GDB 60.0: Battling the Bolts

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Game Day

(Photoshop: @isuckatpicking)

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While the Oilers have been arguably the biggest surprise in the NHL this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the biggest disappointments. They lost the Eastern Conference Final in game seven last year, after losing in the Stanley Cup final in 2015.

Many expected the Bolts to be a Cup contender, but they currently sit 23rd in the NHL, six points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wildcard spot. It has been a season to forget in Tampa Bay, and the Oilers will be looking for their first win in Tampa since December 9th, 2009.

It reads worse than it is, since the Oilers have only skated in Tampa Bay four times since that victory, but the Oilers have ended many long droughts this season and they’ll try to continue that trend tonight.

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The Bolts’ biggest weakness is their defensive depth. Victor Hedman is one of the best defenders in the NHL. He’s the only defender who completely neutralized Connor McDavid when they met earlier this year. McDavid will have his hands full with Hedman, but knowing McDavid, he’s looking forward to the challenge.

Anton Stralman is a solid Dman as well, but after those two, the Lightning defence has really struggled. Jason Garrison, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr have been exposed. A lack of footspeed has plagued them. Jake Dotchin was recalled earlier this year and with only 11 NHL games on his resume he’ll play with Hedman again tonight.

It is great for Dotchin, but it illustrates how much the others have struggled.

With McDavid battling Hedman all night, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ lines need to pick up the slack. After a sluggish start in Chicago, Todd McLellan put Draisaitl up with McDavid to try and generate some offence, but tonight they will start on their own lines once again.

It is nice to have the option to move Draisaitl up when needed, but we’ve seen Draisaitl dominate games without McDavid and tonight he should be able to generate some quality chances against a subpar Tampa Bay blueline.

LINEUP

Oilers

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Todd McLellan will go with Laurent Brossoit in goal tonight and Cam Talbot tomorrow. It is a reversal from when Talbot started versus Nashville on Friday and Brossoit went the next night in Calgary. I thought McLellan would do the same this time, but he’s elected to use Talbot versus the red-hot Panthers tomorrow. I’m not sure there is a wrong answer. Much of it is about gut instinct, but also a conversation with Talbot, and maybe he’d rather have one long break, Sunday-Tuesday, and then play every second night the rest of the trip, rather than having a two-day break, play a game, then another two-day break.

This is likely Brossoit’s last chance to impress his GM and coach. If he puts in another solid effort, it might lessen Chiarelli’s desire to add a veteran backup.

The Oilers will start the game with Draisaitl and McDavid apart. It has worked well in wins over Arizona and Philadelphia, so it makes sense to start this way. I believe Draisaitl is the only player, other than McDavid, who can be a driver on a line, so having them on separate lines, in theory, gives you the best option for two lines to produce.

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Lightning

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Dotchin paired with Hedman is a perfect illustration of the struggles of the Lightning. Without competent defence it is extremely difficult to win in the NHL. I think Oilersnation can relate to this after watching the six D-men who used to patrol the blueline between 2010-2016.

Lineups are courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com.

QUICK HITS…

  • Tyler Johnson’s 72-point season in 2015 is looking more and more like an outlier. He had 50 points in 2014, 38 in 69 last season and he has 35 this year (prorates to 51). He is still an RFA this summer and I wonder if the Lightning try to move him for some defensive help.
  • Every Oilers forward has at least one goal since January 21st, except Iiro Pakarinen, but he’s only played three games and he already has two assists. Drake Caggiula has two points in eleven games, Zack Kassian has three, Anton Slepyshev has four, Matt Hendricks has three goals and four points in ten games and Mark Letestu has six points in 11 games. When all your bottom six forwards are contributing, it really helps the offence. The Oilers have 33 goals in their last eleven games, and that includes a five-game stretch where they only scored four. They tallied 29 in the other six and the main reason they are 7-4 in their last eleven is their balanced scoring.
  • Even the defencemen are contributing. Oscar Klefbom has eight points in eleven games, Adam Larsson has five, Andrej Sekera has four and Matt Benning has three. Only Brandon Davidson doesn’t have a point in the previous eleven games. Kris Russell has none is six games, while Eric Gryba has a point while dressing in only four games.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

From Raw Charge

Tonight brings in the second-best team in the Pacific Division, the Edmonton Oilers. Or as I like to call them, the “Connor McDavid is here to make everyone look stupid” show. Seriously, McDavid is scary, the kid is barely 20 years old and he makes hardened NHL veterans look stupid on a consistent basis. Do not think this kid is a joke.

The Oilers come into tonight’s game firmly in a playoff spot. They’re battling Anaheim for second place in the division, but they’re only five points behind San Jose for first, and don’t think they can’t challenge for that spot. This is new territory for the Oilers, though. This team has been horribly mismanaged for the past decade, and it is honestly refreshing to see management finally get their heads on straight and give the people of Edmonton a team they can be proud of.

TONIGHT…

GDB

(Photoshop: @TomKostiuk)

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers continue to end long losing streaks, and pick up their first win in Tampa Bay in 86 months with a 4-2 victory.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid picks up his first career point versus the Lighting in his first game in Tampa Bay.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Lucic had four goals in his first eight games with the Oilers, but his production has dipped since. He scored in Chicago and his celebratory jump/skip showed how excited he was to score a big goal. He scores in consecutive games for only the second time this season.

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