The Oilers dance of mediocrity continues. Play brutal in St.Louis, rebound with a solid performance in Detroit, only to come out flat versus Buffalo before rebounding with a good effort in Boston.
They need to put together a streak, and it won’t get any easier than facing the 31st place Arizona Coyotes tonight. But remember, the Sabres are in 30th place and the Oilers let them skate all over them, so nothing is guaranteed for the boys in Orange and Blue. We’ll see if they can find a way to play two good games in a row.
The three centre experience played out in Boston, and it worked. Will it last? Can it last?
1. Leon Draisaitl used his speed more often in Boston. His line, with Ryan Strome and Drake Caggiula had a strong game. Draisaitl had the puck more and playing centre allowed him to be in motion much more often. Rarely was he standing still on the wall. Todd McLellan had an interesting quote about Draisaitl post-game. “He skated tonight. We had a chat before practice yesterday, that I told you about. Leon, skates, a lot of time he skates for Leon, but tonight he skated for his teammates and created open ice. He did some things that were beneficial to his linemates, using his size and creating space. It was nice to see and we him to continue,” said McLellan. I watched the video numerous times and I didn’t hear it as a burn. McLellan’s tone was different than when he has challenged players before, but I found it hard to see hear/read it that way. It also came after a victory, so it is rare for a coach to chastise a player after he plays well. Jim Matheson asked McLellan on Monday to explain what he meant.
“I was giving Leon a compliment because Leon is a dominant player when Leon skates for Leon and creates ice. But he’s an even better player when he’s got his legs going more, because it opens up more space for others,” McLellan said.
“Like I said, it was the ultimate compliment. I thought I was being really positive. We’d just had a great game. I was trying to reward him for skating and creating so much space. If what I said then was an issue, wouldn’t somebody have asked me about it after the game in Boston? There were about 12 people at the interview and not a single one took it that way. What I meant about Leon was this: ‘When he skates and creates space, it is a good thing. But when he uses his teammates, it’s a great thing.”
2. I’d agree when Draisaitl isn’t moving his feet he isn’t nearly as effective. He does like to slow the game down, and he can do that if he is moving his feet first to create space, like he did on the game winning goal. Draisaitl has the ability to carry a line. His combination of size and skill is an advantage Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t have. Draisaitl used his big frame to create space from the Boston checker in the defensive zone, and then used his speed to lug the puck though the neutral zone, before slowing down, allowing space to open up and find Ryan Strome in the high slot for the game winning goal. When Draisaitl is on his game, he forces defenders to back off. It is why I believe, without question, he has the speed to attack defenders, and has the skill to make great passes, but also the size and strength so when the defenders engage him, he can protect the puck and still make plays.
3. Will three lines work long term? It can, but it is unlikely they’ll each score regularly. The third line likely will be more of a complementary scoring line, which is fine, but in order for it to work, some wingers will need to become more productive than they currently are. Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, Mike Cammalleri, Ryan Strome and even Jesse Puljujarvi will need to produce more. Can they? I guess it is possible, but it seems unlikely all of them start producing.
4. McDavid and Draisaitl’s lines scored in Boston, while Patrick Maroon scored with Kassian and Letestu. And what a great play by Kassian on that goal. Instead of just shooting to the net, he heard Maroon (great idea to always communicate on the ice), and hit him with a great cross-ice pass. The biggest benefit, for me, is having Draisaitl play down the middle. He can use his speed more often, because he is in motion more playing centre. If at some point for a few games, or even a period here or there, McLellan slides Draisaitl back with McDavid, that is fine, but ultimately 97 and 29 should be your one-two punch down the middle.
5. I see nothing in Iiro Pakarinen’s game that warrants playing him ahead of Jujhar Khaira regularly. If you play him once every six games to keep him involved, okay, but he simply doesn’t make many plays with the puck. Khaira has four points in 12 games, which puts him on pace for eight in the 24 games the Oilers have played. Pakarinen has one point in 17 games and no goals. Pakarinen averages 1.9 hits per game, Khaira has 1.8. Khaira averages 1.3 shots/game to Pakarinen’s 0.9. Pakarinen does have more takeaways, 10-5, and one less giveaway, 5-6, so maybe McLellan believes he is more responsible with the puck, but I just don’t see him making many plays when the puck is on his stick.
6. I think we can all agree Mike Cammalleri is not the answer long-term on McDavid’s right-wing. He’ll stay there as long as he produces. The Oilers aren’t in a position to play Puljujarvi there if they don’t feel he is ready. I’ve seen things I like in his game — a willingness to shoot the puck, a good shot, and he is good at getting set up to shoot. He is a rookie and consistency is an issue, but considering the entire team is struggling to find some it is hard to single him out for it. He is still only 19, and if I was the GM I’d want him playing, whether it is in Edmonton or Bakersfield.
7. Draisaitl led the Oilers with ten power play goals and 27 powerplay points last season. This year he has 0-0-0. He doesn’t have a point on the powerplay. Even though he’s missed four games he is still fifth on the Oilers in PP TOI with 50:19. The Oilers can’t keep settling for him not having touches on the PP, they must find a way to get him involved. And he needs to be more assertive on the man advantage. He is still their second best player and should be touching the puck more on the man advantage. He only has six shots on goal in 50:19 on the man advantage, after firing 52 shots, and scoring 10 times, in 238:29 last year. I recognize teams have adjusted to Oilers plays starting from the lower right quadrant, like they did last season, but to me there is no reason your second most skilled player has become a non-factor on the first PP unit. Part of that is on the player — I’d like him to shoot more — but I’d put a lot of it on the powerplay coach. You need to find plays where Draisaitl is involved. He is simply too skilled to have no points in 20 games and only six shots.
8. This play illustrates why I’d be leery of playing Yohann Auvitu. Yes, he skates well, is a decent passer and isn’t afraid to join the play, but his lack of defensive awareness is crushing. I know the “Russell haters” view this as Russell making a bad play. Sure, ideally you’d like a closer gap, but he had to recover after trying to go off for a change, plus on that play the only option the Bruins forward had was a backhand pass. Watch where Auvitu is when David Krejci is at centre ice. He is three strides ahead of him, but never once turns his head — a simple play every defender is taught to recognize — and then Krejci blows by him for an empty net tap in. Blaming Russell on that play would be being blinded by your constant repeat of gap control. He didn’t play it perfectly, but his error pales in comparison to what Auvitu didn’t do. “He simply isn’t an NHL player,” said Jason Strudwick on my show today when I asked him about that play. Strudwick loves D-men, a position he played for many years, so when he has such a blunt assessment of a player, I believe him. I’m still stunned the Oilers management felt Auvitu was a solid depth signing. I blame them more than Auvitu. He is what he is, and he was this player in New Jersey.
9. The Oilers couldn’t ask for a better match up, especially with the Coyotes losing Antti Raanta to an injury (alleged concussion). Raanta’s numbers had been trending in the right direction since he returned to the lineup November 2nd. In five of his last eight starts he posted SV% of .972, .919, .947, .938 and .964, and the Coyotes were 3-1-1 in those games. In his three other starts he allowed ten goals on 70 shots, so it’s not like he’s been all-world, but they were starting to show signs of life. Scott Hedgewood will make his 10th start of his career and his .903sv% in five starts in Arizona is much different than the .953 SV% that he had in four starts with New Jersey.
10. I don’t agree with the notion Andrej Sekera’s absence is impacting Klefbom. Klefbom played 22:22 last year and is averaging 22:53 this season. His ice time hasn’t increased significantly and his QofC is about the same. He still skates well, and has a good shot, but his decision making hasn’t been as sound. He clearly is fighting a lack of confidence, no question, and Sekera’s presence on the bench won’t solve it. Klefbom has found himself in no-mans-land more often this season. He is reaching more than he did last year, and he doesn’t look confident in his positioning or decision making. I’d argue being separated from Larsson is impacting him more now than having Sekera in the lineup, because Klefbom and Sekera never played together last year. It is difficult to accurately describe how confidence impacts a player, but it does. We’ve seen it and Klefbom’s biggest nemesis is between his ears. He knows it, and he desperately wants to play better, but when a player second guesses himself, rarely do they make the right play. Some times all a player needs is two or three good plays to rediscover their mojo, and the Oilers definitely could benefit from Klefbom finding his game. Winning will also help, and starting with consecutive regulation wins would be a good start.
11. You have had a tough few months, Oilers fans. So get on the bus this Saturday for a fun road trip to Calgary. We have ten seats left. Jason Strudwick will be regaling you with his shootout goal, but he also has some great not-for-radio stories to tell. Regardless of the outcome of the game, you will have a great time. All the info is here. Be sure to call Heather at 780.425.8611 to get a seat.
12. Newsflash, not all MSM and bloggers are the same. Not all MSM are good and not all bloggers are as smart as they think. There are good and bad on both sides, but for the love of intelligence, stop bunching them all together. It is embarrassing, and I’m amazed people from either side still do it. No media members talk for me, and I don’t speak for any of them, or any bloggers (which I’m sure they all appreciate). If you disagree with one, have the courage to point out the individual rather than lump everyone in together. It is sad some still try to keep the argument going. Move on.
GAME NOTES BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE PINT
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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 11/28/2017, 9:00am MST