The Oilers are in an eerily similar position as last year as they try for their fourth consecutive victory. The Oilers lost their first five games (0-4-1) last season, before winning four straight to inject some hope within the team and fanbase. It was short-lived success and the Oilers proceeded to win only three of their next 27 games.
Edmonton is a better team today than a year ago, and no one should expect them to only have seven wins by December 27th. Even though it was only a year ago, you almost forget how bad they were until you look at the game scores and realize they won three of 27 games. No wonder Wanye stopped writing. He was emotionally broken.
The Oilers aren’t completely fixed yet, but their on-ice improvement has been significant.
The Oilers face a very good Washington Capitals team tonight. They Caps have won four straight and five of their first six games. This is the Oilers fifth game this year against a top-six team in the standings. They lost the previous four to Nashville, Dallas and St. Louis (twice), and tonight will give the Oilers a good gauge as to how much they’ve improved since their first four games of the season.
The Oilers do get a bit of a break from the schedule maker. This is the Caps third game in four nights, and they won 3-2 last night in Vancouver. The Oilers won two games last weekend in the same spot Washington is facing tonight, so they can’t take them lightly, but Washington will be a bit fatigued.
Iiro Pakarinen will not dress tonight and much of that is due to Todd McLellan not knowing him at all. Pakarinen’s injury prevented McLellan from seeing him in training camp or the preseason. The head coach said he wants to get to know the player and see him in practice before he plays. McLellan mentioned Pakarinen’s style of play, at least from what he’s heard, should be a good fit against their upcoming opponents so we could see him Sunday vs. the Kings.
- The Capitals only loss, 5-0 vs. San Jose, had Alex Ovechkin in the pressbox. He was scratched, due to sleeping in and they lost 5-0. Ovechkin has scored in all five games he’s played. Smart move by Barry Trotz to send a message to his leader and team early in the season. They’ve all responded.
- Ovechkin has scored 9-5-14 in ten career games vs. the Oilers, but the Oilers are 5-4-1 in those games.
- Griffin Reinhart and Matt Hendricks weren’t on the ice this morning and there’s no return date for either. Many have asked about Eberle and if he keeps recovering on schedule he might return mid November. They will not rush him back from a shoulder injury.
- The Oilers PP has been better the past few games, and it has to do with a tweak from the coaching staff. McLellan and Woodcroft love motion and movement on the PP. They want guys to be able to produce from different spots, but it wasn’t working early on, so they’ve simplified it and went back to having players in specific spots. Nugent-Hopkins spoke to me about the change.
“At first we had chances, but we weren’t getting a lot of opportunities. They (coaches) are smart in there, they’ve had good powerplays in the past and they know what they are doing. They changed things up a little bit and it has paid off so far. We’ve had more opportunities from setting up. We’ve had a few goals on the rush, but from setting up we can find more goals.”
- RNH has talked openly for two years how he wanted to improve his two-way game, but this year more players seem to be following his lead. I asked him if he’s noticed a difference from his teammates.
“I think we are all still growing up in the league and guys learn it is something we have to focus on, and the more we focus on it (defensive play) the more offence will come out of it. We are starting to see that, and a good example is Yak’s done a really good job this year of focusing a lot more on the defensive side of things and it is paying off offensively for him.”
Players are usually the best indicator of how others are playing and RNH’s response shows the team is noticing Yak’s improved play defensively. The onus is always on the player to improve and work on their deficiencies, and Yakupov has done that. Good for him.
In my eyes, Yakupov and Schultz have been the two players who have been the biggest positives in terms of improving the weaknesses in their games so far this season.
- Dave Jackson (1,413th career game) and Brad Watson (1,111th game) are tonight’s officials. Both let teams play. The NHL average PIM/game is 10.4/game. Watson is at 8.4, while Jackson sits at 6.7. Over the past two seasons, the Oilers are 5-5 when Watson officiates and 3-6 with Jackson.
- If you ask what is wrong with the Anaheim Ducks look no further than Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler. They are a combined cap hit of $21.875 million and each of them have one paltry assist in six games. The Ducks have scored six goals in six games, and four of them came in their only victory of the season. When their top gunners start scoring they will start winning.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The Caps have been able to get production from multiple lines to start this season. The top three lines of the Caps have all found the score sheet in the last two games on the road trip. Forward Jason Chimera has a three game goal scoring streak and captain Alex Ovechkin has a goal in each of his games this season.
The results for the Oilers have been coming on the power play this season. That’s something that head coach Todd McLellan brought with him from the San Jose Sharks. The unit has put in four of 23 so far, but looks to be gaining traction quickly. Washington’s penalty kill has allowed only three of 18 for an 83% efficiency rating.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers defeat the Capitals 5-4 in an exciting run-and-gun game.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ovechkin scores. He didn’t score his first game in Edmonton, scored the next, then didn’t score, scored two in his fourth visit here, and didn’t score last year. He continues his trend of scoring every second visit to Rexall.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Lauri Korpikoski loves playing the Capitals. He has six goals in ten career games and lights the lamp again tonight. He hasn’t scored in his last three games against the Caps, but he bulges the twine tonight when he scores shorthanded.
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