The Oilers are 20 points ahead of the Coyotes in the standings, but Arizona is 6-2-1 in their last nine games and they’ve outscored the opposition 31-22. Meanwhile, the Oilers only have four goals in their last five games and their only victory came in a 1-0 shootout win.
Despite the Coyotes sitting 29th in the NHL, this is far from an easy game for an Oilers team trying to rediscover their offence.
Head coach Todd McLellan has juggled all his lines hoping to jumpstart the offence, but it will be up to the players to break out of their funk. The powerplay is struggling. It is 0-for-11 over the past four games and the recent drought has the PP at 14.8% (7 of 47) since January 1st.
Only eight skaters have a point since January 31st, and it’s not surprising the team is 1-4-0 over that span. Adam Larsson and Connor McDavid have a goal and an assist, Oscar Klefbom has two helpers, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl have a goal while Milan Lucic, Andrej Sekera and Anton Slepyshev have one assist.
The entire team is in a slump and their work ethic must increase tonight if they hope to break out of it. Their skill players need to make better shots. When a goalie allows a bad goal we discuss it, but we rarely do the same with the shooters who make bad shot attempts. The last few games, the Oilers have had some great chances and the forwards have not finished. They need more urgency in the shooting areas.
A victory tonight would vault the Oilers nine points ahead of the ninth place Calgary Flames. Despite their recent struggles, a win gives them a lot of breathing room for their final 25 games. A playoff spot is well within their reach, but their level of desperation, intensity and desire must improve. It needs to start tonight.
The Oilers have four new lines, but the only trio who hasn’t played much together this year is the Caggiula-RNH-Kassian line. McDavid has played 385 EV minutes with Maroon and 342 with Eberle.
Draisaitl and Lucic have played 157 minutes together, while Draisaitl has played 68 minutes with Slepyshev.
Letestu and Hendricks have played together a lot the past two seasons. Iiro Pakarinen makes his season debut and last year he played often with Letestu and Hendricks.
While the lines are new for this game, 75% of them have played together enough to know the tendencies of one another.
On defence Eric Gryba will play with Davidson.
Their group has a lot of offensive confidence. Sixteen players have at least one goal in the past nine games. Christian Fischer and Jordan Martinook have two, Martin Hanzal, Tobias Reider and Ryan White — yes, Ryan White — have four, while rookie Christian Dvorak has five, all of them in the past six games.
- Keep February 24th free on your calendars because the boys at Nation HQ decided that a playoff push party is in order for the first time in a decade. Tickets are now available here and I assure you that you’re going to want to be a part of this one.
- Peter Chiarelli spoke today and he said he doesn’t expect to make a major move at the deadline. He also said he feels the team deserves some sort of addition. While he won’t mortgage the future, he’d like to reward them by adding someone who could help them win one round, and then anything can happen.
- I will be stunned if he moves his first round pick at the deadline. The Oilers are not a legit Cup contender yet, and unless a team is willing to trade you a player with at least two more years on a good contract, I don’t see him moving that pick before the deadline.
- Todd McLellan mentioned if Eberle, RNH and Lucic can play to the level you’d expect from them that would be akin to adding a player at the deadline. That is a very accurate and fair statement.
- Often I find you can glean a lot of information from what is not said. McLellan didn’t include Pouliot with those three. He has never produced like them, so maybe that’s why he was left out, or the other alternative is he won’t be expecting much from Pouliot.
- Oscar Klefbom moves back to the first unit PP, while Andrej Sekera slides to the second. Opposing teams have leaned more towards McDavid lately, and McLellan wants Klefbom on the top unit because the PK has to respect his shot. He is one of the few Oilers who can score from long range. Klefbom is more of a shooter while Sekera is more of a passer, so McLellan explained he moved Klefbom back to the top unit with the plan it will force teams to respect the shot from the point more, which should free up more space for McDavid.
- I’ve never believed in the, “They are playing loose and have nothing to lose” mantra. Yes, the Coyotes are out of the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they are tougher to play against. We’ve witnessed the Oilers play out the string regularly. I didn’t see them have much more success down the stretch. Here is a look at their final 30 games (excluding lockout shortened season) since 2010.
Opposing coaches and players used to say they had to be leery of the Oilers because they had no pressure. It was the polite way of saying they are terrible. The Coyotes have played well for nine games, which is their best nine-game run of the season, but they are still a bad team. Even bad teams will have a good ten-game stretch. The Oilers finished 28th last year, but they had a six-game winning streak and won seven of 11 another time.
The Coyotes aren’t suddenly playing more relaxed because they are out of the playoffs. They are just on a good run. But the Oilers have more talent. They are still 10th place overall in the league. They need to show up and be the team they have been for the majority of the season.
The past five games hasn’t been an accurate portrayal of who the Oilers are, nor has the past nine games been a fair reflection of the Coyotes. The Oilers can’t just skate on the ice and expect to win, but they have more talent and skill and they need to use it, and ensure they match the work ethic of a suddenly confident Coyotes team.
- The Coyotes crushed the Calgary Flames 5-0 last night. It was Calgary’s first game back after their bye week. Teams are now 3-8-1 in first game out of bye week, with one of those wins being Toronto defeating the Rangers when both were playing their first game out of the bye. Eight teams will come out of the bye between this Thursday to Saturday, so you might want to factor that in for your fantasy hockey team or if you like to wager on games. No guarantees of course, but Calgary, New Jersey, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Florida and Colorado all lost by three or more goals. Here is the list of when teams have their bye weeks.
- After some early season promise, suddenly no NHL players are on pace for 100 points. Sidney Crosby is on pace for 95, McDavid for 89 and Backstrom 88. If none of them get on a hot streak then only four players will have reached 100 points over the past seven seasons: Crosby (104), Daniel Sedin (104), Patrick Kane (106) and Evgeni Malkin (109). As a fan of offence, this sucks.
- Crosby is the only player on pace to score 40 goals.
- The one positive is Brent Burns is on pace to become only the ninth D-man in NHL history to score 30 goals in a season. Burns is the runaway leader for the Norris Trophy, and a legit contender for the Hart Trophy. Burns, Crosby and McDavid are the three top candidates in my eyes.
Burns needs six goals to reach 30 and join a very exclusive club.
Paul Coffey reached 30 four times (48, 40, 37 and 30). He also had 29 three times.
Bobby Orr did it five times: 46, 37, 37, 33 and 32).
Doug Wilson scored 39.
Kevin Hatcher 34.
Ray Bourque, Phil Housley and Mike Green had 31.
Denis Potvin scored 31 twice and 30 once.
- Burns has 24 goals. The entire Oilers D corps has 24 goals. Arizona’s D corps has 20 goals.
Here is how Burns compares to the rest of the NHL:
San Jose has 38 (Burns with 24 of them).
Montreal and Nashville have 30.
Minnesota has 29.
Florida and the New York Islanders have 28.
St.Louis has 27
Columbus and Los Angeles have 26.
Anaheim and Philadelphia have 25.
Chicago, Edmonton and Pittsburgh have 24.
Calgary and the New York Rangers have 23.
Boston, Carolina and New Jersey have 22.
Dallas and Detroit have 21
Ottawa and Arizona have 20
Washington has 19
Winnipeg has 18
Tampa Bay and Toronto have 17
Vancouver has 13
Buffalo and Colorado have 10
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
- Can the Coyotes clamp down on shots allowed? – Arizona gave up 19 in the first period against Calgary, but just 17 shots the rest of the way, despite playing with a large lead for much of the game. That’s the kind of effort the Coyotes need when the score is close.
- What will the Coyotes get in net? – Mike Smith had a tremendous game against the Flames, with 36 saves on 36 shots. But 36 saves is still a fair amount of work, especially with another road game on the calendar tonight.Will we see Louis Domingue?
- Can the Coyotes keep the shot attempts close? – Arizona regularly gets out-attempted by opposing teams, but the degree to which they ultimately lose the battle matters. If the score is close, who will be getting the lion’s share of chances.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: After going 25 games without a regulation victory, the Oilers have rattled off two consecutive wins over the Coyotes. They push it to three with a 4-2 win. The Coyotes are playing their third game in four nights and the second half of back-to-back.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: There will be at least 10 crowd pans during the game. People will smile and wave, and some will be downright giddy they are on the jumbotron. These crowd pans do nothing to energize the building.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oscar Klefbom scores his third career PP goal. He also registers six or more shots on goal for the fifth time this season.
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