79
Photo Credit: NewfieMikey

GDB 67.0: Schultz Showdown

The Sharks, Ducks, Flames and Kings all won last night. The Oilers are still eight points up on the ninth place Kings, but if they want home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they need to get back on the winning track.

It shouldn’t be panic time yet. They are 6-4 in their last ten, however, they only have two victories in their last five and now is not the time to go in a slump.

Tonight’s tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins is gut check time. What are the Oilers made of?

There is no better test than facing the defending Stanley Cup champions, who have two of the best offensive players in the NHL. The Oilers’ level of urgency needs to be higher tonight than it was Tuesday versus the New York Islanders. In order to win at this time of year against good teams, you can’t take it easy. The Oilers need more desperation in their game.

On Wednesday Todd McLellan was asked about how he felt about his team’s recent play, and if he was concerned they were trending in the wrong direction?

“There are things we want to work on, but we are also doing some things well. We can’t get over emotional with last night’s game (Tuesday’s loss). We did good things in St.Louis, some pretty good things against Detroit, last night (Tuesday) was not where we wanted to be. Prior to that we played Washington and Nashville, some pretty good games. There is no need to hit a panic button, but as the year goes on we will have to tighten things up. We are in that limbo stage where there is a lot of hockey left and we can’t get casual. The desperation level has to go up,” McLellan replied.

I’m sure Oilersnation has some tinges of doubt, but I’m also very confident you’d rather be feeling this way instead of having little interest in the games because the Oilers are 20 points out of the playoffs. The playoff race is exciting, nerve wracking, frustrating and you have another month of it.

So do the Oilers, but they can’t afford a woe-is-me attitude right now. Creating numerous chances but passing them away like they did on Tuesday is not good enough at this time of the year. I felt they wasted a pretty solid effort on Tuesday by being too cute and not bearing down offensively. Creating chances is one thing, but finishing is what matters and I’d like to see a few players adopt a shot-happy attitude instead of always being pass-happy.

The Penguins are 11-3-3- in their last 17 games and they are tied with Minnesota and Columbus with the second most points (90) in the NHL. They lead the NHL in goals with 228, which is 44 more than the Oilers, who sit 13th. The Penguins have scored the second most PP goals, 50, they are third in PP%, 23.2%, and they’ve had the fifth most PP opportunities with 216. The Oilers’ PK is the worst in the NHL since January 1st. They’ve allowed 18 PP goals on 68 opportunities which is a woeful 73.5%.

Despite their shoddy penalty killing they are still 16-10-1 since the calendar turned to 2017. Their PP has been a solid 20% since January 1st, 13 of 65, but they are winning most games because of solid EV play. They have outscored their opponents 63-54 at EV over the past 27 games, and one of tonight’s main points has to be discipline.

The Oilers can’t afford to get in penalty trouble. The Oilers don’t take many penalties. They’ve been shorthanded only 19 times in the past nine games, and they are tied for the sixth fewest PK chances in the NHL. They’ve been on the PK 183 times, while the Penguins are the eighth most penalized team with 217 PK situations. The Oilers must maintain their discipline tonight or Phil Kessel and company will feast on them.

Kessel is tied for the lead in PP points with 27. Malkin is 10th with 22 and Crosby is tied for 13th with 21. Leon Draisaitl leads the Oilers with 20 PP points.

The Oilers must show up with more urgency and desperation tonight, but they must remain disciplined if they hope to defeat the Penguins and move back into a tie with the Anaheim Ducks.

LINEUP

Oilers

LW C RW
Patrick Maroon
Patrick Maroon
Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid
Leon Draisaitl
Leon Draisaitl
Milan Lucic
Milan Lucic
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Jordan Eberle
Jordan Eberle
Benoit Pouliot
Benoit Pouliot
David Desharnais
David Desharnais
Zack Kassian
Zack Kassian
Matt Hendricks
Matt Hendricks
Mark Letestu
Mark Letestu
Iiro Pakarinen
Iiro Pakarinen
Defensive Pairings
Oscar Klefbom
Oscar Klefbom
Adam Larsson
Adam Larsson
Andrej Sekera
Andrej Sekera
Kris Russell
Kris Russell
Darnell Nurse
Darnell Nurse
Matt Benning
Matt Benning
Goalies
Cam Talbot
Cam Talbot

There will be three lineup changes. Benoit Pouliot draws in for Drake Caggiula on the third line. He’ll also be on the PK and took split duties with David Desharnais in Caggiula’s spot on the second PP unit. Iiro Pakarinen replaces Jujhar Khaira on the fourth line.

Kris Russell is back on the blueline with Andrej Sekera. Matt Benning slides down and will play with Darnell Nurse.

Penguins

LW C RW
Chris Kunitz
Chris Kunitz
Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby
Conor Sheary
Conor Sheary
Carl Hagelin
Carl Hagelin
Evgeni Malkin
Evgeni Malkin
Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel
Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson
Nick Bonino
Nick Bonino
Jake Guentzel
Jake Guentzel
Carter Rowney
Carter Rowney
Matt Cullen
Matt Cullen
Tom Kuhnhackl
Tom Kuhnhackl
Defensive Pairings
Brian Dumoulin
Brian Dumoulin
Justin Schultz
Justin Schultz
Mark Streit
Mark Streit
Ron Hainsey
Ron Hainsey
Ian Cole
Ian Cole
Chad Ruhwedel
Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies
Matt Murray
Matt Murray

Third line centre Nick Bonino scored a hat trick on Wednesday. The Penguins “second line” has Malkin, tied for second in the NHL scoring race with 70 points, and Kessel, who is tied for 13th with 60. Then they can toss out Crosby and his 70 points on the their “first line”. There will be no easy matchups tonight for the Oilers.

Lineups courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com.

QUICK HITS

  • Justin Schultz has 45 points for the Penguins. He’s regained his confidence and the Penguins’ blueline depth has allowed them to shelter his minutes. Now that he’s playing better, he’s starting to face some tougher matchups. Would he have had this success in Edmonton had they kept him? I doubt it. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. We all know the Oilers overplayed him and that hurt his development. No one can argue that, however, Schultz admitted he still had to take some responsibility for his play. He let his struggles get to him and it impacted his play. He is in a better head space now and a better situation for him.
  • With injuries to Kris Letang, Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta the Penguins have increased Schultz’s icetime. In the his first 30 games this season he only played 20 minutes twice, but since then he’s played 20+ minutes in 27 of 32 games. In Winnipeg on Wednesday he and Brian Dumoulin faced Blake Wheeler’s line a lot. He’s now facing second line competition after being sheltered earlier in the year. He’ll likely go up against his former roommate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a lot tonight. Schultz’s 45 points are fourth most among NHL defenders. He has excellent offensive skills, but RNH’s line will need to pressure him defensively and see how he and Dumoulin respond.
  • With three key injuries the Penguins blueline is vulnerable. They are excellent at passing and transporting the puck, but the Oilers need to use their size and wear them down in the corners and in the front of the net. There is no reason the Oilers shouldn’t be able to win battles in the blue paint. The Penguins play a very fast, uptempo game, and the Oilers should be able to skate with them, but Patrick Maroon, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian and Benoit Pouliot need to use their size against a smaller D corps.
  • The pride of Sexsmith, Alberta, Carter Rowney will play his 11th NHL game tonight and his first in his home province. Rowney played three years in the AJHL with Grande Prairie, then four years at North Dakota in the NCAA before signing with the Penguins. Rowney wasn’t drafted. He started the 2013/2014 in the ECHL, and scored 44 points in 39 games before getting promoted to the AHL. He spent the past two seasons in the AHL, and tallied 24-32-56 last year. He made his NHL debut on January 31st versus Nashville and he’s pumped to be playing in Edmonton tonight. He’ll have about 30 family members in the building. “They are all pretty diehard Oilers fans, but hopefully they’ll cheer for me,” Rowney said with a laugh. It is great to see local guys fulfilling their dream, and Rowney is another example of how many players develop late and going undrafted isn’t the end of the world. I hope the Rowney family enjoys tonight.
  • Obscure stat of the day: This season in eleven games after a two or more day break, Connor McDavid has 1-7-8. He went pointless six times, had one point twice and three two-point games. The Oilers are 6-5 in those games. McDavid should be able to create numerous opportunities against a watered-down defence corps.
  • Tonight will be McDavid’s first home game against Crosby and Malkin. The superstars love facing one another and I sense we’ll see some fireworks from these three. McDavid’s last three-point night came against Philadelphia. He was fired up for a different reason, but I won’t be surprised to see him elevate his game tonight.
  • McDavid leads the NHL with 74 points. Crosby, Malkin, Brent Burns, Brad Marchand and Patrick Kane are tied for second with 70 points. Every time a player has gotten close McDavid hasn’t let them overtake him.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From The Pens Blog

There isn’t much to say about the Oilers. Looking at their forwards there are about 7-8 players that are recognizable, and the rest could be made up for all I know. The Oilers defense should get an award for having a positive goal differential this year, because on paper they don’t look great. It helps when Cam Talbot is playing out of his mind most nights for sure. Regardless of Talbot’s season, if the Oilers are truly interested in getting 2 points tonight they should definitely start Brossoit. That name alone translates to shut-out in Penguinese.

TONIGHT…

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilersnation is on edge with a mixture of excitement and angst. The Oilers have scored more than two goals only once in their last six home games versus the Penguins. Crosby has never lost in regulation in Edmonton, 4-0-1, but he suffers his first regulation loss as Edmonton pulls off the upset with a 4-2 victory.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The comment sections will have many “Schultz for Norris” related chirps and opinions.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: David Desharnais scores his first goal as an Oilers and first since January 31st. And #67, Pouliot, picks up an assist, his first point since January 21st, in game #67.

Recently by Jason Gregor: