It hasn’t been pretty but the Edmonton Oilers are 2-0 on the season and in a three way tie with Anaheim and Vegas for the Pacific Division lead. The Oilers have won two home games against Vancouver and Los Angeles by a single goal in each and now head out on the road for the first time this season. After tonight’s game, they’ll play at New Jersey, at the Rangers and at Chicago. Dave Tippett will no doubt be happy if the team can manage a split of the four game road trip. They’ll then return home for a pair of winnable home games (Philadelphia and Detroit) followed by a pair of road games against the weak sisters of the Central Division (Winnipeg and Minnesota).
One thing that Oilers’ coach Tippett has to be pleased with is the fact that Connor McDavid is getting plenty of help offensively. To no surprise, McJesus leads the team with 5 points but is in a three way tie atop the goals table along with Zack Kassian and Calgary castoff James Neal all with two apiece. Both of Neal’s goals have come on the power play and that’s even better. McDavid doesn’t even lead the team in assists–that’s Leon Draisaitl with 4 and he’s in a tie for second with defenseman Oscar Klefbom. After two games, there are 6 Oilers with goals and 8 with assists. If Edmonton can continue to get this kind of offensive contribution from players other than McDavid and Draisaitl that makes the top line all the more dangerous.
Veteran Mike Smith has started both of the Oilers’ games this season and he’s ‘projected’ to be between the pipes here. Semyon Varlamov is expected to start for the Islanders and he was the tough luck loser in New York’s opening game 2-1 loss to Washington. The Islanders are coming off a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets which saw them ‘explode’ for three goals in the second period but you shouldn’t overreact to this performance. They caught the Jets in a spot where they were physically and emotionally drained coming off of a shootout win at New Jersey. In that game the Jets were down 4-0 heading into the final minute of the second period but scored four unanswered goals to tie the contest and eventually win in the shootout.
There’s a very realistic possibility that this season will be more of the same for the Islanders–a very strong defensive team that struggles mightily to put the puck in the net. Their 2018-2019 performance was impressive–103 points in a year where they were expected to struggle after John Tavares signed with Toronto. It’ll be tough for them to reprise that performance this year. The story would have been drastically different with a couple of unfavorable bounces. Tampa Bay ran away with the East last year but after the Lightning there were eight teams within 11 points of each other. Variance suggests that some of the bounces will go the other way this year.
Edmonton needs to tighten up defensively if they’re going to make the playoffs and compete there. For now, however, they’ve got enough weapons to outscore an Islanders team that just can’t hang in an uptempo game. Oilers have won 3 of 4 head to head and both games last year went over the total.