The season begins as the revamped Oilers host the Canucks Wednesday night. We enter the night with a clean slate for both teams, although the Oilers were 6-4-0 against the Canucks last season, outscoring their Vancouver opponents by a slim 33-29 margin.
The Oilers will look to get off on the right foot, and hopefully a stronger start compared to last season’s 3-6-0 stretch that began with a 5-3 opening night loss at the hands of the Canucks.
Although Vancouver’s Pettersson and Hughes recently re-signed Brock Boeser is a game time decision due to injury, which would be a notable omission from the Canucks lineup. We expect to see Smith get the start for the Oilers, while the Canucks counter with Demko between the pipes.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Edmonton: Penalty Kill. It’s not uncommon for scoring to start higher than average, before teams hone in on their structure, line combinations, and identity. With many new faces on the Edmonton penalty kill, it will be crucial to neutralize a talented Vancouver power play that under delivered last season. With the Oilers offence it will be difficult for the Canucks to keep pace without getting production from the man advantage.
Vancouver: Containing McDavid and Draisaitl. The Canucks will need all hands on deck in minding their details when the Oilers’ dynamic duo is on the ice. Whether on the power play or off the rush, the smallest mistake could result in a goal against. Being completely locked in for game 1 of the season is a tall task, so Demko will likely need a few key saves to aid in the shutdown effort.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edmonton: McDavid. There’s no need to overthink things in game 1, and at the start of every season I have to check that I’m not watching his shifts in fast forward. Nothing good lasts forever, and we should remind ourselves of how incredible it is to have Connor leading the team into a new season. He’s had some big opening nights in the past, and could begin a quest for 50 goals with a big performance tonight, perhaps in a different manner than we’re accustomed too, as McDavid has been spotted putting work into a one-time shot.
Vancouver: Ekman-Larsson. Although there’s interesting newcomers throughout the lineup, seeing how OEL fits on this blueline will be top of mind for yours truly. If he can bounce back at all it might go as far as saving GM Benning’s job for another season or two. If it doesn’t work the Canucks might well miss the playoffs, and be left with his expensive cap hit long term.
Edmonton: the last of the roster moves were dominated by injury designations, LTIR, and the cap maneuvers involved in making it all come together. The big news is that McDavid and Draisaitl will start on the same line, but given it’s the first game of the season we will no doubt see things ebb and flow as dynamics settle. Kassian and Shore are out with injuries.
Draisaitl – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Hyman – Nugent-Hopkins – Yamamoto
Foegele – Ryan – Sceviour
Perlini – McLeod – Turris
Nurse – Barrie
Keith – Ceci
Vancouver: like the Oilers, the Canucks have many new pieces across the lineup who will be looking to establish themselves. Oilers fans are familiar with Alex Chiasson, who earned a one year deal with the Canucks off a PTO. Boeser is a game time decision, which could cause a bunch of line shuffling. Veteran puck mover Brad Hunt gets the early nod over the young Jack Rathbone.
Miller – Pettersson – Chiasson (Boeser*)
Pearson – Horvat – Garland
Highmore – Dickinson – Hoglander
Dowling – Lammiko – Podkolzin
Ekman-Larsson – Myers
Hughes – Poolman
Hunt – Schenn
Mike Smith was 4-0 against the Canucks last season. Draisaitl has points in 5 straight home openers.
“We’re going to see what we have early” was the message delivered by Coach Tippett when asked about why McDavid and Draisaitl are together on a line, leaving the rest of the lineup to fend for themselves, especially newcomers Hyman, Foegele, Ryan, Sceviour, and Turris.
“He’s ready to be an NHL player… he’s more than just an offensive player, he’s a solid two-way player” is part of what Coach Tippett had to say about Evan Bouchard as the young defender appears to be in line for a big role at even strength, as well as work on both special teams.