Takeaways: Oilers’ nervy start raises questions over team’s depth

Conner McDavid scored on the power play and the Edmonton Oilers defeated the New York Rangers.

The Edmonton Oilers spent the first night in their own beds in two weeks Saturday, after a European and Eastern seaboard excursion was capped off with a 2-1 win in New York Saturday afternoon.

Three games into their season they’re 1-2, with one last roadie left in Winnipeg Tuesday night before returning to Edmonton for a killer run against Boston, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Washington and on the road in Nashville again.

So far, Connor McDavid has held up his end of the bargain. He’s been the only producer the team has, with two goals and a point on each of the five goals this team has scored. Leon Draisaitl hasn’t hit the scoresheet with anyone other than McDavid and sits at minus-4 with just four shots on net — a major early problem for Edmonton. Draisaitl has been on the ice for nine more shots against than shots for, and if that No. 2 line can’t produce — or worse, gives up more than it gets — the Oilers are in trouble.

While the Toronto Maple Leafs are averaging five goals per game, and Chicago, Boston and Carolina four each, the Oilers have five goals — period — after a pre-season in which they poured in goals for fun almost every night.

Where did the offence go? What else is going on during a nervous start for the Oilers?

Here are a few takeaways from their 1-2 start, while the team takes the Sunday off, back home in Edmonton for the first time in a fortnight.

Where art thou, pre-season?

Edmonton had an inspiring 7-1 pre-season, but the real sense of optimism came from the various boxes the club checked off during that stretch.

Ty Rattie, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi — the three young right-wingers who formed a collective question mark on the right side — all piled up points, turning a perceived weakness into at worst an area that looked like it might carry its own weight. Three games into the regular season, however, the trio has one lonely assist between them. That’s it.

Rattie has been effective, more as a passer than a shooter, while Yamamoto only emerged in Game 3 when he drew a pair of penalties with some inspired play. Puljujarvi, who appeared to have taken a huge step during the pre-season, has been invisible so far, as the 20-year-old proved once again that a young player’s game does not ascend in a straight line.

There is a ton of player in the big Finn, and he’s only 20. But boy, you wonder when the time will come that he becomes an everyday player?

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Tending the Twine

Goalie Cam Talbot’s pre-season was focused and thorough. Then the regular season started, and he watched seven pucks fly past in his first two games. It was more a reflection of the quality of the chances, but still… seven goals — not counting two empty-netters. Ouch.

Talbot gave the Oilers exactly what they needed in New York however, a 2-1 win where he outduelled Henrik Lundqvist. And frankly, of the eight goals Talbot has surrendered, it is reasonable to ask for a save on only one or two of them.

The rest were like Mika Zibanejad’s goal in New York, a back-door, open-net opportunity that just doesn’t get stopped. Talbot has proven thus far that if his club defends properly in front of him, he will make the saves he should — and a few he shouldn’t.

After last season, the resurgence of his game was an absolute must. So far, so good.

Deep 6? Or bottom 6?

The bottom six — lines No. 3 and 4 — hasn’t been productive enough, it’s just that simple. If these are a bunch of eight- to 15-goal players, then fine. But those players need to start chipping away at those totals now, not weeks from now, because zero goals from anyone outside the top two lines won’t cut it in today’s NHL.

Fourth-line centre Kyle Brodziak was healthy scratched in Game 2, and the next night so was fourth-line staple Zack Kassian, who simply has not found whatever he had in that playoff run of 2017 — which is a long time ago. Tobias Rieder’s speed needs to percolate into the odd offensive chance, and Ryan Strome — whose line was excellent defensively and dominated its matchup in New York — needs to take that one step further and start creating some scoring chances.

This team won’t get a ton of points from its blue line, which puts more pressure on the third- and fourth-lines to pitch in with the odd goal. So far, nada.

Is this defence good enough?

The ability of this blue line to keep its head above water, more than anything, will be where the Oilers season is decided. A first pairing of Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson is OK — they’re two good players — but that duo would be a second pairing on a Cup contender. Through three games the Oilers have been average at best in their own end — and more so, exiting their own zone — while surrendering 10 goals. But dig a little deeper, and you can see reasons to give this group more time.

Two goals were empty-netters. So that takes the total down to eight in three games.

Another goal against came on a 18-foot, penalty-killing deflection off of Oiler Drake Caggiula. A total fluke. Another goal was a correctable, behind-the-net miscue by Talbot that led directly to a goal.

If we were talking about a team that gave up six goals in three games, they’d grade out pretty well. More time is needed to get an answer on this D-corps, and the progress of the second pairing of Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning will be a major factor. So far, they have struggled.

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