The Oilers knocked the San Jose Sharks out of the playoffs last year. It was their first playoff meeting in eleven years. These teams have never had a fierce rivalry, and I’m not sure one playoff series will suddenly ignite it, but there should be a bit more animosity in the season series now. Rivalries are ignited in the playoffs, and while the Sharks are not a physical, nasty team like the Anaheim Ducks, and don’t have a lot of players Oilersnation likes to hate, tonight should have a bit more edge than what we’ve seen in the past.
This edition of the Oilers has proven they play better in emotional games and they are much improved in divisional games. The Oilers were 19-6-3 last year vs. the Pacific and they are 4-1 so far this season.
Their recent dominance in the division is the main reason I haven’t ruled them out of making a run to the playoffs. They need a lot to go their way, but they have 24 division games remaining, starting tonight vs. the Sharks.
The Oilers trail the Sharks, who are third in the Pacific, by eight points. A regulation victory would move them within six points of the Sharks, while a loss drops them ten back. These divisional games are massive, and while “Bettman’s loser point” has skewed the “four-point” game scenario, the Oilers not only need a victory tonight, they need one in regulation. Gaining one point on the Sharks, while better than losing one or two, is not what the Oilers need. They need to gain two points, and they also need to show up on home ice.
They’ve lost four of their last five at home, and they needed overtime to defeat the 31st place Coyotes 3-2. They’ve been outscored 20-10 in that span. They’ve allowed seven powerplay goals on 15 kills (46.7%) and their powerplay is only 1-for-13 (7.7%). They did play better vs. Nashville, setting a franchise record for most shots on goal while being shutout (46), but home ice has been anything but nice thus far.
They can’t change the past, they can only focus on tonight and ensuring they remember how to win, and play well, on home ice. They’ve won four in a row with Cam Talbot in goal and Adam Larsson returns to the lineup for the first time since he allegedly tweaked his back sleeping. He missed eight games.
Just a guess on where Larsson plays. Head coach Todd McLellan wouldn’t say where he would play, but Auvitu is the easy decision to take out. You could slot Larsson in with Davidson to start and not disrupt the top two pairs, or put Larsson back with Klefbom. Those two have played together a lot the past 115 games so reuniting them wouldn’t be much of a risk. Jason Strudwick brought up a very interesting point about Klefbom/Larsson. He felt they were struggling this year, because too often they would make an extra D to D pass, instead of moving the puck up ice. He wanted them to be more decisive and move the puck up quicker, instead of going cross-ice as often as they have been. It is something to watch for if they are back together tonight.
Anton Slepyshev was sent to the AHL to make room for Larsson on the 23-man roster. Slepyshev doesn’t require waivers so no risk he gets claimed. Nathan Walker will draw in for Mike Cammalleri, but I’m just guessing at projected lines. Walker isn’t as offensively skilled as Caggiula so I wouldn’t play him on Nugent-Hopkins’ line, but we’ll find out in warmup where he slots in. The fourth line has seen a rotation of wingers on the left side for the past few games so moving Walker in and Caggiula up shouldn’t impact any perceived chemistry.
I’m perplexed by the vast majority of people believing Mark Letestu is the main culprit for the Oilers PP woes. If you put Jesse Puljujarvi in his spot, why will that suddenly change what Draisaitl, Lucic and Klefbom are doing? Letestu has six PP points. He had 14 last year. He is on pace for the exact same. Draisaitl had 27 points last year, Lucic had 25 and Klefbom had 16. This year Draisaitl has two (no goals), Klefbom has three and Lucic has five.
It makes no sense to continually be yelling for Puljujarvi to replace Letestu and imply that will instantly solve the problems. I don’t see how Letestu’s presence is negatively impacting the others, especially Klefbom and Draisaitl who touch the puck way more frequently. I understand the frustration with the powerplay, but pointing it at Letestu, seems to be pointing at the wrong problem. I realize he is the easy target, because he isn’t the big-name player, but I don’t see how replacing him will magically make the PP click. I could be wrong, but unless Puljujarvi can convince them to stop over passing and shoot when they are in a good spot, I don’t see that switch automatically improving the powerplay. Letestu is at least producing powerplay points.
Logan Couture is out for sure and yesterday at Sharks practice they ran those top three lines. Hertl moved back to centre and Peter Deboer reunited the Donskoi-Tierney-Meier line. Donskoi and Tierney are tied for second on the Sharks with eight goals behind Couture’s fifteen. The Sharks will look for them to continue scoring. Deboer said there will be some game time decisions, so this fourth line and D pairs could look different at game time.
We all saw how well Marc-Edouard Vlasic defended Connor McDavid in the playoffs last year. McDavid will want the challenge of facing them tonight so I doubt McLellan tries too hard to get his line away from that duo. McDavid had 4-4-8 in five games vs. the Sharks last season.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have won five times in 15 home games. They are on pace for 14 home wins. During the decade of Darkness only once did they win fewer than 15 games. In 2011 they went 13-22-6. This team is better than those teams, no question, but they need to start showing it at home. My head says they can’t possibly continue to be this bad at home, but I’ve seen them soil the sheets at home after solid road games too often this season to be confident. If Couture was playing I’d pick the Sharks, but since he isn’t I’ll take Oilers 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Burns only has two goals in his last 12 games vs. the OIlers, but he has eleven points. He continues to rebound from a slow start and produces another point.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Sharks don’t score a powerplay goal despite having multiple PP opportunities. The Oilers have allowed an opposing powerplay goal in 11 of 15 home games. In two other games they didn’t take a penalty and in the home opener vs. Calgary the Flames had one power play. The only game this year where the opposition had multiple power plays, four, and they didn’t score was when the Oilers crushed Vegas 8-2.
MONTH OF GIVING….
Thank you to Darcy for his generous $7600 bid and to Ed and everyone at The Golf Cart People for the great package.
Day 12: Package #1: A one-year membership at Blackhawk Golf Course courtesy of Al Prokop.
- As a private club usually you are required to buy a share which is currently $25,000, however the club has generously bypassed this so the winner will be just like any other member for a year.
- The successful bidder will receive full unrestricted golf playing privileges for the 2018 season including club storage, locker room access, use of practice range and short game area as well as clubhouse account for all purchases. The bidder will also be entitled to bring guests as per the Club’s standard guest policy.
Package #2: Courtesy of Al Prokop & Executive Chef Andrew Fung from XIX (Nineteen).
- Dinner for two each month of 2018 at the great restaurant XIX (Nineteen).
- You and a friend will play a round of golf at Blackhawk with Prokop and an Edmonton-based NHLer, either Chimera, Phaneuf or Ennis or others.
Dinner will include appetizers, entree, dessert, cocktails and wine pairing and can be at either the Terwillegar or St.Albert locations. Last year XIX, was recognized as one of Alberta’s top new restaurants.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The Christmas Bureau.
Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 12/16/2017 – 2:00pm MST