The Edmonton Oilers take on the St. Louis Blues for the third time this season. These are your game day news, notes, and numbers leading into tonight’s game.
1. The Blues rank ninth in the league in goals with 108 in all situations, but their offence has dried up as of late. St. Louis has lost four of their last five games since being on a four-game winning streak. In that span, the team has scored just four goals. Most recently, the Blues have dropped back-to-back games in Winnipeg and Calgary to kick off their Western Canadian road trip. They were shutout by the Jets and got outshot 46 to 24, then lost 2-1 last night to Calgary and were outshot 33 to 22.
2. I bet the Philadelphia Flyers would like a do over on the trade they pulled with the Blues at last summer’s NHL draft. Philly sent Brayden Schenn to the Blues for Jori Lehtera, the No. 27 pick in the 2017 draft, and a conditional 2018 pick. Lehtera is on the trading block in Philadelphia and only had two points in 18 games, while Schenn leads the Blues in scoring 39 points in 36 games. Philadelphia apparently dealt Schenn because they wanted to open a spot on the roster for No. 2 pick Nolan Patrick, but this deal has certainly ended up favouring St. Louis.
3. The Blues rank sixth in the league in goals against this season. Jake Allen has been decent, owning a .911 save percentage in 29 games, and backup Carter Hutton has been fantastic, owning a .948 save percentage in nine games. But the biggest reason for St. Louis success at keeping the puck out of the net has been their defensive structure. The team ranks first in the NHL in expected goals against per 60 minutes based on shot volume and they’re one of the league’s best at suppressing shot attempts. This goes all the way back to last season when they fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and replaced him with Mike Yeo and suddenly the team’s save percentage increased dramatically. They went 24-21-5 under Hitchcock and 22-8-2 under Yeo, and that seems to have translated into 2017-18.
4. Don’t let the Blues score first. They’re almost unbeatable when that happens. When St. Louis scores the first goal, the team is 16-1-4. When they come out of the first period with a lead? The Blues are 11-0-1. This ties into the above point that the Blues are excellent at shutting the other team down with their rock solid defence.
5. While the Blues are one of the NHL’s better offensive clubs, their attack is fairly one-dimensional. Of the 106 goals the team has scored in all situations this season, the line of Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz has 46 of them. Paul Stastny is the team’s next-highest scoring forward with seven goals. That line obviously isn’t easy to contain, but you can shut them down, the Blues are going to have a difficult time scoring goals.
6. Last season, the Oilers dominated the matchup, winning all four games against St. Louis. In those four games, the Blues only managed five goals. But this year’s Blues team is different than last year’s. The last time the Blues and Oilers met, St. Louis laid a thumping, beating Edmonton 8-3. A few days earlier, the Blues beat the Oilers 4-1 in Edmonton. While I wouldn’t say St. Louis is one of those teams the Oilers have to beat because this isn’t a four-point game, the Oilers are built to beat Western Conference teams and should fare better against the Blues than we’ve seen thus far.
7. The Blues have had 131 power play opportunities, which ranks third in the NHL this season. Despite the amount of chances they’ve had, St. Louis has a mediocre power play. They convert on 16.8 per cent of their chances, which puts them just below Edmonton in 24th in the NHL. I find that a little surprising considering the talent of Schenn, Tarasenko, and Schwartz, but I’m guessing the Blues are missing Kevin Shattenkirk’s offence from the point. Last season, the team had a top-10 power play and Shattenkirk put up 20 points on the man advantage before getting dealt. This year, while the Blues have an excellent blueline on the defensive side of the puck, St. Louis doesn’t have a true power play quarterback like Shattenkirk.
What if, despite Chiarelli's meddling, the Oilers are still good. pic.twitter.com/VBAHiwyJwx— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) December 21, 2017
8. Since the Oilers split Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, the team has started to play much better. They were in a lull for a few weeks before making the shift back on Nov. 26 against the Bruins, and since then, their underlying numbers have dramatically improved and they have a 7-4-0 record. That’s about the pace they’ll have to operate at in order to climb back into the playoffs in the latter half of the season.
9. Cam Talbot was excellent in his first game back from injury, stopping 29 of 31 shots against the Minnesota Wild, but he looked shaky last game against San Jose, stopping 18 of 21 shots in the win. The Oilers badly need Talbot to be as good as he was last season in order for the team to climb up the standings.
10. Tonight will mark Andrej Sekera’s return to the lineup. The Oilers have badly missed Sekera’s calming presence on the blueline and it’s great that he’s back. The team will ease Sekera back into the lineup, as he’ll start with Matt Benning on the third pairing. I think Kris Russell is excited for Sekera to return, as the two were a very effective pairing last season.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Day, 12/21/2017 – 2:00pm MST