For the second time in three years, the Edmonton Oilers have started the season with five victories in as many outings.
As the Oilers prepare to play host to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, they look like a team that won’t be a quick out in the playoffs.
To no surprise, Connor McDavid — last year’s league-leading point scorer and Hart Trophy winner as the player most valuable to his team — is on a tear to start the season with five multi-point performances good for six goals and 13 points. However, Edmonton has shown an attack that goes beyond McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The Oilers, whose last game was on Friday, a 5-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights that was followed by a couple of days of team bonding in Sin City, have displayed three productive lines. The third-pairing unit of Derek Ryan at center between fellow newcomer Warren Foegele and Zack Kassian has been the most surprising, having already combined for five goals and giving the team more gritty offensive production.
“It feels a little different this year,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. “You look around the front of the net, you’ve got (Jesse) Puljujarvi, (Zach) Hyman, Kassian, Foegele all around that net, it’s a different look from our team this year.”
Hyman, signed via free agency in the offseason to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract, has delivered while skating mainly on the second line and top power-play unit — which has clicked at an amazing 47.1 percent.
“When I’ve scored goals, it’s all around the net,” said Hyman, who has five goals. “That’s where I’m comfortable. I was told early, if you want to score goals, that’s the place to be.”
Goaltender Mikko Koskinen, who has won three consecutive games upon stepping up for the injured Mike Smith, is pegged to start Wednesday. He’ll be facing a Flyers team that is averaging 4.5 goals per game, tied for fourth most in the league entering Tuesday’s action, just behind the Oilers (4.6 goals).
After four home games to start the season, the latest a 4-2 loss to the high-flying Florida Panthers on Saturday, the Flyers embark on a three-game swing through Western Canada, with games in Edmonton and Vancouver on consecutive nights before finishing in Calgary. They know it will be a tough test.
“We’re playing against a team that hasn’t lost a game yet,” coach Alain Vigneault said of the Oilers. “I think the Great One (Wayne Gretzky) the other day on TV said that he thinks their power play now is better than the one that they had when they won those Cups back then. So that says a lot about their specialty teams.”
The loss to Florida, one of the league’s four remaining unbeaten teams, put a damper on the homestand, but Vigneault said on reflection, he’s happy with the 2-1-1 opening.
“The practice time we would be able to get, the training camp, a whole week in between our last exhibition game and our first game, I really didn’t mind it,” Vigneault said. “I think we got a lot accomplished as a team as far as getting on the same page.”
Goalie Carter Hart, who is from Sherwood Park, Alberta, just east of Edmonton, is slated to oppose the Oilers. He is off to a solid start to the season after a disappointing 2020-21 campaign. With a 2.64 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in three games, he looks much more confident than last season.
The Flyers likely will be without top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis (lower-body injury), but he is with the team and may play on the trip.
–Field Level Media