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The new playoff format puts an emphasis on being competitive within your division. Peter Chiarelli had to construct a team he felt could compete against Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim. He will have to alter some pieces in the coming years as the division changes, but for now the Oilers had to get bigger, more experienced and more competitive.
Tonight marks the first test against one of the top dogs in the Pacific. Have the Oilers closed the gap?
The Oilers are 3-0 versus the Pacific this season, defeating the Flames twice and Canucks once. It is progress after so many years of being the doormat of the division. Over the past three seasons the Oilers won only 21 of 87 games versus the Pacific, so I wouldn’t shrug at a 3-0 record because it was the Canucks and Flames. The Oilers have struggled against every team in the division, and Peter Chiarelli has revamped the team since he was hired in April of 2015 with the hope they can be competitive within the Pacific division.
It doesn’t matter if they struggle versus The Penguins or Rangers right now, because the first step in the road to respectability begins in the Pacific. The Oilers won’t make it to a Cup Final if they can’t get out of their own division.
They can’t erase the Decade of Darkness in one season, and while winning the Cup is the ultimate goal, the organization finally seems to realize they have to take the necessary steps to reach it. They can’t build a Cup winning team right away. It is too daunting to think about when starting from the bottom, and Chiarelli won’t know which players are playoff ready until he sees them in the postseason.
The Oilers have had brutal starts in four of the last five games, allowing a goal in the first two minutes. They will need to be more focused from the opening faceoff and be ready to battle for every inch on the ice.
The Ducks play hard. They play in your face. They have skill and speed, but Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry and Kevin Bieksa will challenge you, often with a savvy cheap shot, and the Oilers need to be mentally prepared.
The Oilers can’t just react, they need to initiate.
Milan Lucic was signed for games like this. He needs to set the tone. And the rest of his teammates need to follow. It isn’t about fighting or highlight reel hits, although those are great, it’s about being strong along the boards, strong on your stick and matching the drive, intensity and skill of the Ducks.
This team was built to become more competitive within the Pacific Division. So far they have done well, but the Ducks are a much tougher test and I’m curious to see how the Oilers respond.
Moving Eberle off of McDavid’s line has been a hot topic. The reality is all three players on a line rarely score goals at the same time. Maroon is hot right now, which is great, while McDavid has no goals in eight games and Eberle has two.
I could see merit in leaving Eberle with McDavid because he is the best RW on the team. He is the best finisher and McDavid will find the open man more regularly than anyone else. That’s why I’d keep him there for now. However, I can see moving Eberle with RNH or Draisailt to try and jump start them as well, so putting the best RW with them could help, but McLellan’s comments yesterday morning made me think he will put Eberle back with McDavid.
Regardless of who plays on what line many forwards simply need to play better. RNH, Pouliot, Draisaitl and Lucic need to be more productive while Eberle needs to be more consistently competitive away from the puck. No single player is the root of the Oilers recent struggles. Offensively it has been a group failure.
McLellan did switch up his second and third line. The RNH/Pouliot and Drai/Lucic combos haven’t produced much, so why not switch them up? Tyler Pitlick deserves to be in the top nine and his energy could help RNH and Lucic.
The Ducks are still trying to find a competent winger to produce with Perry and Getzlaf. It is more difficult than you think, but Nick Ritchie, the 10th overall pick in 2014, is getting a chance now. Your top line won’t always feature your best players, and the Ducks have the luxury that Getzlaf and Perry will produce regardless of who plays with them.
- Hampus Lindholm plays his fourth game of the season and he’s been getting better every game. He missed the first 13 games due to a contract dispute, but played 18 minutes his first game and over 21 minutes in his third. He’s been paired exclusively with Bieksa and in his first two games he didn’t face the top lines. Against Nashville he played against Ryan Johansen’s line as much as he did Mike Ribeiro’s. I doubt he and Bieksa get an exclusive matchup versus McDavid’s line. Josh Manson and Cam Fowler will likely be out against #97 a fair amount as well.
- Pouliot has gone pointless in 10 games once in his career. As a member of the New York Rangers from November 3rd to 30th, 2013 he played 14 games without registering a point. He is scoreless in nine games with the Oilers and will be looking to break out of his funk tonight. In 14 career games versus the Ducks he has eight points.
- The Oilers lead the NHL in first period goals with 18. They’ve allowed 15, fourth most, as have the Ducks. We should see the red light go on at least once in the first 20 minutes.
- The oddity is while the Oilers lead the NHL in first period goals, they have only scored the first goal in six of their 16 games. They have recovered from bad early goals, but it is a trend they need to stop if they want to have long-term success this season.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Fun Fact: That Maroon Trade? The Ducks acquired Martin Gernat (who?) the 23 year old Slovakian defence man played five games for the Gulls last season then promptly skipped for the KHL. The Ducks also acquired a fourth round pick in the 2016 NHL draft and they used that to select Jack Kopacka 93rd overall. He currently has 5 points in 17 games with Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. So yea awesome trade for Bob there.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: My first reaction was to write a loss, however, I’m going George Constanza and doing the opposite of my original thought. Oilers avoid a four-game losing streak and pick up a surprising 3-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nugent-Hopkins gets on the scoresheet. He has 12 points in 15 career games versus. the Ducks, third most versus an NHL opponent (17 vs. Calgary and 13 vs. Nashville).
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers don’t allow a goal in the first two minutes of the game.
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