The Oilers have faced an Eastern opponent in 10 of their last 13 games, and five of them weren’t playoff teams, but tonight starts a stretch of eight games against the Jets, Bruins, Wild, Ducks, Wild, Blues, Kings and Blackhawks.
The Wild aren’t in the playoffs, yet, but they are the hottest team in the NHL, 8-0-2 in their last ten allowing on 16 goals and are now only two points out of 7th/8th. The defending Champs, LA, have won four in a row and are within three points of 7th/8th, while the rest are playoff teams.
The Oilers are 9-10-2 with Todd Nelson, but the next eight games will be the toughest stretch off his brief NHL coaching career.
The Oilers have been more competitive under Nelson, however, in three of their past six games, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Ottawa, they were completely outplayed. They’ve been close in the other 18 games, but those three games happened recently and this next eight-game stretch will uncover if the players can remain competitive or if we see them slip back to being the team they were before Nelson.
Here is a quick look at Nelson’s 21 games compared to Dallas Eakins final 16 games that led to him being fired. (I didn’t include the five MacNelson games.)
Outscored 51-27 (1.69 GF/game and 3.18 GA/game)
Outshot 445-351 (27.8 SA/game to 21.9 SF)
PP: 6 of 45 (13.3%)
PK: 10 on 49 (79.5%)
Outscored 65-51 (2.42 GF and 3.09 GA)
Outshot 609-578 (29 SA/game to 27.5 SF)
PP: 10 for 57 (17.5%)
PK: 11 on 54 (79.6 %)
Wins are the most important statistic and Nelson has had much more success. The biggest difference I see under the two is that the Oilers are more dangerous offensively. They are allowing one more shot per game, and have a slightly lower GAA, but they Oilers are actually generating offence and shots under Nelson.
They are averaging almost six shots more/game than they did during the final half of Eakins’ 31 games as head coach, and they are scoring more goals.
The team isn’t built to play solid defence. They don’t have any top-notch defenders, and too many of their forwards have yet to become solid two-way players. Nelson realizes this, so he is coaching to the strengths of his players. He has them practicing faster, so they can play faster, and with a more aggressive approach they don’t have to spend as much time in their own end.
No coach will be able to instantly fix the Oilers. They aren’t strong enough, heavy enough or experienced enough to play a solid two-way game. Of course, Nelson is still trying to improve their defensive play, but when the players simply aren’t as good as other team’s players no one should expect them to win regularly.
At least Nelson has been able to communicate with them on a level that ignites them to be more competitive. The next eight games will be a much harder test, and we’ll see how they match up against bigger, stronger and better teams over the next eight games than they faced for the past month.
Klinkhammer is in Lethbridge with his wife awaiting arrival of their baby. Hendricks is still injured and Gordon is a game time decision. If he can’t play then Keith Aulie will draw in and the Oilers will dress 11 forwards and 7 D-men.
Fasth gets the start and will look to bounce back after a dreadful first three minutes to start the second period in Ottawa when he allowed to soft goals.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
From Garret Hohl JetsNation.ca…
The Winnipeg Jets are back in action this evening as they host the Edmonton Oilers at the MTS centre in downtown Winnipeg. This is the second of the Oilers-Jets three game series, with the Jets beating the Oilers 3-2 in overtime with the previous bought.
The Jets enter today’s game holding onto the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with a record of 29-19-10, while the Oilers have the last spot in the West with a 16-32-9 record. Both teams have struggled over their last 10, with Jets being 3-5-2 and the Oilers being 4-6-0.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Winnipeg is one of the most physical team in the western conference, and without Klinkhammer and Hendricks the Oilers can’t match their physicality tonight. Oilers lose 5-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers will need to play run and gun to win. The game will be quite entertaining.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: With Gordon ailing, Lander takes more faceoffs and does quite well, winning 58% of his draws.
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