The Oilers haven’t allowed a goal in just over 147 minutes. I know it is the preseason, but thus far we have seen a significant improvement in their defensive zone awareness. We haven’t seen glaring mistakes, or five-star turnovers, and that has to be considered progress.
Oscar Klefbom, Mark Fayne and Lauri Korpikoski won’t dress this evening, but the much of tonight’s lineup will be the same when they open the season next Thursday in St. Louis.
Slepyshev will play his sixth preseason game, which is the most on the Oilers.
Lander, RNH, Schultz, Klinkhammer, Draisaitl, Yakupov, Pouliot, Korpikoski, Hendricks and Letestu have played in four.
Hall, McDavid, Fayne, Klefbom, Nikitin, Gryba, Reinhart, Gazdic, Davidson and Sekera have laced up three times. Ference has dressed in two, while Purcell has only played one due to injury.
Talbot will play the entire game tonight, and if I’m McLellan I’d play him the entire game on Saturday as well. My first priority is to ensure the starting goalie is ready.
Canucks (probable lines courtesy of the Canucks Twitter account)
Those are the 18 skaters, but line combos and D pairs are not guaranteed.
This is the most NHL-ready lineup the Oilers have faced so far this preseason, but the Canucks are without their top line of the Sedins and Vrbata. I don’t see the Canucks making the playoffs this year, so defeating them won’t change my stance on the Oilers season (no playoffs), but tonight and Saturday will give us a better indication of where they stand compared to playing watered down lineups of the Coyotes, Wild and Jets recently.
- McLellan’s practices are all about pace. There is very little standing around looking at the whiteboard. When he does call them in, it is a brief meeting and then onto the next drill. I’ve said and written for the past six seasons the Oilers practices weren’t consistently uptempo enough. You earn the right to feel good about your game in practice, and McLellan’s pace is much quicker than I’ve watched the past six seasons.
- Even their PP drills are quick. When you are watching the game tonight (it is on TV), watch how they breakout on the PP. They have at least seven different breakouts. Also pay attention to their puck retrievals and their focus on shooting.
- Justin Schultz has 11 shots in four preseason games. He is averaging 2.75 per game. The coaches have been encouraging/promoting/demanding him to shoot more. Last season he had 122 shots in 81 games, 1.5/game, which is low considering he was 21st among D-men in PP TOI, and 26th in overall TOI. It is early, but Schultz has made some small adjustments to his game which have made him more effective.
- Watch the PP in the offensive zone and see how much motion they have. McLellan and Jay Woodcroft, who starts the PP meetings but takes input from all the other coaches, were stressing constant movement this morning. If one unit was too lackadaisical, McLellan let them hear it and would switch out units. There will be a healthy competition between the two units.
- Further to yesterday’s article on Nilsson not needing waivers: If he had been under NHL contract, but was loaned to the KHL, then last season would have counted and he’d need waivers. He was unsigned in the NHL, and that is why last season didn’t count towards his four seasons of waiver exemptions.
- After a few questions about Yakupov, Todd McLellan said this is only an issue because Eberle is hurt. He then added he didn’t see the need for a conversation. I completely agree. His plan from day one was to have Yakupov/Lander as a pair and he will stick with it early in the season. He wants Yakupov to get comfortable, and the truth is Yakupov is not ready to play hard minutes with RNH or McDavid. Their hope is that he develops on the third line, where they have skilled players, and if he improves away from the puck, then he can play, and succeed, on the top lines.
The biggest myth among the Yakupov supporters is his ability to score. I get texts and tweets daily saying he will be a 40-goal scorer. There is nothing to suggest that is the case. First off, only three players in the NHL scored 40 goals last year. It is rare. Eberle is a better finisher and he’s only scored 30 goals once. Yakupov has 42 career goals in 192 games. He had 11 goals in his final 14 games of 2013. He has 28 goals in the other 178 games. If he becomes a consistent 25-goal scorer Yakupov fans should be thrilled.
I like Yakupov’s speed, desire and feistiness, but he needs to play within the structure better. Derek Roy said it best last season: “Too often I don’t know where he is on the ice.” Once Yakupov figures that out he will be much more effective. He is still very young and he can improve, but stop suggesting the Oilers have to give him a spot in their top-six. They don’t, and they won’t until his play away from the puck improves. It’s okay to let him develop in softer, third line minutes. He will get PP time, and he should excel there. McLellan’s hope is to build his confidence, not force feed him minutes and pray he succeeds.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers win 5-2. Hall picks up his first points of the preseason.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid scores his first preseason goal. He is starting to adjust to playing against men, and he was extremely dangerous on Tuesday.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Mean Gene’s first opening of the 2015/2016 TV season begins with him wearing a blue Oilers jersey and talking about a new Oilers era. After 30 seconds of talking, Mark Messier enters the frame and tears off Gene’s jersey, and underneath he has a new Oilers orange jersey. Messier glares at Gene, then looks at the camera, smiles, and says, “Welcome to Edmonton, Connor. I’ve got your back.”
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