Ethan Bear and Darnell Nurse have given the Edmonton Oilers what they have not had since the 2016-17 playoff run, which is a functional first-pairing defensive duo.
Although season is young, since the duo teamed up after Adam Larsson went out with injury, Bear and Nurse have been playing solid hockey in heavy minutes against tough competition.
That phrase “solid hockey in heavy minutes against tough competition” is a cliche for what’s expected of a top-pairing defensive parternship.
Bear looked iffy even in a third-pairing role during a short test run in 2017-18, so much so that he spent all of 2018-19 in the AHL. But in their first run of games together, Bear and Nurse are thriving. The team has been sorely lacking that kind of effective top-end partnership, that duo the coach can put out there against almost anybody and know they’re likely to survive it.
Bear also currently leads all NHL rookies for time on ice per game, at 20:43. If he got top power play time, he might even be able to make a run at the NHL’s rookie of the year award.
T.J. Oshie on the other hand has a team-leading six goals through nine games.
Oshie always has had the confidence to score, he told the Washington Post, but he wasn’t allowing himself to get consistent opportunities because he was playing a “little too perimeter.”
In the offseason, Oshie realized the bulk of his scoring was more off the rush and cycling, but he wasn’t happy with his play around the net.
This season, Oshie said, he’s more actively seeking scoring opportunities and “not necessarily looking to support” as much as he did before. Typically on a line with center Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana last season, Oshie knows their ability to win one-on-one matchups. So at the worst, he said, being at the front of the net occupies a defender and, in turn, benefits his entire line.
During the team’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday, Oshie scored two power-play goals.
The first came after he stood firm at the net front waiting for a quick tip opportunity. He collected a pass from Backstrom, who waited for a lane to open up. While Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist got over pretty quickly, Oshie was able to get three swift whacks at the puck until it slipped past Lundqvist, which was off the skate of defenseman Marc Staal and in. He paid for it by then being laid out by Jacob Trouba in the process.
So far so good for both this season.