Rejuvenated Oilers extinguish the Flames in the 2023 Heritage Classic
By Noah Wilson, Contributor
Through their first eight games of the regular season, the Edmonton Oilers had a measly record of, 2-5-1. Considering the high expectations that were set on the team coming into this season, it’s been quite a disastrous start to say the least. Inconsistent goaltending, costly defensive woes, and, most recently, a minor injury to franchise forward Connor McDavid have all been factors in the Oilers’ disappointing start to their latest campaign.
But, the 2023 Heritage Classic—held on Sunday, Oct. 29—turned a new page for the Oilers. With McDavid back in the line-up following a brief, upper body injury, the rejuvenated Oilers came out the gates flying as they dominated the game from puck drop all the way to the final horn.
Along with McDavid, forwards Zach Hyman and Leon Draisaitl were excellent throughout the game, but none better than Evander Kane, who was all over the ice. From being a physical presence to notching a three-point night, Kane helped propel the Oilers to a 5-2 win over their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames.
During the seventh running of the Heritage Classic, the Oilers looked like the squad everyone in the hockey world projected them to be in early October—a top team in the NHL.
Why the sudden uptick in scoring prowess, you ask? Well, many could credit this surge in performance from McDavid’s presence on the team.
Without their captain in the lineup, the Oilers looked like a team that lacked an identity. In just two games without McDavid, the Oilers endured a blowout loss to the Minnesota Wild, allowing their opponents to score five goals in the third period and resulting in a 7-4 defeat.
They followed up their squandered loss to the wild with a lifeless loss to the New York Rangers. A game where their offence—which is a strength with this team— was put to a screeching halt. With all the scoring depth the Oilers have on the roster, this is a team that should be able to deal and bend when faced with injuries, not crumple and break. Yet, they did the latter at the start of their season.
A good sign for Edmonton, however, is that it’s only November. While, in theory, the team has plenty of time to right their ship, a push in the right direction is something that can’t wait any longer.
It will also be crucial to get their bottom-six forwards going, as they have been incredibly stale so far. As of Nov. 2, Derek Ryan, Dylan Holloway, Ryan McLeod, Mattias Janmark, Adam Erne and Connor Brown have all combined for zero points. That is simply not good enough if this team is going to find any sort of long-term success this season. It is clear that the Oilers management feel the same way as they have sent forward Erne down to their American Hockey League affiliates, the Bakersfield Condors and called up savvy veteran Sam Gagner to hopefully bring a spark to the third and fourth lines.
If the bottom-six can step up their game, the team would have a more feasible time surviving any more absences from McDavid.
Albeit, watching the Oilers try and dig themselves out of their early-season, 2-5-1, hole will be an entertaining one. And, perhaps, we will finally get to see if this team is truly a ‘one-man show.’