Of the 17 games remaining on the Edmonton Oilers’ schedule, none come against an opponent lower in the NHL standings today than this afternoon contest against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes are an interesting team for a few reasons. Like the Oilers they got off to a brutal start to the year. As of January 1, Edmonton had an 8-22-8 record while the ‘Canes sat at 10-23-4. And like the Oilers, the Hurricanes have turned things around dramatically since. While Edmonton has a 10-14-3 record in the New Year, the Hurricanes are actually above 0.500, going 14-9-3 in 2015. If they’d fired first-year coach Bill Peters and brought in an interim guy on New Year’s Day we’d probably be reading about his three-season contract extension right about now.
Carolina’s been a refuge for a few Oilers castoffs. Steve Smith is the assistant coach under Peters, after filling that same role for several years in Edmonton, while ex-Oilers executive Ricky Olczyk is an assistant general manager with the club. The Hurricanes also took in 2007 first round pick Riley Nash a few years back; the Cornell Grad is now 25 and with 23 points in 60 games is having his best NHL season.
Todd Nelson’s virtues have been discussed at some length, and one of the big items in his favour is the way he’s turned around a number of slumping prospects, with Nail Yakupov, Oscar Klefbom, Anton Lander and Martin Marincin the names most frequently mentioned (Lowetide had the breakdowns yesterday). A guy we don’t talk about much? Luke Gazdic.
Here are the Oilers’ best forwards by on-ice Corsi percentage since Nelson took sole control of the coaching job (min. 10 games):
- Taylor Hall, 50.8 percent
- Jordan Eberle, 50.1 percent
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 50.1 percent
- Benoit Pouliot, 49.6 percent
- Luke Gazdic, 49.5 percent
Hmmm. Well it doesn’t matter much if he never scores, right? Forwards have to score, after all. Let’s look at points-per-hour at even-strength:
- Taylor Hall: 2.4
- Jordan Eberle: 1.9
- Derek Roy: 1.8
- Anton Lander: 1.6
- Luke Gazdic: 1.5
Now, we shouldn’t make more of that than is really there; Gazic only has three points in this span, which means one unlucky bounce and 33 percent of his offence would disappear instantaneously. But if we’re talking about players who have dramatically improved their chances of being on the NHL roster next year under Nelson’s watch, Gazdic has to be near the top.
Because we’re looking at the first half of a back-to-back here there’s a little more flux with the lineup than normal.
- Nelson indicated in his availability on Saturday that Richard Bachman would get the start today, likely leaving Detroit to Ben Scrivens tomorrow. It’s a sensible place for a rest for Scrivens, who has played seven straight and was brilliant against Chicago.
- Jack Michaels notes that Keith Aulie is in the mix for this game, which probably means that Jordan Oesterle comes out of the lineup. Oesterle’s been decent since coming up from Oklahoma City but had a tough time of it against the Blackhawks. Personally, I’ve always liked seeing the No. 7 defenceman get a shot in these back-to-back situations anyway, because it means the lineup is at least a little fresher in the second game.
- This is probably the last day for these forward line combinations, as Nelson said the Oilers were aiming at Monday’s game against Detroit for the return of Anton Lander, which will mercifully give the team four centres once again and allow Matt Hendricks to shift back to wing.
What They’re Saying
The 27th-ranked Canes and 29th-ranked Oilers wrap up their season series in an early start this afternoon. The last time the teams met, on October 24th, Jordan Eberle tallied two goals and an assist, and the Oilers scored a season-high 6 goals (four unanswered in the third period) for the 6-3 win in Edmonton… Bill Peters (catch his post-practice audio here) is splitting up the Staals; Eric will skate on a line with the Swedes, centered by Victor Rask and with Elias Lindholm on the other wing, and Jordan will center a line with Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Nestrasil. Ryan Murphy will return on defense after being activated from IR on Friday. Alberta native Cam Ward will get the start in net.
Game day prediction: There’s an old line about teams playing better in losses at the tail end of a losing streak, and the Oilers played about as well as they could on Friday against Chicago. They should match up reasonably well against Carolina; let’s call it 4-2 Oilers.
Obvious game day prediction: Edmonton draft pick Riley Nash will score one of Carolina’s goals.
Not-so-obvious game day prediction: Matt Fraser is probably looking at a return to the pressbox on Monday unless he shows something today, and he responds well with a goal and an assist against the Hurricanes.
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