. But I was keenly interested in how the Oilers would dig in from there and dig they did. The intensity they displayed in the comeback victory looked to me like a playoff team. There has been a lot of hand wringing around the Oilers and their performance this year, much of it deserved. We’ll see. But this may be the defining moment in their regular season.

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1.There is a lot of smoke out there right now surrounding Olivier Rodrigue. I do think it makes sense to give the kid a look with the big club early on in the New Year. Giving him one of Calvin Pickard‘s spots in the goaltender rotation is not that big of a gamble. At worst, you are rewarding a prospect for his good play in the AHL with a cup of coffee in ‘the show.’ At best, you get an evaluation of him at the NHL level that helps inform you of where your organization stands in the crease. But what makes me a little nervous about all of this is the developing narrative in some quarters that Olivier Rodrigue may be a sufficient in-house solution to the Oilers goaltending issues. That is essentially hoping that Rodrigue lands somewhere between the next Steve Penney and the next Jordan Binnington.

I like Rodrigue just fine. But with the clock steadily ticking on a number of critical contracts in Edmonton is that really a roll of the dice you are willing to make? I 100% believe the Oilers need another goaltender. Realistically, you probably need a veteran 1B to Stuart Skinner (who was excellent on Saturday, by the way). Someone in the $1.5m range who you would be reasonably comfortable starting in a Stanley Cup
Playoff game.

Maybe you get fortunate and catch fire in a bottle with Olivier Rodrigue. It would be a fabulous story.

But considering the odds, it would also be incredibly lucky.

Now on Threads @kleavins. Also, find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins, Instagram at LeavinsOnHockey, and Mastodon at [email protected]

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