Oilers' top shooters a bit slow out of the starting gate vs. Flames

Gene Principe and Mark Spector break down the Edmonton Oilers' preseason win over the Calgary Flames and discuss the collision between Connor McDavid and Evander Kane, a two-fight night for Darnell Nurse, and the players that have stood out so far.

EDMONTON — The biggest hit of the night was Evander Kane on Connor McDavid, which aptly describes the Edmonton Oilers in a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

The Oilers were firing on most of their cylinders Friday. But they weren’t always sure which one was firing when, and where.

“I was trying to out of the way,” pleaded Kane, “but those type of things happened. First pre-season game — I guess that's to be expected.”

McDavid was slow to get up, but never missed a shift. He was flying as usual, but like the rest of his teammates his rushes ended a few feet before the goal line, with more red faces than red goal lights.

“That's probably a good sign. You want to save a couple for the regular season,” laughed Kane. “So as long as you get your chances and you’re playing in the O-zone — our line alone probably had six or seven Grade A’s.”

With a vastly superior lineup dressed, Edmonton dominated as you’d expect. The high danger scoring chances were listed as 13-4 on naturalstattrick.com.

On a night where only one forward — Luke Esposito — registered an even-strength point, defenceman Brett Kulak delivered the winner on an innocent looking point blast with 11 minutes left to play. Kailer Yamamoto set Leon Draisaitl up for Edmonton’s other goal, a shorty.

They came to see a blowout, but “first star” Dan Vladar had other ideas, thwarting an Oilers attack that had some polish, but zero finish.

“I thought we hung in there,” said Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. “We left our top three centres at home. That was a big difference.”

Edmonton dressed all of its top nine forwards, six of its top seven defencemen (minus Tyson Barrie), and started No. 1 Jack Campbell. That was the good news.

The bad news, for most of those players, was this game marked their first pre-season minutes. And the rust showed.

Edmonton’s power play was close-but-no-cigar all night, making all kinds of plays but not finishing any of them. And at regular strength, it was much of the same: Plenty of shots on goal (38), but not much finish.

“Tip your hat to the goaltender,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “We had numerous good looks (on the PP). Didn’t go in.

“We zipped it around. It was exactly what we wanted it to be, except we didn’t get the (finish).”

Credit Vladar with much of that. He was the difference between a close game and a blowout, leaving the Flames in great shape in their crease, with starter Jacob Markstrom at home. They have a solid backup in Vladar, and the promising Dustin Wolf slated to be the No. 1 for the new AHL Calgary Wranglers.

Darnell Nurse fought twice with one Mitch McLain, after McLain laid a hard hit on Kane in the third period. Not exactly a risk you love for your top defenceman, but part of the package with Nurse, who tends to fight only when taking care of business for a teammate.

“I mean, the first time was awesome. Really appreciate that,” Kane said. “The second time was a surprise because I was ready to go. So I think we're all looking at each other what was going on there.”

•••

In a league where some teams play six pre-season games, while others play eight, we often wonder how many games are truly required?

In Canada, teams like four home dates, and Friday night in Edmonton was an example of why. Rogers Place was virtually sold out, and with 18,000-plus people eating, drinking and having a good time, that kind of revenue surpasses any three regular-season home dates in Florida or San Jose

But outside of revenues — and yes, we know, it’s all about Hockey Related Revenue in the NHL — do we really need an eight-game pre-season schedule?

“I mean, I think it’s probably a little much,” admitted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “We played nine games in the past. It's a lot of games.”

How many does Nugent-Hopkins require?

“Three to five, depending on how you feel,” he said. “You don't want to come into the season unsure of how your game is, or unsure of how you’re feeling. But you also don't want to come in fatigued or feeling tired. You want to be ready to go.”

McDavid says he requires three games, maybe four — depending on how he feels after the third one.

“I would tend to think that eight is too many. But, understanding that it’s a chance for lots of different guys to get looks,” opined McDavid. “I've had five years where you play four or five, I've had years where, you know, you don't get any. You know, it's kind of you kind of gotta be ready no matter what happens.”

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