The Oilers and Sharks meet for the first time since April 22nd, when the Oilers eliminated the Sharks from the Stanley Cup playoffs and won their first playoff series in eleven years. There wasn’t much animosity in the series, compared to their second-round tilt vs. the Anaheim Ducks, but meeting in the playoffs intensifies any rivalry and tonight’s tilt should have a little more intensity than the average December game.
Toss in the Oilers position in the standings and the Sharks would love nothing more than to pick up a victory and leave Edmonton ten points up on the Oilers with 48 games to go.
This is only the Oilers sixth game vs. a Pacific Division foe, but every one of them, excluding those vs. Arizona, are huge games for the Oilers. They need to make up a lot of ground and regulation victories vs. Pacific division teams are vital if they hope to claw their way back into a playoff position.
1. Jesse Puljujarvi will see some power play time tonight. “He has steadily improved since he got here. He has been able to take increments of his game up on a steady basis and I think he is ready to go there (power play) and he has earned that opportunity. What we have watched with him is making sure he hasn’t given up anything in his game as he takes more on and he’s done a very good job of that,” said Todd McLellan. Will he jump right to the first unit or will he start on the second?
2. Many have been begging for Puljujarvi to get on the powerplay because of his one-timer. But there is more to being successful on the PP than just having a good one-timer. “A lot of the penalty kills do such a good job up the ice and through the neutral zone and you have to understand your role in that area and the variables that can go into sometimes on different breakouts. I think his English is improving and he has the ability now to adjust on the fly, verbally with quick changes and now we find him in the right spot a lot more than he was last year when he struggled with the language. A large part of it (being successful on the PP) is that and once he’s in the zone he has to understand where he has to go to alleviate pressure and to do things to be successful, but he has improved immensely over time,” continued McLellan.
3. We saw a perfect example of McLellan encouraging Puljujarvi. Right after he scored vs. Minnesota you saw McLellan lean over and talk to him on the bench. He told him last year he wouldn’t have scored that goal, because he would have turned away from the net. Now he is going to the net and getting rewarded. Simple maturation is a part of it, but I think often we underestimate the challenges the language barrier presents. You could see in practice some days how Puljujarvi didn’t completely understand a drill, and he would go to the back of the line and watch and then do it. It is visibly noticeable how much more comfortable he is with the language, but also his surroundings. And I don’t think it hurts that his father is in town visiting him. Think about how comforting it is for you to have your father around just to chat, never mind when you need some advice on how to adapt to a new country and the best league in the world. Puljujarvi has taken big strides the past month, and I think McLellan’s decision to bring him along slowly, perhaps slower than some fans or media wanted, will pay off. Not surprisingly, the premature “Oilers should have drafted Tkachuk instead” comments have all but disappeared in Oilersnation.
4. The Oilers are 4-1 vs. the Pacific thus far, including a perfect 3-0 at home. It is the only division the Oilers can beat on home ice. They are 2-12 against the rest of the NHL on home ice. The Sharks are 5-1-3 vs. the Pacific and Edmonton is the only Pacific division rival they’ve yet to face.
5. The Oilers have only had two games in a row twice this season, and they’ve yet to win back-to-back games in regulation. Their win one, lose one, win one, lose one, win one routine needs to stop. It is fair to doubt how good this team can be until they show they can win consistently. Yes, they have played well their past five games, but they were shutout twice. Good teams can win more than two games consecutively and the Oilers need to show it. Buffalo is the only other NHL team who hasn’t won two consecutive games in regulation this season. The Sabres have only won two games in a row once, and one victory was in OT.
6. Philadelphia is proving you can turn a season around. They’d lost 10 games in a row before coming to Alberta earlier this month. They ended their drought in Calgary and then won in Edmonton and Vancouver. Then they had four days off and won three straight at home over Toronto, Buffalo and Dallas to stretch their winning streak to six games. The Flyers are suddenly four points behind the Islanders and Rangers for both wildcard spots with a game in hand on both teams. The Oilers need a similar winning streak to get them back to within three or four points of the wildcard. Three home wins this week over San Jose, St.Louis and Montreal would be massive, but it is understandable if Oilersnation is in a wait-and-see mode.
7. The Oilers have lost three straight at home and only have five wins in 15 home games. They have 10 points at home, but 20 on the road. Most teams are either even or + in favour of home points. Vancouver (15-19), Arizona (7-12) and Calgary (16-21) are the other west teams who are better on the road than at home, but the Oilers home to road point totals is the worst in the NHL.
8. Last year all eight west playoff teams had a better home record than road record. In 2015/2016, when the Sharks finished third in the division and went to the Stanley Cup Finals, they were 18-20-3 at home, but 28-10-3 on the road. They were an anomaly, and while it obviously doesn’t matter where you win, as long as you win 44+ games, even the Sharks were close to .500 at home. The Sharks, the 2014 Red Wings (second wildcard, 93 points) and 2010 Bruins (sixth in east, 91 points) are the only teams since 2006 to make the playoffs with less than 20 home victories.
9. Logan Couture will not dress tonight. He is out after taking an Alexander Burmistrov shoulder to the face in Vancouver on Friday. Couture has been the Sharks best player this season. He leads them in goals (15) and points (26). Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney are second in goals with eight. At yesterday’s practice Tomas Hertl was moved back to centre between Kevin Labanc and Mikkel Boekder, while Tierney centered Donskoi and Timo Meier and should be considered their second line tonight behind the Karlsson-Thornton-Pavelski trio.
10. Brent Burns didn’t have a goal in his first 20 games, but he has six goals and 13 points in since November 22nd, the most points by a defenceman in the NHL. He is back to being a dangerous offensive threat and the Oilers need to watch him closely in the offensive zone.
11. The Oilers are tied for the league lead with six shorthanded goals, which is already more than they’ve scored in any season since 2011 when they scored nine. The last time they reached double digits in SH goals was in 2006 when they scored 14.
12. Last season produced 184 SH goals. This year there has already been 103. Powerplay opportunities per team are up to 3.32/game from 2.99 last season, which is a factor, but teams are being more aggressive on the PK. Unfortunately for the Oilers, their improved SH goal totals have been overshadowed by their anemic penalty killing (73.14%). The Oilers have allowed 29 PP goals in 33 games. They allowed 29 in the lockout-shortened 2013 season (48 games) and last season, when their PK was only 80% they allowed 43 goals. But good news Oilersnation, the Oilers are not in 31st place anymore — the New York Islanders PK is somehow worse at 73%.
13. The Sharks have the second best PK in the NHL at 85.3%. They’ve allowed 15 powerplay goals. The Oilers have allowed 19 on home ice and 29 overall. I’m tracking the Oilers PK over seven-game stretches now to see if there is any improvement. From November 30th to December 14th they killed off 15 of 22 for an ugly 68.2%. I started another seven games in Minnesota and they are off to a better start killing off all four. We’ll see where they are after their New Years Eve game vs. Winnipeg.
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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 12/16/2017 – 10:00am MST