Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Game Day Hits: Oilers vs. Golden Knights

The Golden Knights continue to impress. They are down to their fourth string goalie, and we’ve seen cracks in their armour, but no one thought they would be this competitive. After 16 games, Vegas is 10-5-1.

Reality is starting to set in a bit, as the Knights are 2-4-1 in their last seven games, allowing 26 goals against, but they work incredibly hard and the Oilers have struggled mightily on home ice.

This is a game the Oilers need to win and should win, but there are no guarantees in the NHL.

The Golden Knights went 1-4-1 on their recent six-game road trip, but you wonder how much of that is due to goaltending. Maxime Legace has a .876sv% in his six starts. In four starts in the AHL this year he had a .888sv% and in 32 AHL games last year he was 11-12-2 with a 3.56 GAA and a .883sv%. He did have a .913 sv% and was 19-10-3 with Texas in 2015/2016, but since then his numbers in the AHL and NHL haven’t been great. I don’t fault him. How many teams have a fourth string goalie they could rely on? The Oilers back up in the AHL is Edward Pasquale and in six games he has a 3.20 GAA and .893sv% in Bakersfield. I doubt he would be able to consistently shut down NHL shooters either.

2. Vegas isn’t your usual expansion team. They can score. They are averaging 3.56 goals/game thus far, good for 4th in the league. They have thirteen players with seven or more points. The Oilers have five. The Oilers lack of scoring depth is mind blowing right now. Having Drake Caggiula back in the lineup would be a boost over Iiro Pakarinen or Jussi Jokinen on the third line. Those two have combined for one measly point.

3. The Knights special teams are very solid as well. Their PP is clicking at 20.3% and their PK is a respectful 81.5%.

4. The Oilers special teams are atrocious. Teams strive to have their PP% and PK% add up to 100. Really good teams are often above 103. Last season the Oilers were 103.6 with the PP at 22.9% and PK at 80.7%.

5. Here is how all 31 special teams add up.

DALL 31.4 86.7 118.1
T.B 28.6 84.1 112.7
LA 18.3 91.9 110.2
22 85.7 107.7
25.8 81.3 107.1
22.1 84.4 106.5
25 80.3 105.3
SJ 15.6 88.5 104.1
23.4 80.6 104
24.6 79.2 103.8
DET 18.9 84.6 103.5
24.1 78 102.1
VGK 20.3 81.5 101.8
NYI 19.3 82.5 101.8
MINN 15.7 84.5 100.2
ANA 14.8 85.1 99.9
20.6 78.7 99.3
COL 20.6 78.1 98.7
PHI 18.6 79.7 98.3
CHI 14.3 83.6 97.9
WSH 18.6 78.6 97.2
St.L 16.4 79 95.4
BUFF 14 81.3 95.3
CAR 13.2 80 93.2
VAN 14.1 78.1 92.2
CGY 17.2 74.6 91.8
MTL 16.4 75 91.4
ARI 14.8 75.5 90.3
CBJ 9.6 80.4 90
FLO 15.5 71.7 87.2
EDM 14.9 71.4 86.3

Columbus is winning despite their special teams. Dallas’ special teams are the reason they currently hold down the second wildcard spot. Pittsburgh’s power play is keeping them afloat. The defending champs have surrendered the most 5×5 goals in the NHL at 47.

6. The Oilers special teams are the worst in the league and their home PK is killing them. It is a woeful 53.8% on home ice allowing 12 goals on 26 kills. Their road PK is eighth best on the road at 86.7%. Often we can see a five or seven % swing from home to away, but a 32.9% difference is shocking.

They have played Dallas, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Detroit, Washington, Calgary and Carolina on home ice. They are ranked first, fourth, fifth, sixth, 10th, 14th, 15th, 18th and 30th on the PP.
They’ve faced the Rangers, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, NYI, Washington, Philly, Chicago and Vancouver on the road. They are ranked third, fourth, fifth, 13th, 15th, 16th, 27th and 28th.

The Oilers have allowed 12 goals on 26 kills at home and only four of 30 on the road. They have faced better powerplays at home, but the difference should not be that as massive as it is. They are taking fewer penalties per game on home ice, 2.88, than on the road, 3.75, yet their home record is a weak 3-6 while they are a respectful 3-3-2 on the road.

7. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is playing well. He looks like the player he was in 2014 and 2015 when he produced 56 points. He did have 14 points in the first 17 games in 2016, but then he got injured and played 38 of the final 65 games scoring only 17 points. He never found his offensive mojo again. He admitted he didn’t have it last season either, but a conversation with head coach Todd McLellan at the end of last season, who challenged him to take more chances, really helped Nugent-Hopkins. He is back to the player he was in 2014 and 2015. He looks like a solid second line centre.

8. The argument to split up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl makes sense when you consider they haven’t scored a 5×5 goal in five games. McLellan seems to like pairs. He has mentioned Maroon/McDavid and Lucic/RNH often. So if he splits up Draisaitl, his main partner would be one of Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan Strome, Drake Caggiula or Anton Slepyshev. I suspect we will see the top line split up once Caggiula and Slepyshev return. Who would you want to see as the main partner for Draisaitl? As for why I wouldn’t change for tonight: Would you put RNH or Draisaitl on a “third line” where the wingers are either Iiro Pakarinen, Jujhar Khaira, Brad Malone or Jussi Jokinen?

9. Vegas doesn’t have a dominant scorer. David Perron leads them with 14 points, but everyone is contributing. They have 13 players with seven or more points. And Oscar Lindberg has five goals, but no assists, and is 14th in scoring with five points. The Oilers have five players with more than seven points — McDavid (19), Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins (12), while Maroon and Lucic have ten. Kris Russell is seventh on the Oilers in scoring with five points. Vegas’ depth has been very productive and the Oilers don’t have to worry about one line. They need to be prepared to outwork all their lines.

10. The Oilers offence is in a slump. The skilled players aren’t scoring as well on the PP as last year and the top line doesn’t have a 5×5 goal in five games, while the bottom six and defence aren’t close to their production from last season. Confidence is a major factor for players. Former Oilers Ryan Smyth scored 39 goals in his second NHL season in 1997, but he dipped to 20 the following year (missed 16 games with injury). He had 13 goals the next season, before rebounding with 28 and 31 goal seasons in 2000 and 2001. Did he suddenly forget how to score? I asked him how he dealt with the disappointment of 1999 and what he worked on to rediscover his offence.

“Confidence is huge in the game.  I really felt that advice was key. Learning from the older guys. I remember talking with Craig Simpson. We had a minor drill we did in practice. We’d come to the net, jam it, and then pop out in the slot, and you’d get another shot. He said, “Smitty, you’re falling away from the net, instead of towards the net. Fall towards the net. When you take that extra second, when you get the puck, fall towards the net, and get it up where you want it”.

“The old cliché is “Practice, Practice, Practice”. Repetition is the recipe for success. In the morning skate, every day I was tipping pucks in front of the net. Sometimes I would even get the coaches to shoot it. Charlie Huddy would shoot it because most of the guys would be off — that’s the way they wanted to prepare. I liked to mentally prepare, taking extra reps. When I got that chance and moment to get that puck up, that’s what I wanted to do. I worked on it in practice all the time, and when Simmer (Simpson) noticed that small point about falling back, it really helped me reset. It is amazing how big of a difference a small change can make,” explained Smyth when he stopped in unexpectedly to my radio show on Monday.

He added one more thing about a lack of scoring. “For sure it’s a confidence thing, but it’s sacrificing yourself for the team. Getting out of your comfort zone and going to the toughest areas.”

Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 11/14/2017, 9:30am