Oilers’ dynamic duo present challenge for Predators

National Sports

The superlatives surrounding Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and their value to the Edmonton Oilers seemingly never end.

Heading into a Wednesday home clash against the Nashville Predators, McDavid and Draisaitl sit tied atop the league’s scoring race with 17 points each.

How impressive is that feat? Edmonton’s dynamic duo are only the third set of teammates to collect 17 or more points in their team’s first eight games over the past 30 seasons, and the other times it involved Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 1990s.

However, the Oilers lead the Pacific Division with their 7-1-0 mark because they are proving to be more than just the McDavid and Draisaitl show.

Thanks to a much more balanced attack — evident even amidst a 5-2 win over the Seattle Kraken on Monday, when Draisaitl scored twice and added two assists — the Oilers have equaled their best start through eight games in franchise history.

“It speaks to the depth of our group that we can win in different ways,” Draisaitl said. “We can win on the power play; we can win with special teams in general. Our goalie can steal one, defensemen are chipping in, our third line has won us games, so there’s all types of different ways that we can win a game. That’s a pretty great asset to have on a team.”

Goaltender Mikko Koskinen may be the biggest surprise. After a dreadful 2020-21 season, he was thrust to the fore when No. 1 goalie Mike Smith was injured midway through the third game of the season. Koskinen has responded with five wins in six games.

“I just want to have fun,” he said. “No matter what happens, I try to have fun on the ice. That’s the mindset of what I have, and I try to keep doing that.”

The Predators arrive as the Central Division’s hottest team, riding a four-game winning streak that was extended with a 3-2 overtime victory against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday to kick off a six-game road trip.

Center Matt Duchene was the overtime hero, but there’s no doubt goaltender Juuse Saros was the difference for the Predators, who were outshot 40-22 in Calgary.

“Juice was our best player and stole it for us, but we did enough to win,” Duchene said. “We had some big (penalty) kills when we needed it and some timely scoring.”

The Predators started the season by losing four of five games but have rebounded greatly and have a chance to make a statement during their road swing.

“I think there were lots of times earlier this year where we’ve said whether we got the result or didn’t get the result, we liked a lot of our process,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “(Tuesday), our process wasn’t very good, but we found a way to win the game. So, now we’ve got to rectify that to make sure we can continue to give ourselves opportunities to win.”

Odds are a performance in which they are outshot by nearly a two-to-one ratio and are short-handed six times probably won’t bring a victory against an Oilers team with the best power play in the league (46.2 percent success rate).

“You want to start off on the right note, especially with the back-to-back (Wednesday),” Duchene said. “So, we’ve got obviously a high-flying Oilers team — with two of the best, if not the two best offensive players in the league. We’ve got to regroup here and be ready and learn … and not let it happen again for a while.”

–Field Level Media

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