NHL Network and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes will offer his pluses and minuses for big games each week throughout the season.
Here’s my breakdown of the game.
The Edmonton Oilers seek their sixth straight win to start the season against the Philadelphia Flyers, who begin a three-game Canadian road trip.
The Oilers (5-0-0) are tied for second in the NHL, scoring 4.60 goals per game; the Flyers (2-1-1) are tied for fourth with 4.50 goals per game. It should be a good one when they play at Rogers Place on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; TNT, SN360, SN1, TVAS).
Here’s my breakdown of the game.
Pluses: I’ve seen more stability in their group this season. I think bringing in some of those veterans — forwards Cam Atkinson and Derick Brassard, and defensemen Keith Yandle, Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen — has helped. Atkinson, Brassard and Yandle each has five points this season. A lot of these guys that the Flyers brought in this offseason not only can contribute on the ice but have good character and are excellent in the room. You have to give general manager Chuck Fletcher credit for addressing those needs.
The defense has improved from last season. The Flyers allowed an NHL-worst 3.52 goals per game, which is down to 3.00 this season. And prior to training camp, a lot of players in Canada didn’t have access to ice and facilities because of COVID-19 restrictions, but Carter Hart did. The goalie was able to work on his game after having a down season, and he’s in line for a bounce-back this season.
Minuses: I’d like to see more out of the bottom two lines. The top six have scored 15 of the team’s 18 goals. Two of the other three goals have come from defensemen, and only one from a bottom-six forward (Scott Laughton). It’s hard to maintain success when you rely on the top players consistently and don’t have depth scoring.
This is also the first time the Flyers will play a regular-season game in Canada since the 2019-20 season. It’s their first road game and begins a stretch of seven of nine away from home, so this will be a big test. And they could be without Ellis (undisclosed injury), which would be a blow to the defense.
Pluses: In addition to their 5-0-0 start, the Oilers rank first on the power play (47.1 percent) and sixth on the penalty kill (88.2 percent) heading into play Tuesday. When you have special teams clicking like that it’s no surprise their record is what it is. We know about Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but forward Zach Hyman has been a great addition; he’s second on the team in goals with five, one behind McDavid. And forward Warren Foegele and defenseman Duncan Keith have helped too. The Western Conference is so wide open, so let’s see if the Oilers can take the next step after getting swept in the Stanley Cup First Round by the Winnipeg Jets last season.
Goalie Mike Smith is nicked up right now but he has played great since last season, when he was 21-6-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and three shutouts in 32 games (30 starts). That was his best GAA and save percentage since 2011-12 with the Phoenix Coyotes (2.21, .930). At 39 years old, he’s shown no signs of slowing down.
Minuses: I can’t find anything wrong right now. They look great in all aspects of the game. The challenge will be to maintain this level of play over the course of the season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they have not advanced past the second round since making the Cup Final in 2006.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Offenses should take center stage
2. Which Flyers line matches up with the McDavid line?
3. Will Flyers get depth scoring?