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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Oilers hitting their stride?

The Edmonton Oilers are 7-4 in their last eleven games.
They outscored teams 41-33.
They outshot them 390-310.
Their 5×5 CF% was 52.2 (567-519).
Their 5×5 FF% was 53.8% (430-370).
They were +30 in scoring chances for/scoring chances against.

It has been their most consistent stretch of the season, and some are wondering if it has to do with Todd McLellan running Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle.

After an ugly 3-1 loss in Buffalo, where Draisaitl and RNH were playing together, McLellan pulled out the McBlender and switched up his top three lines.

Mike Cammalleri played with McDavid and Milan Lucic. Drake Caggiula and Ryan Strome flanked Draisaitl while Nugent-Hopkins centred Patrick Maroon and Anton Slepyshev.

Those lines were the same for a few games, but on November 30th versus Toronto, McLellan moved Jesse Puljujarvi to the top line, Cammalleri went to Nugent-Hopkins’ line with Maroon, Draisaitl’s line remained the same while Jujhar Khaira returned to the lineup and skated with Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian.

Khaira produced three points in three games and was promoted to Draisaitl’s line in Montreal and has stayed there for the past six games. Letestu and Kassian have had a rotation of Slepyshev, Walker and Caggiula on their left wing, while McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins’ lines were the same until last night when Cammalleri got the night off and Caggiula was promoted.

The lines have been fairly consistent for the past eleven games. Players who played well — Khaira — were rewarded, while players who struggled had to earn their ice time or had a seat in the pressbox for a game or two. There is healthy competition for ice time now.

The changes worked. The Oilers are scoring more at even strength, but the three scoring lines didn’t emerge how many expected.

Here are the Oilers forwards point totals in the past eleven games.

Name           G       A       PTS    EVP     OTHER
McDavid       2       10      12       9      Two PP points
Lucic             4        6       10      7       Three PP points
Letestu         4        5        9       6       Two SH goals
RNH             6        2        8        6       1 PP and 1 SH goal
Draisaitl        2       6        8        6       First two PP points of year
Kassian         3       4        7       5       Two SH points
Maroon        3        3        6       6       Best game of stretch last night.
Khaira           3       3        6       6        Nine games played
Puljujarvi      4       2        6       6        Nine GP
Strome         3       2         5       5        Best game last night as well.
Cammalleri   1       4         5       4        Nine GP
Caggiula       0       2         2       2        Eight GP
Slepyshev     0      1         1        1         Five GP
Walker          0       0        0       0        Two GP
Pakarinen     0       0        0        0        Two GP

McDavid led the way. Lucic has played very well during this stretch as has Nugent-Hopkins, but the biggest surprise has been the production of Letestu and Kassian. Those two have been excellent. When two of your fourth line players are producing like they had it is a huge bonus. Khaira had three of his six points playing with those two.

The defence is chipping in as well. Matt Benning (2-3-5), Darnell Nurse (0-5-5) and Kris Russell (1-4-5) each had five points while Oscar Klefbom had 1-2-3. Benning and Klefbom rebounded nicely at 5×5 going +7 and +6 respectively. I know it isn’t the best stat, but being on the ice for more goals for than against is always a positive, especially when earlier in the season Klefbom was on the ice for too many goals against.

The Oilers 5×5 play has been excellent, and so as their shorthanded scoring. They scored four SH goals in the past eleven games, but the rest of the special teams were brutal.

NOT SO SPECIAL TEAMS…

Dec 16, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot (33) makes a save against the Minnesota Wild in the second period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It is amazing the Oilers are 7-4 in the past eleven when you look at how poorly their special teams units performed.

The PP was 4 of 34 (11.7%) and the penalty kill was 23 of 33 (69.7%).

The powerplay was 20% on the season prior to this winning stretch, while the PK, has somehow managed to get worse.

The PK was 74.3% in their first 23 games, yet instead of improving is has somehow gotten worse. This is the biggest issue on the team and the fact it isn’t improving — this has been an issue for 102 games, dating back to last season — needs to be addressed. The Oilers have allowed 69 PP goals in 293 kills (76.4%) dating back to last November. Without question the team has no confidence on the PK. They’ve tried different formations and nothing is working. And that is why I believe something is getting lost in translation between Jim Johnson (PK coach) and the group.

I’m sure a lack of continuity is a small factor, but it’s not like the Oilers are using a variety of rookies on the penalty kill. This is one of the worst stretches of penalty killing we’ve seen in the NHL since 1980. It is not just a bad stretch. It is a major issue and the organization needs to address it. Something needs to change.

I’m not nearly as concerned with the powerplay. It was 20% prior to this 11-game slump, and I have more confidence in the abilities of their offensive players to move the puck quicker. Their zone entries on the powerplay are actually quite good compared to the rest of the NHL, but they struggle once they set up. Their issue isn’t getting in the zone, rather what they do once they are there. They need to move the puck quicker and I won’t be surprised to see the PP rebound in the future and get back to a 20% clip.

If the Oilers had four more PP goals they would be at 21% and sitting in sixth in the NHL. They aren’t that far off.

However, for the PK to even be 16th in the NHL they would have allowed ten fewer goals. They have allowed 30 on 111 kills. They’d need to eliminate 1/3 of their goals just to be middle of the pack. They are not close to even being average. I believe this is a much more concerning issue than whether or not Letestu is on the first PP unit over Puljujarvi.

I like Puljujarvi, but his stick is too long. He misses too many good chances in tight on his body. I think he is developing very well. You can see his confidence growing, and I think he has only reached about 70% of his potential. He is still filling out his massive frame and I only expect he will become even more of a challenge. I think he will be a load to handle when he is 22 and has the strength to control his frame. I have no problem with McLellan bringing him along slowly right now. The powerplay issues will be solved when McDavid, Draisaitl and Lucic are playing up to their PP potential.

But the PK needs an overhaul. Three weeks ago I wrote it was killing this team and since then it has gotten worse. Something needs to give.

QUICK HITS…

The Oilers put Oscar Klefbom on the IR today and they recalled Anton Slepyshev and put Nathan Walker on waivers. With Klefbom going on IR they didn’t have to waive Walker, so I wonder if we see Andrej Sekera activated from the IR before Thursday? He has been skating with the team, taking contact drills and his goal was to return by Christmas. So the 21st would be right on schedule.

The Oilers also traded Greg Chase (seventh round pick in 2013) to Florida for future considerations. Chase had 17 points in 17 games for Wichita in the ECHL. If Walker is claimed, and there’s a good chance Washington reclaims him, then the Oilers will suddenly be at 47 contracts and have lots of room to make a trade or two.

MONTH OF GIVING…

Thank you to Mike and Brent for their great bids and to Al Prokop at the Blackhawk Golf Club and XIX (Nineteen) restaurant for the awesome packages.

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You can bid by calling 780.444.1260  or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The Christmas Bureau

Package #2: Tee It Up.

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  • 10 rounds of golf at the Ranch Golf and Country Club (hole 8 above) with a power cart for each round and use of driving range before every round.
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  • One round of golf for two with GM Murray McCourt and Kevin Karius from Global TV. This is a spirited match and usually involves some friendly “wagering.”

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds go towards Santas Anonymous

  • OilersGM

    After an abysmal start to the season I’ve never wavered from this team making the playoffs especially when we have McDavid on the team and now that everyone is getting healthy I think we have turned the corner.

  • OilersBro

    Here’s to hoping Klef gets better soon. However, I feel more comfortable with giving a D man 10 games off (during a pivotal point of the season) to deal with a nagging injury now that Davidson can provide depth on the blueline and Auvitu has shown that he can play as a 3rd pairing D man from time to time. I can’t remember the last time we had depth on the blueline like this!

  • Roberto

    Gregor, are you proposing a change of coach for the PK? I agree it needs to be addressed, and I don’t really see another way at this point. They’re bleeding points because of it. I don’t really see it happening with this organization though. But nothing changing and the same results for a year is beyond frustrating

    • slats-west

      The common denominator on the PK and PP is Letestu. I still don’t think a 4th line centre should be this PP unit with this talent pool. Both #13 and #98 are better options. On PK goaltending would help this and I would consider using JJ more here with his long reach and has shown he’s very tough on the puck.

      Sorry Im just not buying the love for Letestu 2 Shorties or not.

  • morsecode89

    I’m being cautiously optomistic. This team, it’s coaching, and the management have dug themselves a hole. They’ve finally won two games in a row against some good teams and their record and scoring is turning around. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

    The next two games are a massive test for this team. Let us not declare a team with 5 other teams between them and a playoff spot, out of the woods yet.

  • The Future Never Comes

    If the Oiler’s special teams have been at all competent this season thus far, we might have eeked out 3-4 more wins. If that was the case, we could be sitting in a wild card spot and not clawing for our lives. The PP needs a total overhaul in terms of new strategizing/ philosophy. The coaches are living in the yesteryear in this regard, it worked last year, teams caught on, and you are not adjusting properly- you’re forcing the issue. That’s the most frustrating aspect of the team for myself, the definition of insanity. It’s like Austin Powers in the warehouse trying to escape in his little buggy smashing between the walls again and again, unable to inch his way out.

  • McRaj

    Why has there been no talk about Mike Hoffman? Bob was discussing it on Oilers Now, seems to be a ton of smoke. an it get done before the trade freeze tonight?

  • Roberto

    I’m hoping that the recent roster moves mean a big trade is coming, and I believe that Chia knows that he needs to get the best player in the next trade, and the man has guts/is borderline wreckless. Karlsonn? Hoffman? I’ve also heard rumors of Seguins uncertain future in Dallas. Hoping for an xmas miracle before the trade freeze tonight.

    • Rock11

      Hoffman would sure help but I’m afraid at what that might mean for next year. Just this summer Chia traded a scoring winger earning big$$ for a lesser player and cap hit. Not sure how the cap can then squeeze in a different scoring winger with a big$$ cap hit without a significant player going out. I’m not sure how I feel about trading Yamo and a first for Hoffman and then having to trade Nuge this summer to get under the cap again. Could have just kept Ebs and saved all the effort.

        • Rock11

          Kypreos talked about picks and prospects. Would you trade your 30 goal winger for just a 5ft8 junior player. Or a $3m(ish) 15 goal guy. Or a first rounder that, with the addition of Hoffman, might be in the mid 20’s. I think it takes the 2018 first and a prospect of some kind to get Hoffman. Maybe Benson instead of Yamo but I’m note sure that’s better from an Oiler perspective. Bear, Jones?

      • The Whispererer

        As it now stands, and if we assume an $80 million CAP for next season, the Oilers have approx. $61.5 committed. So we would have approx. $18.5 to sign or replace the following: Brossiot, Nurse, Benning, Davidson, Strome, Caggiula, Slepyshev, Letestu, Maroon, Cammaleri. Also, it has to be considered likely at this point that JP will make at least some portion of his $2.5 million in bonuses next season.
        I can’t see any way to accomplish this plus trade for Hoffman without some salary going out. The most likely scenario would probably be Klefbom straight up for Hoffman which would save Ottawa about $1 million. ( If Hall only gets you Larsson, then Klefbom should get you Hoffman as fair value .) The Oilers left side D next season would be some combination of Sekera, Nurse, Russell, Davidson, Auvitu with Larsson, Benning, Gryba/Davidson/Russell on the right side.

  • 40 Year Re-build

    Oil gotta go somewhere around 30-15-3 in their last 48 to make playoffs (95 points). A daunting task, but if they keep playing like this, I believe it could happen. In Connor I Trust.

  • Kurt

    “I like Puljujarvi, but his stick is too long. He misses too many good chances in tight on his body.”

    Many people commented this about Taylor Hall and his inability to pick up pucks from his skates. Interesting.

  • Randaman

    Don’t get too excited folks. PC ain’t gonna do a thing. What makes you all think he is all of a sudden going to blow his wad when he’s been quiet all year?

  • GK1980

    Oil definitely looking better these past few weeks. They still have a lot of ground to make up in the next 50 odd games. I wish Vegas would just start losing ad stop messing with the division standings!

  • JimmySee

    If the biggest concern right now is the PK, then shelf the Hoffman talk. The fwd lines are rolling. PC should be looking for PK help. He’s got to find some balance between offensive and defensive depth.

    • camdog

      In the month of December the penalty kill has scored 4 goals and given up 6. In the Pacific division Arizona is the only team matching Edmonton’s success short handed in this 9 game stretch. It still needs improvement but they have been getting better, no longer last in league. It’s the powerplay that concerns me the most – they were actually supposed to be a team strength going into season however have not.

    • IRONman

      McDavid is the heartbeat of this team. Leafs by example and played sick for weeks. I will take McDavid at 70% over and player out there. Saw Jesse Puljujarvi taking picture with a fan at west ed mall, helluva good guy.

  • slats-west

    JJ and Drai is a very good combination – hopefully Strome can start getting hot.

    How the Hell did we lose to Buffalo!! Did you watch that game against the Bruins – Kane is dreadful wouldn’t touch that guy for anything.

    Keep it going boys GOOILERS