The Edmonton Oilers are set to host the Winnipeg Jets in a New Year’s Eve game as they look to end the rollercoaster year of 2017 on a positive note. Here are your game day notes.
1. The Jets are enjoying their best season in franchise history, dating back to their days in Atlanta. They currently own a 22-11-6 record and a .641 points percentage, putting them on pace for 105 points. Their best-ever total came in 2014-15 when they put up 99 points and made the playoffs for the first time since relocating north of the border.
2. A major key to Winnipeg’s success has been a potent offensive attack. They have five different players with at least 10 goals, Patrik Laine, Nik Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and Blake Wheeler. They’re right in the middle of the pack in even strength expected goals for percentage based on shot volume, but they’re overachieving that number largely due to the immense amount of shooting skill on their roster.
3. Winnipeg’s offence also gets a major boost from the team’s power play. The team is scoring on 23.24 per cent of its power play opportunities, which ranks fourth in the league behind only Tampa Bay, Nashville, and Pittsburgh. Patrik Laine is the team’s big weapon on the power play. He finds open space around the top of the circle and fires Alex Ovechkin-esque rockets on net from his wheelhouse.
4. While there’s a lot of good things to say about Winnipeg’s offence, losing Mark Scheifele to injury is a huge blow. In Wednesday’s win over the Oilers in Winnipeg, Scheifele suffered an upper-body injury and won’t return for six-to-eight weeks. Right now, the Jets are filling his role as the first line centre with Blake Wheeler, who’s usually on the wing. Then, on the power play, bottom-six forward Adam Lowry has stepped in as the team’s first unit pivot. In their first game without Scheifele, the Jets took down the Islanders 4-2. Like I said, losing Scheifele is difficult, but the Jets boast a lot of depth up front.
5. Another reason for Winnipeg’s success that shouldn’t go unnoticed has been Connor Hellebuyck’s breakout season in net. The Jets inked Steve Mason to a two-year contract in the off-season, but Hellebuyck has taken control of the net and ran with it. He owns a .921 save percentage in 31 games played, which is the best performance in net the Jets have seen since Ondrej Pavelec posted a .920 save percentage in 2014-15.
6. After winning four games in a row before Christmas, their longest winning streak of the season, the Oilers have dropped back-to-back games. They lost 4-3 to Winnipeg in a game in which the Jets outshot them 39-25, then they battled back to force overtime against Chicago before losing 4-3. The Oilers now sit 13th in the Western Conference six points out of the final wild card spot. They have to climb over a lot of teams to work their way back into it, so there’s virtually no room for error.
At this point last year:
Oilers PP: 21.2% (8th)
Oilers PK: 82.0% (12th)
Standings: 5th in West
Oilers PP: 16.7 (22nd)
Oilers PK: 73.7% (31st)
Standings: 14th in West
If that doesn't tell you how important special teams are to a team's success I don't know what will
— Shane Sander 🏒 (@SanderTHW) December 30, 2017
6. Edmonton’s special teams have continued to drag the team down. While the Oilers are playing well at even strength (they own the league’s third-best shot differential at even strength), their mediocre power play and brutal penalty kill largely erase that. Scoring goals on the man advantage was a strength of the team last season, but it hasn’t been this year. The penalty kill has been nothing short of a disaster as the team is allowing a power play goal in roughly one of every four opportunities. It was a major game changer in Friday’s game against Chicago as the Oilers played very well at even strength but gave up two goals on three man advantages.
7. Since being recalled from the AHL, Jesse Puljujarvi has posted eight goals in 21 games. That’s 31 goals over an 82-game pace. He doesn’t turn 20 years old until May. While last season was a struggle for Puljujarvi and many questioned whether the Oilers should have selected Clayton Keller or Matt Tkachuk with the No. 4 overall pick in 2016, it was only two years ago that the big Finn scored a historically-good 17 points in seven games for Finland at the World Juniors.
8. Scoring first is going to be a key in this game. The Jets are damn near unbeatable when they score first, owning a 17-1-4 record. The Oilers are also pretty good when carrying the first lead, owning a 10-4-2 record. The Jets are also 11-1-1 if they have a lead coming out of the first period, while the Oilers are 9-1 when leading after 20 minutes. Scoring first is important.
9. The Jets are a dominant team when playing in Winnipeg, but on the road they boast a good-but-not-great 8-8-5 record. The Oilers haven’t been good at home, owning a 8-10-1 record at Rogers Arena, but have been better recently. Before the loss in overtime to Chicago, Edmonton had won three games in a row at home.
10. If the Oilers win tonight, they’ll be at .500 heading into the New Year. I mean, not really .500 because of the overtime losses, but they’ll have an 18-18-3 record which, to many, is .500. I think in the middle of November when things looked like pure doom, we all would have taken a .500 record heading into 2018. Hopefully the Oilers can win this one and get something going in the New Year.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/31/2017 – 9:00am MST