EDMONTON — The journey began a day late Thursday evening, for an Edmonton Oilers team that didn’t like losing its home opener the previous night — but was particularly sour about the way that 5-3 loss went down.
All that remained was the security folks, as the Oilers clamped on to their two points with a dull, but extremely effective, third period. The Oilers were far more concerned with the "2" than the "4," a trait they’ve struggled to embrace over the years.
“That was talked about, that’s for sure,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “You’ve got to play a certain way and there were still a couple of instances in the third that will be discussed, when we turned pucks over, we had our D in there too tight.
“You know, you’ve got to have a mindset of how you’re going to win. It doesn’t matter if you win by two or win by eight, you’ve just got to win. And when you want to win by eight, sometimes you don’t win by two.”
It was two different brands of hockey: 40 minutes of the Connor McDavid Show, as he answered a scoreless opener with a hat trick and a four-point night, and 20 minutes of Vancouver seeking a crack in an opponent that has for so many years given them that breath of life.
This year’s team has identified that area as a place where they plan to grow, and if the measurement is from Game 1 to Game 2, then that growth was enormous.
“Defence is very important to us, we've preached that throughout camp,” said Leon Draisaitl, who had four assists. “Yesterday wasn't the way we wanted to show up and play. Great response tonight.”
One night after Brock Boeser had flexed his muscles for the Canucks, it was the Oilers' star players who took over this game. The line of McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian was too much for Vancouver at 5-on-5, and the Edmonton power play was merciless, scoring on two of their four opportunities.
If you’re looking to someone other than McDavid for why Edmonton beats Vancouver, then look to a perfect penalty kill that thwarted the Canucks on each of five chances.
“All four lines, all six D — right from the start we had the right mindset,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “We knew we needed to clean some things up after last night, and in a back-to-back, you don’t have too much time to think, and dwell on things. We responded really well.”
Look, when McDavid plays like this, you’d better win.
He was “Warp Speed Connor” on Thursday — dominating in a style that has added some power and guile. The 2-0 goal he scored with 0.7 seconds left in the opening period was equal parts skill, strength and power, as he busted through his check to pot a rebound that broke Vancouver’s back.
“It seemed like we had a little more juice than they did,” observed McDavid. “But that happens in a back-to-back, sometimes a team just doesn’t have it. I thought we did a good job as a group. The power play was good, the PK was good. 5-on-5 I thought we did a pretty good job as well.”
The growth of a team happy to shut ‘er down after 40 is a necessary element in this town.
“That’s the position we want to be in all season long, up in the third period and being able to hold those leads,” McDavid said. “I thought we did a good job. They had a couple of looks, they hemmed us in a little bit, but I liked the way we were able to find a fifth and were able to finish the game off.”
And so we’re off. Through two games, we’ve seen Mikko Koskinen with an excellent bounce-back night, the ageing Mike Smith already dinged up and young Jesse Puljujarvi — though pointless still — is clearly not the player he was when he last donned the blue-and-orange silks.
“This is his first two North American games he’s played in a long time,” cautioned Tippett. “He’s still finding his way out there but he’s relentless. He works. He’s heavy on the puck. He wants the puck all the time. I think he’s going to keep trending in the right direction.”
Puljujarvi’s game is simpler, and he uses his natural assets better than before. There is definitely something here.
“He’s committed to playing really hard and trying to do the things we want to do structurally,” Tippett said. “There’s lots and lots of upside there. It would be nice to see one of those go in the net for him but it’s good that he’s getting chances. Hopefully, it comes soon.”