Pinning down Oilers’ opening night blue-line still a work in progress

The Edmonton Oilers score two quick goals to erase the Calgary Flames' lead and take their own in the second period, then continue to pile on eventually winning 6-2.

EDMONTON — The first phase of camp is over, and the Edmonton Oilers are down to 30 players. After a 6-2 win over the Calgary Flames, they packed for Kelowna, where they’ll do some bonding, practice twice, and try to answer a few of the questions that remain with opening night on Oct. 2 around the corner.

On Friday however, a couple of good signs showed themselves, as Joakim Nygard found his game, and newcomer Anton Burdasov gave everyone a reason to raise an eyebrow and say, “Maybe…”

As our friend @OnsideWithJouni says, pre-season hockey is like going to see your favorite ’70s band, with only two of the six original band members remaining. We recognize the uniforms, just not all the players.

Here are a few takeaways from the fourth pre-season game in five days, and an Oilers team that still has some important questions to be answered:

• Who are the seven opening day defencemen? Good question.

“We’ve got 10 defencemen,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “I can tell you who three are, but I can’t tell you all six.”

Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom are locks for the top four. The third pair is likely going to be Kris Russell, who is not medically cleared to play yet, and Matt Benning.

Can Joel Persson, a Swede who came over only this fall, pair with Klefbom in the top four? Does prospect William Lagesson hang around as a No. 7? What about Ethan Bear, who was only OK Friday? Or Evan Bouchard, who needs to be in the top six, or they’ll send him down where he’ll get more minutes.

Stay tuned. There are three pre-season games to play.

• Burdasov, the Russian winger signed on a PTO only this week, debuted on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner, and got much stronger as the game went on. He finished the night with three shots on goal and no points, whistling a wrist shot off of Flames goalie Jon Gillies’ collarbone.

“It’s a tough thing to do, to travel (from Moscow) like he did, change ice surfaces and all that,” Gagner said. “I thought he played really well. He makes a lot of smart little plays, and as he keeps going here, I’m sure he’ll adjust even more.”

He likes to shoot the biscuit, and does possess a superior shot, wearing the No. 71 of his favourite player, Evgeni Malkin.

“His first game over here, not much practice — just a chalk talk, and away you go,” Tippett said. “I thought he was all right. He’s intriguing. When he gets the puck, he shoots it. Let’s see where it goes.”

• We liked Nygard, who had five shots on goal and was awarded a goal that looked very much like it belonged to Nurse. If he can play on the left side in Edmonton’s top nine, after arriving from the Swedish League as a 26-year-old, it will be like found money for GM Ken Holland.

“He had two or three good chances, and you’d like to see him capitalize on one of them,” Tippett said. “He was good, then he took a skate in the cheek late in the game, so hopefully it’s not too bad. You could tell he had some pace out there.”

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• Outwardly, Tippett showed no concern over Koskinen’s shaky game in his first start Thursday night. He just ran him out for another start the next night.

“To be honest, it’s almost every year my first game is as bad as (Thursday),” Koskinen said. “I’m wasn’t surprised. It’s good to get some video, and of course you see, I did everything bad. So there were a lot of good things to (improve on).”

Koskinen went the distance in the 5-2 victory, stopping 18 of 20 shots. Calgary had roughly a dozen players who should be in their opening night lineup, and tested Koskinen fairly well through the first 40 minutes. We’d fault the Oilers players in front of Koskinen more than the goalie himself on each of the goals scored, and a solid Koskinen is exactly what this team needs to see as the regular season approaches.

“Today the urgent level was higher from me,” he said. “I saw the pucks — it makes it so much easier.”

Mike Smith, meanwhile, has skated for two straight days with goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz, after missing a full week with the flu. He’ll be in Kelowna, and likely ready for some game action when Arizona visits on Tuesday.

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