Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Game Day Quick Hits: Oilers @ Sabres

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. On Friday, June 26th, 2015, the fortunes of the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres got much brighter. The Oilers selected Connor McDavid first overall, and the Buffalo Sabres took Jack Eichel. Both were going to be catalysts to respectability.

McDavid missed 37 games his rookie season, but last year the Oilers made the playoffs and won a round. Eichel missed 21 games last year and the Sabres finished worse, 26th place, than they did his rookie season. They hired Phil Housley as their head coach and while the Oilers were expected to contend for a division title, many felt the Sabres were poised to take a serious run at the playoffs.

So far neither team has performed up to expectations. The Oilers are in 29th place with 18 points, while the Sabres sit 30th with 14 points.

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1. Eichel isn’t as good as McDavid, but he is still a solid young player. However, he isn’t a miracle worker. The Sabres have allowed 3.55 goals/game (30th in the NHL) thus far and both goalies have struggled. Robin Lehner has a .902sv% and 3.08 GAA in 14 starts, while Chad Johnson is worse at .885sv% and a 3.59 GAA. They’ve allowed too many goals and they don’t score enough, again sitting 30th at 2.36 goals/game. It is Eichel’s third season and the Sabres are seemingly going backwards. They had 81 points his first year, 78 this season and are on pace for a dreadful 52 this season.

2. The Sabres have been hit hard with injuries, especially on the blueline. They’ve been without their best defenceman, Rasmus Ristolainen since November 2nd, although he is very close to returning. Zack Bogosian has yet to play a game after getting injured in the third period of the Sabres last preseason game. He skated with his teammates for the first time on Tuesday. The Sabres have used 10 D-men already and only Marco Scandella and Jake McCabe have played every game. Bogosian has missed 22 games, Ristolainen nine, Matt Tennyson eight and Nathan Beulieu seven. The first three are still on injured reserve. Former Oilers Taylor Fedun is also on the IR. The Oilers need to attack the Sabres defence like they did Detroit on Wednesday.

3. I don’t think the Oilers are much slower than they were last season. Is Ryan Strome any slower than Jordan Eberle? I don’t think so. I don’t buy the theory the Oilers are suddenly slow, and I strongly disagree with Craig Button suggesting McDavid is the only Oilers play who threatens with speed. Draisaitl is just as quick as Anze Kopitar and Ryan Getzlaf. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has speed. Jesse Puljujarvi, Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira and Drake Caggiula are good skaters. Yes, Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic and Mark Letestu aren’t burners, but they were on the Oilers last season and I don’t buy this group is suddenly slow. Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell and Oscar Klefbom are very good skaters.

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4. Look at Vegas. Are they full of burners? David Perron and James Neal are on their top line and neither kills you on the rush. There are different ways to attack, and while adding another quick player definitely wouldn’t hurt, I don’t see the Oilers speed as their main issue right now. The Oilers lack of consistent goaltending, smart defensive play and inability to bury their quality scoring chances has hurt them more than a supposed lack of speed. Have they looked slow in games they won? I don’t think so, and often when they lose it is more due to major gaffes mentally, not consistently getting beat to pucks.

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5. The Oilers responded well in Detroit after their worst performance in three years in St.Louis. Good for them, but it was just one game. They need to repeat that effort tonight and then again in Boston before anyone should think they are going in the right direction. If they don’t bring the same effort tonight then Wednesday was just another empty promise in a disappointing season.

6. They haven’t been able to build on a good effort so far this season. Dominate Calgary on opening night, but lose in Vancouver. Defeat New Jersey 6-3 and finally get the offence going, only to lay an egg two days later against Detroit. Crush Vegas 8-2, but then get steamrolled by the Blues 48 hours later. The one-step-forward-one-step-back routine needs to end if they want to avoid being out of the playoff race by month’s end.

7. I didn’t agree with the timing of buying out Benoit Pouliot. I didn’t like that the Oilers would have two extra years (after his existing contract) of dead cap space. I would have waited and bought him out this summer and then only had one extra year of dead cap space. But I also disagree with the narrative the Oilers really miss him, especially on the PK. Remember that from November 9th to the end of the season last year the Oilers PK clicked along at 78%. The Oilers woes are not due to missing Pouliot. His biggest flaw was inconsistency and that has plagued the Oilers all year. They haven’t lost games due to a lack of speed. They’ve lost from a combination of lacking effort, shoddy goaltending and glaring mental defensive mistakes. When the Oilers play smart and with emotion they’ve proven to be a formidable foe.

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8. Kris Russell leads the Oilers defenders with eight points. For all the complaining about Russell he has contributed quite nicely offensively and done so with very little powerplay time. His contract is too long, no question, but I still see him a solid defender. He, like Nugent-Hopkins have responded to the challenge from the coach to be more offensive. Russell has more offence than he has shown the past few seasons, and while many Oilers are struggling to find some consistency offensively, Russell has been quite good in that area.

9. Evander Kane is having a very good season with 12 goals and 21 points. He leads the Sabres in both categories and he is a UFA at the end of the season. He is an excellent skater and he will be highly sought after leading up to the deadline if the Sabres can’t agree on a contract extension. He scored 30 goals in 2012, and had 17 in 48 games of the lockout shortened 2013 season, which prorates to 29 goals. Then he was injured and battled inconsistency on the ice and maturity off of it. But last season he scored 28 goals and has 12 already this season. A scout told me, “He seems more focused, and while some wonder if it is due to a contract year, I saw a more composed game last year also. He doesn’t turn the puck over as much and he is back to using his size and speed to his advantage. He could really help a team down the stretch.”

10. The Sabres PP is 30th at 14.3%. The Oilers PP is 20.7% and Connor McDavid has three powerplay goals, matching his total from last season. He is starting to shoot more and that will make the powerplay even more dangerous, because now they have to respect his willingness to shoot.

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11. Our second annual Oilers/Flames road trip extravaganza goes Saturday, December 2nd. We only have 10 seats remaining. Jason Strudwick and I will be hosting the bus. It was a blast last year. Oilers fans were loving it, especially when the Oilers crushed the Phlegms 7-4. All the details for the trip are here. Call Heather to reserve your seat. Get on before it is sold out. You deserve a good time, plus your chances of seeing a victory are much higher on the road than at home.


Head down to the Pint before, during, or after the game to get in on daily food and drink specials. Check out the menu at ThePint.ca.

Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 11/24/2017, 9:00am MST

  • camdog

    It’s not just about moving the feet also moving the puck and yes Eberle is quicker at both than Strome. The Oilers are without Pitlick, Pouliot and Sekera, they have all been replaced with slower movers. But the big thing is everybody else is getting quicker. Oilers had trouble against good skating teams last season as shown by their record against eastern conference teams. With new rules the game is quicker, other western conference teams are quicker, the Oilers are not. During the pre season other teams scouts mentioned that the Oilers were not fleet of foot, it’s been an discussion point around the league before the season started.

    • morsecode89

      I’ve made it a habit of watching the away broadcasts when streaming games this season. Not only to get away from Remenda, but also to try and get some more insight on the team and their problems. Both St Louis and Detriot broadcasts, and I vividly remember Pittsburgh broadcasting team as well, have all commented on how slow the Oilers looked. In fact, the only people who seem intent on not mentioning the fact this team is visually slower, and looks to be slower on paper (ie No Pouliout, Pitlick, Sekera, and even Eberle – who’s more quick and shifty) is the Edmonton media who cover this team.

      The league has cracked down on slashing and obstruction this season. The NHL goes through ebs and flows. But one thing is certain, the game is faster and younger than ever before. No matter what the narrative (toughness, not mentally in the game, no effort) the Oilers appear to be a large and lumbering team built to cycle in the ozone. While the league itself seems to be intent on horse races.

      • I’ve made an effort to catch the away broadcasts as well and noticed them saying the same thing, though I don’t think it’s a “foot-speed” kind of slow and more of an “effort” kind of slow… I’ve commented numerous times to the wife (much to her dismay) about how they don’t appear to be hustling for the pucks as much and the other team keeps beating them to it, but when they do haul-a$$ they usually get there first…

        TL;DR – They look slower, but I think it’s more effort-based than actual speed

        • Derian Hatcher

          Funny. My wife doesn’t seem to appreciate my comments during Oiler games either. Hmmm. Who would not want to hear our opinions on hockey and how to fix the Oilers? Seems odd

      • Snoop Scottie Dogg

        I don’t agree with your point. When the Oilers were ultra small and fast the “big” teams would beat up on them. Now that the Oilers are big and strong they need to punish the small/fast teams. The real issue is that they aren’t using their size to their advantage. Last year they would hit and fore-check like animals…now there isn’t the same commitment.

  • ed from edmonton

    The cult of hockey provided their first quarter summary for the Oil, and it’s not pretty. The only player who has better scoring chance stats vs a year ago is Adam Larsen, due to being more involved in the O zone. One could make a strong case for a big improvement for Nurse as showing a big improvement with similar scoring chance metrics but now playing 1st pair minutes vs 3rd a year ago.
    One very interesting result is RNH. As Gregor noted his scoring totals are trending to a career high. But his net scoring chance stats are worse than this time last year, i.e. he is bleeding scoring chances against. RNH has taken it to heart to look for more O this year, but is the net result positive?
    As Spector asked TM after the 4th game of the season, “did your players forget how to play hockey this summer?’“, is still a valid question.

  • 2centz

    I like Button as a person,he seems very nice,and always willing to share his opinion with anyone who’ll listen. But Craig also had Sam Bennett as the first overall pick. It is no wonder that he hasn’t had a GM job since the Flames canned him. Who will get a GM job first,Craig MacTavish or Craig Button?

    What do you think the cost would be for Kane? I can’t help but think he and McDavid together,would be dynamic. Both skate like no other,and perhaps Evander could be the finishing wingman that Connor needs. Maverick and Iceman hahaha

  • ed from edmonton

    I agree with Gregor wrt Button’s observation. No-one though the Oil were slow when then should have dispatched the Sucks last May. Strome is certainly now slower than Ebs and they got rid of Hendo, who one of the slowest players on the team. When a team is down many in the media join the feeding frenzie by piling on, eg Freidman’s critic of Oil’s players development. Gregor, may I suggest you look into the last 10 years or so and see how the Oil rank wrt developing players from amateurs into the NHL players.

  • EastVanOilFan

    Pouliot flaw wasn’t inconsistency, it was taking really bad penalties at even worse times. Wasn’t helping us much on the PK when he was killing us in the box. I recall someone writing an article maybe? About pouliot not really contributing to anything but not really being at fault for anything during even strength. Kane seems like the dude is always getting in trouble and he harasses women. I’d say no thanks

      • TruthHurts98

        Because they fight. And fighting majors rack up the minutes faster. Pouliot did nothing in the playoffs, nothing. Neither did Ebs. Khaira will be better than Pouliot and is already trending up. I for one don’t miss Ebs. I watch some of the Islander games and he’s on the ice for goals against where he blows the coverage. The Oilers problems are lack of structure, effort and consistency. Fix those and they’ll be fine.

  • btrain

    Since the Oil are playing against Pouliot and Gregor brought him up, I am reminded of how absolutely ridiculous this buyout was. I don’t believe Pouliot is necessarily going to make or break a team but I do think the Oil miss him this season (considering he would be tied for 3rd on the team in goals and has 3 game winners on a team with 5 wins). When Pouliot is on his game, he can be a top 6 winger, when he’s not he is still effective defensively and covers the depth role. Perhaps he’s not a PK wizard like some would suggest, but this current version of the Oilers could sure have used what ability he can bring to the PK.

    Anyway, it almost makes me sick that we have to pay 1.3mill for this very useful NHL player for this and another 3 more seasons. It really seems Chia wanted nothing to do with this player and chose the path of least resistance to wash his hands of him.

    • ed from edmonton

      One thing that seems obvious with PC is that when a player is in his bad books het gets rid of them pronto. After the abysmal playoff Ebs was gone for whatever they could get, after a brutal year Pou was bought out.

        • btrain

          Really? So we are cool with Schultz winning two cups, Eberle getting back to his career average, Pouliot putting up 6 goals and 3 game winners so far this season, Petry being a dependable top 4 defender, Davidson providing depth for another organization partially forcing a 4 mill Russell signing, Hall being Hall in a Devils Jersey, Yak on pace for 20, Dubnyk being a Vezna candidate year over year, etc. Hindsight is 20/20 but making bold decisions based on small sample off years, players being impacted by a poor team, poor asset management, etc is ignorance at its best. Leave the fickle emotional highs and lows for us passionate fans and the media, the GM needs to exercise better judgment, filter out the noise, and have a good grasp on what adversities are normal for a player vs. indications that they are in fact declining or incapable of fitting the mold.

      • Roberto

        I actually admire that about Chia…. and it was something this organization needed. Hashtag Bold. However, I do question his negotiating skills and I note that the 3 stooges are still influencing decisions… It’s almost worse now, King Jong Lowe and his loyal ally MacT can have their input, but when decisions don’t work out then the loyal servant Chia Peter the 3rd takes the fall for his masters.

  • TKB2677

    I understand now why some fans are freaking out about Pouliot not being here. When the Oilers were a garbage team, he was a good player. When the Oilers were good, he sucked. He goes to Buffalo who are a crap team and he’s a decent player. So Pouliot is a good player when your team is lousy and your talent isn’t good enough just like is the case in Buffalo. As soon as your talent is good enough, he becomes the player that he is, mediocre at best. The Oilers have much better talent than Buffalo but because the Oilers players aren’t playing well , fans think he would be good.