EDMONTON — Connor McDavid wanted to play this pre-season game badly, considering he hadn’t played a game in nearly six months. He may not be quite as voracious when it comes to watching it on video, however.
McDavid had spurts, was foiled on a half-breakaway, took a stick in the face and coughed up a puck that nearly ended up in the Oilers goal. He played 20:36 — the most of any Edmonton forward — had two shots on goal, and went an impressive 10-3 in the face-off circle.
“I felt a little rusty, but that’s to be expected in the first pre-season game. It was nice to be out there for sure,” said McDavid, who now leaves behind any vestiges of his injured knee. “I was able to push myself like nothing happened, so I was happy about that. Obviously a game is a lot different than a practice, so it was good to get in one.”
How did head coach Dave Tippett like McDavid’s game?
“He gets up and going. He needed to get into a game just to get his mind right,” said Tippett. “Worked hard. Not much happening.”
All in all, this 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes was exactly what it is supposed to be: a chance for some hopefuls to make a claim for NHL employment, and an opportunity for a guy like McDavid to get in his first pre-season game, work some kinks out, and make the determination if he needs another start before the Canucks show up for the season opener next Wednesday.
That is something they’ll decide on Wednesday morning. We’re betting McDavid would like another game, and although the Oilers captain said it’s the coach’s decision, you know if McDavid requests another start he’ll get it.
“Obviously I’d like to keep playing,” he said, “but it’s ultimately up to (Tippett) and the lineup he wants to see.”
McDavid was part of a top six that was outplayed by the third and fourth lines for Edmonton. In a way that’s a good sign, in that it almost never happened last season — because the bottom six was that ineffective.
“The bottom six worked hard, were good,” Tippett said post-game. “The penalty kill was really good. Our top six wasn’t so good (with) far too many turnovers. You saw the bottom six, they trapped Arizona in their own zone a number of times, just through hard work. The top six were having a hard time because they were turning over the puck too often.”
It’s early days. The top six will improve, and if the bottom six follows suit, Tippett just may have something here.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
The most impactful development in this pre-season contest came when defenceman Joel Persson disappeared from the Edmonton bench in the second period. And then immediately after the game, when defenceman Evan Bouchard and goalie Shane Starrett were sent to AHL Bakersfield.
Persson, slated to play the right side in a pairing with Oscar Klefbom, has an upper-body injury. With Bouchard gone, and Brandon Manning and William Lagesson both lefties, that leaves Ethan Bear as the only healthy right-handed defenceman remaining.
The Oilers have a lot riding on the Swedish import Persson, hoping that a 26-year-old who has never played an NHL game can handle top four minutes next to Klefbom. On a one-way, $1 million deal, an injury isn’t going to cost Persson his job in the long term.
In the short term, however, the third-year pro Bear has been pushing for a job here, and this could be the break he’s earned. With the demotion of Bouchard, the door is wide open for Bear to not only stick, but start in the opening night lineup next to Klefbom, depending on the severity of Persson’s injury.
• Goalie Mike Smith had his first start, stopping 15-of-17 shots through 40 minutes. He looked just fine, and assuming his game goes up from here, we expect a battle for the No. 1 job between he and Mikko Koskinen.
• Matt Benning’s neutral zone drop pass ended up in the Oilers net for the 1-0 goal by Lawson Crouse, then Adam Larsson coughed up a puck right in front of the Oilers net on the 2-0 goal by Michael Bunting. They’re plays Tippett doesn’t mind seeing, but, “There’s a risk-reward factor,” he said.
“There’s a time and a place where you have to simplify, and there’s a time when that simple play in the middle is actually the best play. Three of (Arizona’s) goals were critical mistakes by our D. Two were puck plays (by Larsson and Benning), and (Darnell) Nurse jumping in on one.”
The home portion of Edmonton’s pre-season is over. They go to Winnipeg Thursday, and close out with a game in Calgary on Saturday.