On paper, this is not a good matchup for the Oilers, and on the ice at Rogers Place last Thursday it did not go well for the boys in Orange and Blue.
They will need a much smarter effort tonight in order to pick up a much-needed victory.
1. The Oilers had way too many turnovers at the offensive blueline vs. the Blues last Thursday. After a solid first period the Oilers continually shot themselves in the foot, often due to a stubbornness to try and make a fancy play two feet from the blueline. The Blues also dominated in the offensive zone with a relentless forecheck. The Oilers need to play aggressive and on their toes or the Blues will skate them out of the rink.
2. The Oilers have to be patient, because it is unlikely they will score a lot of goals. In their final 30 games last season, the Blues allowed only 57 goals and started the year allowing 39 in their first 17 games. Over a span of 47 games they surrendered 96 goals for a solid 2.04 goals against average. They had a two-game hiccup where they allowed 12 goals to the Islanders and Flames, but have only allowed four in their last two games, back closer to their 2.00 GAA per game. They roll four lines, which allows more rest for their top forwards. Jaden Schwartz plays the most at 19:56/game, and they are very disciplined defensively and in the neutral zone. Watch how often they force a pass or try a low-percentage pass.
3. Twenty-six year-old Brayden Schenn is having a career year with eight goals and 26 points in 21 games. His career-high is 26 goals and 59 points, established in 2016. His early-season production is a bit of a surprise, but after 59 and 55 point seasons in Philadelphia, where he wasn’t the #1 centre, he has been given the top centre role in St. Louis alongside Schwartz and sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. Schenn has flourished. He has always had some grit to his game and been solid defensively, but this season he’s emerged as a real offensive threat. He was a great passer in junior and he is a great fit with Tarasenko.
4. Jay Bouwmeester makes his season debut tonight. The Edmonton native fractured his left ankle in training camp and missed the first 21 games. He will skate with St. Albert product Colton Parayko on the Blues second pairing while Alex Pietrangelo and Joel Edmundson are the first pair. Those four are all big — Pietrangelo is the smallest at 6’3″, while Parayko is the largest at 6’7″ — and all are very mobile. There isn’t much room to maneuver in the offensive zone against them. Even in his 15th NHL season, with 1071 games played, Bouwmeester is still one of the smoothest skaters in the league. The Oilers have to hope he has some rust in his game, but he’ll likely be very excited to return after the longest stint on the IR of his NHL career.
5. The Oilers defence has seven goals and 26 points combined. Pietrangelo has seven goals and 19 points. Parayko and Edmundson have combined for eight goals and 16 points, while Vince Dunn, Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo have five, four and four points respectively. The Blues blueline has chipped in 48 points thus far. They join the rush all the time and even in the offensive zone it isn’t unusual to see them below the hash marks.
6. The Oilers won both games in St.Louis last year, 2-1 in February and 3-2 in OT last December. They have scored 25 goals in their last 13 visits to St.Louis. They’ve been shutout twice, scored one goal twice, two goals four times and three goals five times. The last time they surpassed three goals was on December 11th, 2009 in a 5-3 victory. Don’t expect many goals from the Oilers.
7. It is time for Cam Talbot to get in a groove. He has handed the opposition 1-0 leads the last two games. Those are mental errors and Talbot needs to be better. The Oilers aren’t good enough, nor confident enough, right now to battle back from their starter handing goals to the opposition, both times from behind the net. Talbot has a 3.10 GAA and a .903 sv%. Both well off his career numbers. His career sv% in 204 games is .920. I don’t want to hear excuses the Oilers aren’t playing great defence in front on him. In 2015, their team defence was much worse and he still finished with a .917sv%. The Oilers are averaging the ninth fewest shots against per game at 30.9. He isn’t being bombarded every night. Yes, the team could play better in front of him, but Talbot simply hasn’t been consistent enough thus far. You don’t win very often in the NHL when your starting goalie has a .903sv%. He is better than that, and he needs to rediscover the consistency he has had the majority of his career.
8. I’m not surprised Drake Caggiula made the most of his first game alongside Connor McDavid. I like his game a lot. He is smart, quick, has a shoot-first mentality and isn’t afraid to play with an edge. I won’t be surprised to see him produce some decent numbers on McDavid’s wing.
9. After a slow start the Oilers powerplay is back where it should be. Their PP is 11th, clicking at 21.4%. However, they have the fewest pp chances in the NHL at 56. Chicago (87), Pittsburgh and Nashville (83), Colorado (82) and Vancouver (80) lead the NHL in PP chances. If they could find a way to draw more penalties their dangerous PP could win them some games. The biggest change in the PP recently is they are more assertive and aren’t focused on the pretty play as much.
10. Don’t look now, but Arizona is suddenly only three points behind the Oilers. Granted, they have three games in hand, but as woeful as the Coyotes were to start the season, the fact they are within three points of Edmonton illustrates how the Oilers need to wake the eff up, and do it soon, before the season is completely lost. Realistically, it could be over at the end of the month if the Oilers can’t string together some victories in their six remaining games this November.
GAME NOTES BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE PINT