GDB 10.0: On The Road

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The Oilers are on their first multi-game road trip of the season, playing five games in eight days starting tonight in Toronto, and ending next Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Despite their 7-2 start many feel a favourable schedule versus non-playoff teams means the Oilers still have a lot to prove. There is some validity to that, but the Oilers are not worried about being on the road, in fact they are very much looking forward to it.

The Oilers have been a better road team than home team thus far.

They are 3-0 on the road with wins in Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver. They outscored their opponents 10-3, and they’ve allowed only one goal in their last eight road periods. Yes, they had a favourable schedule, but they’ve been dominant on the road.

Tonight’s tilt versus the Maple Leafs should be entertaining. The Leafs look like the Oilers circa 2010-2015. They have some young, dynamic forwards, but their defence is weak and their overall team defence is suspect.

The Leafs have allowed 35 goals in nine games. The Oilers have allowed only 19. Freddie Andersen struggled early in the season with the Leafs, allowing fewer shots per game, 30.2, than the Oilers 31.1.

The Oilers are sixth in GF/G at 3.22, while the Leafs are 12th at 2.89. Both teams can score, but unlike previous seasons the Oilers can defend and Cam Talbot has provided outstanding goaltending.

On paper this should be the easiest game of the road trip. The Leafs sit 27th in the league at 2-4-3, while the Rangers are fifth with 12 points, the Islanders 21st, the Red Wings are eighth and the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins are fourth, one point behind the Oilers.

This is another game the Oilers should win.

LINEUP

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Matthew Benning makes his NHL debut tonight. The Leafs are not a big physical team, more of a skating team so he should match up well against them. He hasn’t played a game since October 20th in Winnipeg against the Manitoba Moose and he needs to be playing whether it is in the AHL or NHL.

Leafs

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From a strictly matchup point of view, I think this is the easiest D corps McDavid will face this year. 

QUICK HITS

  • After a hot start (2-4-6) in his first four games, Leon Draisaitl has gone cold with zero points in his last five. He struggles when he stops moving his feet and glides with his head up looking to make plays. He’s most dangerous when he’s moving and lately he’s reverted back to trying to slow the game down.
  • Jordan Eberle has also stopped producing after scoring 3-3-6 in his first five games. He has gone pointless in the last four. He has fired 15 shots on goal during those games, but I believe he has passed up some of his best chances by dishing off to McDavid. He, like the rest of the team on the PP, needs to get selfish and shoot. He also needs to take an extra stride or two and get closer to the net before shooting.
  • The Oilers have killed off their last 18 penalties dating back to the final eight minutes versus Buffalo. Their PK has been good despite allowing a lot of shots. They have allowed three PP goals, but they’ve scored two shorties. They will need to be alert on the PK with the Leafs PP clicking at 25% (7 of 28).
  • The Nugent-Hopkins line has been quite good lately. Nuge and Kassian were excellent versus Ottawa and they should have a favourable matchup tonight. Morgan Reilly has played most of the opposition’s top line so he should get McDavid’s line, leaving RNH to battle Gardiner/Polak or Marincin-Zaitsev. He should be able to create against them.
  • Many are hyping this game as McDavid vs. Matthews, but Michael Nylander was just named rookie of the month for October. He scored 4-7-11 in nine games. Matthews had 6-4-10 and they have been a very dynamic duo for the Leafs. McDavid was named 1st star of the month in the NHL, however, leading the league with 5-7-12 in nine games. 
  • Make no mistake tonight’s game is important for McDavid. Every player loves playing in their home town, and tonight is McDavid’s first NHL game in Toronto. He is ultra competitive and the talk about #1 pick vs. #1 pick won’t be lost on him. Wayne Gretzky flew into to watch them and when he was asked about playing against Mario Lemieux he said, “Absolutely it fires you up. It’s a team game but individually you have pride, too.” Bingo. McDavid and Matthews will be excited, but this is McDavid’s hometown (NHL wise) and he’ll be flying tonight.
  • The Oilers PP has struggled the past few games. They are still passing up shots looking for the perfect pass. I think McLellan will stick with his units for another game or two, but if he does make a change I could see switching Puljuarvi for Draisaitl to have two right-shots. I’d prefer to see Eberle closer to the goal on the PP. He excels there. The accuracy of his shot is his best weapon, not velocity, so I’d move him closer to the net. Puljujarvi has a harder shot, so he could play farther out. The only concern there is you’d have a rookie as the “2nd D-man,” so I understand why they haven’t tried that yet. 
  • They could try Kris Russell as well in place of Sekera or Klefbom, but it is very early and their PP is one good game away from being close to 20% again, so I expect Mclellan to be patient. Their EV scoring has improved, their PK is very good, and this is a team only nine games removed from being a basement dwellar. A good PP is a nice bonus, but strong EV play will win you more games. 
  • The Oilers PP is 28% on the road thus far, but it is an incredibly small sample size. They are 2-for-7 on the road. 
  • Many of you will remember SpiderMable – the 6-year-old cancer-fighting superhero who had her wish granted by the Children’s Wish Foundation to fight crime with Spider-Man in the City of Edmonton. After Mable’s wish day and the SpiderMable story took the media by storm, Mable has spent the following year paying her wish forward. Using her newfound celebrity status, Mable has been giving back to the many organizations that supported her during her battle with cancer by appearing as a spokesperson and representative at many events and fundraisers and raising countless dollars in the process.  And now, the filmmakers of SpiderMable The Film want to tell this incredible story about one little girl’s transformation from cancer fighter, to superhero to charity ambassador, but they need your help. The filmmakers have launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help raise the necessary funds to complete film. For more info on SpiderMable’s story and to contribute, go to igg.me/at/spidermablethefilm
  • We are going on a road trip to Calgary on Saturday January 21st to watch the Oilers and Flames. Trip includes bus, hotel, pre-game party, tickets to the game and a post-game party. And you can sleep in on Sunday as the bus doesn’t leave until 11 a.m. We only have 16 tickets left. Click here for info and how to book your spot.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From The LeafsNation

The other thing about the McDavid vs. Matthews forced rivalry is that it isn’t very fair. Auston Matthews might become the second best player on earth, and it might happen sooner than you’d think. Heck, he might already be third. But Connor is definitely the best player on the planet right now, and barring injury, he’s got a shot at being one of the absolute greatest players of all time.

Connor McDavid may have been the most talented skater to ever play hockey when he was 15 or 16 years old. Keeping up with him in a foot race is like trying to race Usain Bolt to the convenience store. Using your stick as help is an easy way to put the Oilers on the powerplay. Every single player that plays with him sees an uptick in their possession and production that, if it weren’t for him and some solid goaltending, I’m not certain that the Oilers wouldn’t have a negative season point total right now. While Edmonton writers pump their chests and suggest that management was right all along for trading the second or third best Left Winger on Earth for a second or third pairing defenceman, what they’re missing is that after years of blowing it with draft lottery wins, the Oilers lucked into the second or third best player ever acquired through the draft system and that he’s been carrying this team since before he could legally drink.

TONIGHT

GDB

GAME DAY PREDICTION: It will be an entertaining game, and we’ll see some goals. No shutouts for either squad. The Oilers score a PP goal and win 4-2.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Eberle scores. He has 10 goals in 10 career games vs. the Leafs. Also, an easy prediction is McDavid getting two points in his first NHL game in Toronto. Players love playing in their home town, or NHL rink closest to their home town, and McDavid will all over the ice tonight. 

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS-GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nylander is annoyed by the slight of all the McDavid/Matthews hype and decides to create his own rivalry. The Swede takes a healthy run at Oilers Finnish rookie Jesse Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi’s helmet, not surprisingly, falls off in the collision. He’s angry when he gets to his feet and bursts up ice, his hair flowing, as much as short hair flows, and **Finnishes the play by picking up an assist. **Inner Gene Principe**

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