GDB 46.0: Opportunity Against Arizona

Game Day

(photoshop: @isuckatpicking)

Edmonton hosts the Arizona Coyotes this evening, and the contest represents an opportunity for the Oilers. From a standings perspective the ‘Yotes are entirely irrelevant, but in other ways they’re unique. The Coyotes have given Edmonton trouble for a long time, and tonight’s game is a chance to prove that a mid-December win in Arizona was a start of a new trend.

It’s also a chance for the Oilers to find some secondary scoring against a team that has trouble keeping the puck out of its own net.

The Coyotes have surrendered three-or-more goals in 11 of their last 12 games, averaging 3.4 goals against per contest over that span. Over their last 10 games, Mike Smith is 1-5-1 with a 0.889 save percentage while Louis Domingue is 1-2-0 with a 0.905 save percentage. They allow a lot of shots, and a lot of those shots go in.

Edmonton, meanwhile, has had trouble finding scoring from lines and units not including Connor McDavid. We talked about the lack of secondary offence from the team last Wednesday and in the two games since the Oilers have scored just two five-on-five goals, both with the McDavid line out there.

I thought the Todd Nelson-era first line looked good against the Flames, though they didn’t finish the looks they got. Jordan Eberle in particular was snakebitten and at some point those pucks are going to start going in. Benoit Pouliot too looks better than he has for much of the year. This could be a breakout night for that line.

I’m more skeptical about the third unit, but Milan Lucic has a long track record as a five-on-five scorer while Drake Caggiula was effective on Saturday. Again, Arizona represents an opportunity for this line to show what it can do.

The Standings

The way the NHL presents its standings makes things look closer than they really are, so instead today we’re going to look at 82-game pace for every club in the West currently projected to finish with more than 85 points. That lens knocks the playoff picture down to nine teams:

Central

  • Minnesota: 119 points
  • Chicago: 105 points
  • St. Louis: 95 points

Pacific

  • Anaheim: 102 points
  • San Jose: 99 points
  • Edmonton: 97 points

Wild Card

  • Los Angeles: 92 points
  • Nashville: 90 points
  • Calgary: 87 points

The Oilers are in a pretty good position here, closer to winning their division than they are to falling out of the playoffs. The Battle of Alberta is a pretty big reason for this, as Edmonton has collected six points to Calgary’s one in those games; reverse those numbers and the teams switch positions on this list.

From a standings perspective, today’s game against the Coyotes is as meaningless as a midseason game can be. Arizona has been out of the postseason race since well before Christmas, though that nine-game losing streak stretching from December to January really underlined the club’s impotence. A win won’t move our 82-game projected Oilers into the division lead, while a loss won’t knock them out of the playoffs, either.

Line Combinations

Edmonton

1.16 oil

According to Todd McLellan, both Adam Larsson and Jujhar Khaira are game-time decisions. Assuming Khaira can play, he’ll be the only change to the forward lines after Saturday’s win.

Cam Talbot is expected to start, as per Jack Michaels, even though this is a prime opportunity to get the backup in. That’s probably a good decision from a team perspective; the Oilers schedule lightens toward the end of the month and there’s no point in jeopardizing what should be a win. It would be nice to get Laurent Brossoit some action against a team like Arizona, but being a coach is all about managing competing interests.

Arizona

1.16 ari

Mike Smith made 34 stops on 37 shots in his last game, a win over Winnipeg, so one imagines he’ll be getting the start for Arizona.

It isn’t too early to be thinking about trade deadline rentals, and the Coyotes have a few possibilities. Martin Hanzal has had a tough season offensively, but is a pending free agent and rumour mill fixture. He’s also a massive two-way centre who brings size and a history of playing tough minutes; the idea of running a player like that as a middle-six centre in Edmonton is compelling.

Radim Vrbata, who we talked about over the summer, is another interesting possibility. Again, he’s a pending free agent, and he’d give the Oilers some veteran depth at right wing.

Finally, there’s Michael Stone. He’s 26 years old, has good size and some offensive ability, and is a right shot. He’s also a pending free agent. I’m skeptical that he’s really a top-four defenceman, but there aren’t going to be a lot of rearguards on the market this summer and so he’s worth checking out from a due diligence standpoint if nothing else.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Five for Howling

THREE QUESTIONS

  1. Will it be feast or famine for Arizona’s offense? – After scoring four goals in the first period against the Jets, the Coyotes could not put the puck in the net at any point over the subsequent five periods of hockey. Can they find more consistency?
  2. Can Arizona hit the net? – On Saturday the Coyotes missed more shot attempts wide than they had on goal. Can the Coyotes cut down on the number of errant pucks?
  3. Can the power play match the penalty kill? – Arizona’s penalty kill has been excellent of late; the Coyotes have killed off their last 15 penalties. Their power play has not been of similar quality. Can Arizona get at least one power play goal tonight?

Predictions

GDB

(photoshop: @TomKostiuk)

Game day prediction: The Coyotes aren’t a good team; the Oilers are. That doesn’t guarantee a win, but it makes it likely. Call it a 4-1 Edmonton final.

Obvious game day prediction: Connor McDavid picks up two points, hitting an even 100 as an Oiler. This ties him with Eric Brewer for 71st on the list of all-time scorers

Not-so-obvious game day prediction:  Jordan Eberle’s minus-18 rating against Arizona is his worst against any NHL team. It improves by two tonight, and he picks up a goal and an assist to boot. 

        • DieHartOiler

          what makes you think that he did even practice on his shots during the summer? Based on his social media he seemed to be busy drinking wine in Cancun rather than work on his game. He is a lazy guy and has relied on his skill only for the past six years. He has absolutely no work ethic whatsoever. I have never seen a professional athlete work on one aspect of his game for over three months and ending up trending backwards.

    • NZOF

      No kidding. Supposedly this new stick is longer and helps with one timers.

      Does anyone here actually recall him having taken a one timer yet this season though? As opposed to how many other scoring opportunities that he’s had and not buried?

      Give it up already and go back to what works.

  • DaveChamp

    The Eberle/Nuge/Pouliot line is due. I think they break out with a ton of chances and cash in a couple goals tonight.

    I think McDavid will come out flying, which will piss off Arizona’s inept players which will lead to some rough stuff on the wonder kid. Our big boys come back looking for blood in what will be a rough affair.

    Kassian will continue to look like a crazed Roman soldier with blood dripping out of his mouth and his crazy eyes leading to a couple Coyotes faking injuries so they don’t have to face him anymore.

    5-1 Oilers. Time to continue the new streak against the Yotes.

  • Scratch

    Az will trap the hell out of a good game and it will be a 2-1 decision either way..We still play down to the oppositions level and that needs to change by doing some hitting early and often to get the juices flowing. We don’t hit nearly often enough , I think if we picked that up quite a few of our concerns would be put to bed.

  • kawi460

    Can’t believe Oil country is in a Playoff Spot in Mid January!!! Good vibes in E-Town

    Wonder if their will be any fireworks from the end of last game the Oilers played the Yotes?

    Should be a good game, no reason why the Oilers should lose

  • OriginalPouzar

    I’ve been so anxious for the last 24 hours given not only did Larsson not participate in the skills but neither did Russell – then the Osterle call-up happened.

    I’m so happy the Russell is fine (seemingly) – we can deal without Larsson for a game or two but both out together (plus Nurse) would really start to tax our depth.

    Further, even if Larsson can’t play tonight, sounds like he should have no problem playing on Wed – such great news.

    I’m simply not used to having good news on the injury front.

  • OriginalPouzar

    This game could be viewed as another trap game – a team at the bottom of the standings with a -44 goal differnetial, in our building.

    This is a game the Oilers should win – just go out and do it.

    That second line is going to get a goal or two very soon – it has to happen and I think it may be tonight – if they do, we might actually have a non-EN multiple goal win for a change, how nice would that be.

    I’m excited for tonight’s game, as always, but have some nerves – we need to win home games like this and on Wed against FLA if we deserve to be in the top 3rd of the NHL.

    • Big Jacks Meat

      If the game is out of reach maybe. OEL got the message loud and clear last time. Better off being Lucic sending another message. 18 games without a PIM. Looch is hurting IMO. Standing on the bench instead of sitting. Back issues. Hope not.

      Talbot dominates Smith and shows him who really should have been at the all-star game 4-0 OIL.

      • Kepler62c

        I have no idea why you would think he is “hurting” just because he stands on the bench – there are many other reasons why a player might choose to stand. Lucic has been great this season, expecting 70 pts from the guy is completely unrealistic, 45-55 would be reasonable.

        That said, the only “silver lining” on Lucic potentially having back issues is that when he likely declines (though I think he has a chance not to aggressively decline since he has a great work ethic) he could end up not being able to play and be on Long-Term IR for the last 2-3 years of his contract; which is just money and not cap-space. Obviously I’d never hope for this.

        • Lucic has been great this season? Have you been actually watching the games? He’s a total dud!

          Not physical, zero 5×5 scoring, huffing air after his first two strides and not intimidating anyone… The man needs to step it up and earn his $6 mil. He’s totally disengaged and my fear is it will only go downhill from here…

          • Shameless Plugger

            Look how awesome Sekera is in his second year with the team.

            Takes time to adjust to new city, new game day routines, new teammates, new coaches…. Some guys do it in a week, some months, some a year and some never figure it out (doubting that’s Lucic).

            I don’t think he’s been that bad. Could he be better? Absolutely, but I’m not writing the guy off yet.

          • Armchair genius

            Let’s not exaggerate Sekera’s “awesome” play, or Lucic’s terrible play. If you watch, each player does good and bad throughout the game. More time than not Sekera blindly wrings the puck around the boards instead of taking a look or a few extra strides to make the pass or clear, and depending on which blogger you read they blame Kris Russel. As for Looch, no, he is not playing up to potential of previous years, but he is contributing in other ways. I do agree however, he does need to pick it up somewhat, as numerous times he is unable to clear the zone, or gets caught from behind in the neutral zone. I wonder if he is having a bit of difficulty adapting to the system or it may not quite suit his playing style. Either way, I was at the game on Saturday and he looked alright out there for the most part as well as Reggie.

          • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            Lucic has been a disappointment given expectations, but you gotta give him credit on being physical. He’s 16th overall in hits in the league. That’s one area where we expected leadership, and he’s brought it–along with Larsson and Gryba (5th in hits/game).

            As to the rest, he’s definitely not found his game in Edmonton. I can only hope he can with Drake and Slep or some as of yet untried combo.

  • Oiler Al

    Someone in that room, please pump these guys so they get the game started on the right footl and not play down to the Arizona Trappers.! All games should not fall on
    Talbots shoulders.
    For starters, start the game with McDavids line,get the juices flowing.

  • #97TRAIN

    After Saturday’s game against Calgary the second line looks like they are ready to make something happen.
    Would sure be nice if they ramped it up for the second half of the season.

  • LibrarianMike

    This is a small thing, but it’s refreshing to see the “What They’re Saying” quote being something other than the other team’s blog taking potshots at the Oilers. I mean they’ve earned it over the past number of years of being a disaster, but it’s nice to see something other than “Hey it’s Guaranteed Win Night!” from the opposition.

  • Been there

    Now is the time to see if the team is maturing, no more taking lesser teams lightly. Pedal to the metal and win. We are the better team, something to play for. The time for talking is over, prove it.
    4-2 Oilers maybe 5 with empty net.
    Lucic, just play with an edge and create room for yourself and linemates and the points will come!
    Go Oilers!

  • Glad someone is finally talking about Mike Stone. Given the market this year, and given his regress in play due to being on the freakin Coyotes, he could be this year’s free agent steal (Eric Staal, Mike Riberio, Sam Gagner are others who come to mind).

    Having said that, and given the market, I bet other GM’s are looking at that as well. My rule is if I can see it, so will they.

    As for the game tonight not really meaning anything standings wise, I want to remind Willis the last 12 games of the year sees Vancouver 4 times, and then a mix of LA, Anaheim, and SanJose. And that’s it, just those four teams to close out the 2017 season. In order for the Oilers to still be in the playoffs by the end of that 12 game stretch, they’ll need a coushion. And that means winning games against beatable teams. Tonight is one of those games, and in my mind a must win.

  • Stack

    I don’t care if he doesn’t play tonight, knowing that Larsson isn’t out long term is a big relief! Oh happy day! Also I hope JJ is in tonight I like him in the roster, I will like him even more if he clobbers someone tonight!

    Hopefully the Oil get up for this one given how the last game went, I don’t want the Oilers to give a single point to these desert wankers ever again!

    • OriginalPouzar

      Agreed!

      I was anxious for two days until the post-morning skate presser this morning.

      This is heresay but I’ve been told that he wasn’t/isn’t actually hurt but has food poisoning – was mentioned on 1260 apparently.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Agreed!

      I was anxious for two days until the post-morning skate presser this morning.

      This is heresay but I’ve been told that he wasn’t/isn’t actually hurt but has food poisoning – was mentioned on 1260 apparently.

  • pkam

    The Coyotes defense does not look too bad. But their forward lines are scary bad on paper. Our 2nd or 3rd line should beat their 1st line.

    I know the Coyotes have owned us for years. But when I look at their lineup tonight I can’t stopping thinking the Oilers better win tonight. It will be so embarrassing to lose to a team with such depleted lineup.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    Its time to just step up. We may not be a top 5 team but dammit we should be able to slap the yotes around 2/3 games. Exactly what is the Oilers identity ? I seriously do not know. Is it speed and high pressure offense or a suffocating Defense ? Ground and Pound Like LA ? We need to identify what we need to be and build it even more.

    Just slap Doan [ who should have been an oiler]
    and Make Smith look like an AHL All star instead of an NHL All Star which he is not. Yotes had to send someone and Domi is injured.

    PS – Love to Have Max as an Oiler

    Domi vrs Tkachuk love it.

    • Harry2

      I think the best thing about edm is that theu can beat you with both speed and they can grind one out when they have to.

      Being able to win more ways that one is always a good thing

  • S cottV

    Pouliot – Nuge – Eberle, better get something tangible going like today or c’mon – it isn’t worth burying Lucic in 3rd rotation.

    Does anyone really believe that the Nuge line is gonna start producing offense on a relatively consistent basis?

    There are only two line drivers – McD and Drai.

    Maroon needs McD and Lucic needs Drai.

    Nuge could really use a boost. Put him on RW with McD. They can switch off at c on the fly.

    Surely – by now, we have all accepted that Drai is our 2nd best centerman?

    • Gravis82

      They were good last game. .

      Pou – Nuge – Eberle had good success in the not too distant past. There is no reason to believe they cannot get back to that.

      that said…I would run RNH on RW with McRoon. And put Lucic with Drai and Ebs. Ebs gets some big bodies to help win board battles, and Lucic gets two skilled players on his line.

  • CRONENBERG

    We should start Brossoit against Nashville, so Talbot can play against the tougher Flames on Saturday. Divisional opponent, and we want the series sweep! When is the last time the Oilers swept Calgary in the season? Has it ever happened? I’ll look into it.

  • Petrolero

    I feel like this might be McDavid’s night. I foresee 10 points from him. The coyotes have lost their only motivation to go balls out against the Oilers when that stupid streak ended.

  • The Rookie

    Hanzal centering a line with Nuge and Ebs on the wings would look real good. Where would one sit on a Pou – Hanzal swap. Edm Keep some $ or Ari adds a pick but after those details are worked Out I could see a deal to be had

  • Spoils

    3rd and 4th lines feel off…

    for next year, Puljajarvi will be coming up the ranks – but i wouldn’t expect him to produce at a 1st line level.
    I’d plan to have Draisaitl back as the 2nd line center.

    Maroon – McDavid – XXpure goal scorerXXX
    Lucic-Draisaitl-Puljajarvi
    Pouliot-RNH-Eberle
    XXXalternate centerXXX-Letestu-Khassian

    the other pickup – the alternate RHC helps depth. listen to team canada and load up on centers.

    trade pouliot if you have to, but i think he fits in the role above.

    this gets to a nice forward unit without too many costly risky additions.

    • Gravis82

      I dont think you can have RNH and Pure goal scorer. Would be nice, but likely not enough funds.

      So, you have to decide if you can put RNH in the “pure goal scorer” slot and do ok….with a decent 3rd line center picked up in FA.

      ALso, I would swap Puljujarvi and Eberle until we are clear that Puljujarvi can produce more points in that slot.

        • RJ

          This is one of the things that’s both good and bad.

          When he was scoring, he wasn’t doing much else. A bunch of us complained that he wasn’t doing more. That got a lot of criticism…he’s a top scorer!

          Now that he hasn’t been producing on the score sheet and he’s lost his spot on the gravy train beside McDavid, he’s starting to backcheck and do the little things.

          Once his slump is over, will he go back to the old Ebs, or will he keep his more recent positive habits and score too? Guess we will see whenever he breaks his slump. The team needs him to score and continue to show some compete, IMO.

          • Gravis82

            There is no old ebs or new ebs. This is just the player he is, talented but inconsistent with not as much observable “try” as we would like to see. He is a 2nd line winger on a good NHL team.

    • I am Batman

      Not one chance in hell the 3 of Poo, Ebs and RNH are here next year. I could actually see 2 of them gone.

      I hope one of them gets moved at the deadline, but I think the Oilers will be a tad conservative this year.

      Hopefully at least we get a backup goalie. Talbot goes down and down go the playoffs too.

  • A-Mc

    The Oilers always struggle with Arizona. We desperately need to start winning vs teams like this but we haven’t been able to thus far.

    I like the 4-1 Oiler win prediction, so i’ll go with that.

    #GOilers