The Oilers begin their season-high five-game road trip in Washington tonight before stops in Carolina (Wednesday), Detroit (Friday), Pittsburgh (Saturday) and Toronto next Monday. The Oilers have played much better the past two weeks, and five games against the Eastern conference should result in at least five points for the Oilers.
In 2013/2014 the Oilers were 14-14-4 vs. the East. They were 15-14-3 last year and they are already 4-2 this year. The Oilers like playing Eastern teams and with two healthy scoring lines and better defensive zone coverage this should be a productive road trip.
The Oilers are built to play in the East — although with recent additions/THE emergence of Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom, the Oilers have the skilled size necessary to compete in the West — because the games usually contain more skating and wide open play and less cycling and battles along the boards.
The Capitals scored seven goals on 26 shots on October 23rd at Rexall Place, and they’ve scored 21 goals in their last five meetings vs. the Oilers. The Oilers defeated the Capitals 5-4 (SO) and 3-2 last year, but Edmonton has allowed 4+ goals in four of the last five meetings, and tonight their team defence and goaltending must be solid if they hope to pull off the upset.
Alex Ovechkin has 9-7-16 in eleven games vs.the Oilers, but he’s not the most productive Capital so far this season. Fellow countryman Evgeny Kuznetzov leads the Caps in scoring with 7-14-21 in 19 games and he dominated the Oilers last month scoring a hat trick and adding two assists.
- The Oilers faced backup goalie Philipp Grubauer (2.71GAA and .900sv%) in Edmonton and scored four goals, but they will be shooting on Braden Holtby tonight. Holtby has a stingy 2.01 GAA and .920 sv% and he’s one of the front runners to back up Carey Price for Canada at the upcoming World Cup.
- Korpikoski slides to centre as Luke Gazdic draws back in the lineup on the fourth line and Anton Lander sits out. I don’t see Lander sitting out long on this trip because the other teams aren’t very big or physical, but he needs to find his offensive game. He’s been okay on the PK, but at EV he’s done very little.
- Draisaitl has 17 points in ten games and he leads the NHL with 1.70 points-per-game. Patrick Kane (1.52), Tyler Seguin (1.43), Jamie Benn (1.38) and Taylor Hall (1.20) round out the top five. Obviously, Draisaitl’s PPG will fall, but I don’t see it plummeting below one. He’s very talented and he plays with Hall, who is a proven point producer.
- The Oilers switched up their PP units with Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl changing lines. Draisaitl is with Hall, Eberle, Purcell and Klefbom, while RNH will line up with Yakupov, Pouliot, Letestu and Sekera. It makes sense to put Draisaitl and Hall together as often as possible. Their on-ice chemistry is off the charts right now.
- Ovechkin leads the NHL with 96 shots and Hall is fourth with 85. Ovechkin has 10 goals while Hall has nine, but both only have one PP goal. They are producing at even strength. Both used to be criticized for their defensive coverage, but they’ve improved their defensive play and it hasn’t limited their offence. They are tied for sixth in the NHL at +11 and both have solid possession numbers.
- Peter Chiarelli won’t trade Nugent-Hopkins now, but if Draisailt continues playing this well at both ends of the rink, and I expect he will, Chiarelli could contemplate moving RNH in the summer. I don’t see Draisaitl, RNH and McDavid all in Edmonton to start the 2017/2018 season. Salary cap would be the main reason one is moved. It will be one of the rare times in recent memory the Oilers trade from a position of strength.
- NIlsson starts again and he has started seven of the last nine games. In his last six starts, beginning on November 3rd, he is 3-2-1 with a .900 sv% and 2.66GAA. Not great numbers, but his sv% in four starts was .950, .919, .939 and .909. He is playing better, but eventually they need him to steal a game or two.
- This is a MUST READ. An outstanding letter by Hall of Fame forward Bryan Trottier to his younger self. Trust me, you will love this.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
While the Oilers will have to do without teenage rising talent Connor McDavid after breaking his collarbone, they’ve recalled Draisaitl (3rd overall pick in 2014) from Bakersfield in the AHL. He’s shown quick chemistry with a line with Hall – knotting seven goals and 17 points in ten games already. He has a point in eight of 10 and multiple points in more than half of them. Number 29 in orange will surely be one to watch for Edmonton.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers haven’t won consecutive games in over a month, and that continues tonight with a 4-3 OT loss.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hall and Draisaitl combine on another EV goal.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers had their Christmas party on Saturday evening, and Santa made a surprise visit. Lander and Yakupov both asked him for a goal. Yakupov was his usual smiley and happy self and Santa spent a bit more time with him. He told Yakupov he needs to be a bit naughtier in the offensive end, and rip a few high hard ones at the goalie. Yakupov, like most smart people, listened to Saint Nick and he fires one of Holtby’s shoulder/neck in the first period and later in the game he scores his first goal in 15 games.
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