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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Game Day Quick Hits: Oilers vs. Sabres

The 30th place Buffalo Sabres did the Oilers a favour last night defeating the Calgary Flames 2-1 in overtime. The Oilers slim playoff hopes need all the help they can get, and Calgary only picking up one point is a small benefit. Now the Oilers must ensure they pick up two points against the Sabres tonight and then defeat the Flames on Thursday.

1. My main issue with the Oilers powerplay is that they don’t practice anything new. Yesterday when they practiced the PP, it was the same as what we see in games. Move the puck around, then push it down to either Lucic or Maroon and they try to spin and slam it home from in close. The Oilers PP is the worst in the NHL since November 20th at only 10%. They have seven goals in 70 opportunities — that’s seven powerplay goals in 27 games. The lack of creativity is astonishingly disappointing. I blame that on the coaches. Practice some different plays. I also blame the players for their refusal to shoot. I’m not talking about shots from the point, because often the lane is closed, but from other areas players have open looks and won’t try a shot.

2. But mainly the lack of PP success falls on the coaches. Most former players and former coaches I’ve spoke to believe much of the PP success comes from coaching. Sure, the players have to have the skill to ad lib, but the structure comes from the coaches and the Oilers PP has been sinking for two months. In the first 20 games the PP was 21.2%, but it is only 10% over the past 27 games. This is inexcusable.

3. I’d hope the coaches ask Paul Coffey for his opinion. He played 21 NHL seasons, only seven in Edmonton, and had stops in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Los Angeles and others. He has been a part of many good powerplays. He likely will see something they aren’t. The staff shouldn’t wait for him to get comfortable. Ask him now what he saw on Saturday versus Vancouver, or any suggestions on what they should change, because what they are doing isn’t working.

4. The Oilers have the worst special teams in the NHL, and it isn’t close. The PP is 15.1% and the PK is 72.7%. Teams strive to have both units total 100%, and winning teams are usually above 103%. The Oilers are 87.8.%. They are the only team in the league under 90%. Their special teams aren’t just bad, they are downright atrocious.

5. Here is the total for the other teams.

Pittsburgh 109.1%
Winnipeg 106.9%
San Jose 106.8%
Colorado 105.8%
Nashville 105.7%
Los Angeles 105.3%
Boston 104.6%
New Jersey 104.4%
Tampa Bay 104.2%
Toronto 104.2%
Minnesota 103.1%
Dallas 101.8%
NYR 101.7%
Anaheim 99.7%
Washington 99.3%
Vancouver 99.2%
Vegas 98.9%
Calgary 98.7%
Detroit 98.5%
Chicago 97.3%
Montreal 97.2%
St.Louis 97.1%
Florida 96.8%
Arizona 96.7%
Carolina 96.3%
Philadelphia 95%
NYI 94.1%
Columbus 92.5%
Buffalo 92%
Ottawa 90.2%
Edmonton 87.8%

The Oilers are either an outlier, or their special teams are simply brutal. Discuss.

6.The Penguins special teams are saving their season. The Pens are 30th in 5×5 goals with 72, only Buffalo has fewer at 67. They’ve allowed the third most 5×5 goals at 108. They are -36 at 5×5. It’s a stunning stat.

7. I don’t love +/-, but when a player on a losing team is +17 and plays 21 minutes/game against a lot of tougher competition, it stands out. Darnell Nurse is +17 for the Oilers. That is sixth best among D-men in the entire league. He has taken big steps in many areas of his game. He is tied with PK Subban at 18th overall in EV points with 18. He has played 846 minutes at 5×5 and only 279 of them with Connor McDavid, so you can’t say he is piggybacking off of #97. In what has been a very disappointing season Nurse has emerged as one of the few bright spots.

8. I’m curious to see how Nurse works on the PP. I don’t think he will solve the problems, because I see it more of a systematic issue now than personnel. He does have oodles of confidence handling and shooting the puck, so that might help, but I’m more interested to see how he works while not flying in on the rush, or coming in late. His play on the powerplay play, often stationary or walking the blueline, is much different than how he plays at even strength. If he starts to show he can excel on the PP, up high, moving the puck, shooting it and walking the line, then he could move into the conversation as a legitimate #1 defenceman at some point down the road.

8. The Sabres have one won two games in a row once this season, defeating Boston and Detroit on October 21st and 24th. The Oilers must avoid a let down against the 30th place Sabres.

9. Todd McLellan pointed out Connor McDavid has been really good early in games recently, which has helped spark the team. TSN’s Ryan Rishaugh asked McDavid if he is happy where his game is at recently and if he’s hit another gear. “Yes and no. I feel like I’m doing a good job creating chances, keeping my feet moving and making plays, but I’d like to have better finish around the net and capitalize on these chances.” McDavid is tied for 10th in league scoring and 10th in points-per-game. He is ultra-competitive and feels he isn’t doing enough. I’m curious to see if we see him shooting more rather than passing as much with many of his passes not resulting in goals. He wants to be the best, and lead the league in scoring, and I sense he is due for a big game not just creating chances, but finishing. I didn’t the sense he is frustrated at all, but driven to be where he feels he should be, near or at the top of the NHL scoring race.

10. For the first time since the 1960s the PHWA is bringing back mid-season voting for awards. Fans can also vote. We will discuss the results here on Friday. You have until Thursday to fill out your ballot. Click here to fill one out. http://bit.ly/fanvotephwa

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Source:  NHL, Official Game Page, 01/20/2018 – 12:30pm MST

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    A bit off topic, but i went the Spokane Chiefs game on the 20th, and i think Yamamoto finally is coming out of his funk. His passes were blazing, and he had the unassisted, end to end OT winner after a great poke-check steal. Forward to 0:55 to see it. It was pretty impressive live. [url=https://youtu.be/rwefKdGmrD4]

  • CMG30

    PK comes down to hard work. Do the Oil have the right players to get it done? PP is a different story. They should have the firepower to get it done so scrutiny needs to fall on the coaching staff.

  • The Future Never Comes

    Agreed Gregor, the PP is largely on the coaches shoulders. They have been reluctant to try anything new, it is just perimeter passing the entire time until Letestu or Looch get a measly chance before it gets iced. Letestu has been a descent soldier for 3 years, but his play has considerably dropped off this year. I am excited to cut ties after the season/trade deadline so we can move on from planting him on the special teams regardless of results.

  • TKB2677

    It’s pretty simple in my mind. It all comes down to McDavid. When McDavid decides to be a little more selfish in his game and shoot the puck, the Oilers PP and their fortunes will be better. I know McDavid likes to pass to others and I know because he is so good, he can make passes to guys that most others can’t but all teams know that. So they back off from him and give him space. McDavid passes up WAY TOO MANY prime scoring chances to try and set up guys. McDavid has 15 goals in 47 games. That isn’t even a 30 goal pace. There is no reason with his combination of super speed, skill, hands and shot that McDavid shouldn’t be a 35+ goal guy. That’s on him.

  • OilCan2

    PP + PK @ 87.8% yikes if the special teams coaches were getting paid by their performance they would be living at home with their Mom & Dad.

    Vegas got to cherry pick every team in the league for talent and the Oilers got to keep two skaters and a goalie coming into the NHL. Hmmm. Just saying.

    Nurse is legit as a #1 D man. Sign him long with a NMC. Draft first round on the blue line for the next 5 years.

  • Consultant

    The worst thing to watch right now on the PP is when they finally get a cross ice pass through but then the receiving player is on his non-shooting side. It really is the worst PP we’ve seen in years. If our special teams was even just average this year we are likely in or close to a playoff spot.

  • Derian Hatcher

    “Todd McLellan pointed out Connor McDavid has been really good early in games recently, which has helped spark the team.”

    Then why not START HIM EVERY SINGLE GAME ?? Seems like a no brainer but what the heck do I know?

  • Svart kaffe

    I don’t get why the PP is so static. It’s like they collectively take off their skates before hitting the ice with the man advantage. Use them!

    And not to be a downer, but career years and contract years often coincide. I hope Nurse is above that.

    • puckle-head

      Always a concern, but a big reason for that is when guys are hitting their RFA or UFA status they’re between 21 and 25 years old, and in their offensive prime. But D-men bloom a little later typically, so that’s a much smaller concern for a player like Nurse methinks. Especially since he might have some untapped offensive abilities to bring to the table.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Oilers special teams are the reason for this lost season. Unacceptable when they have one of the best players in the game on the team. That’s on the coaches. Jesse needs some PP time. Also Nurse. Get Mark L. off of there.

    • Crazy Pedestrian

      Don’t know much about Girgensons. I see that he hasn’t put up many points in any given year, but that doesn’t really tell you a lot about how well the player can really play if he plays on a terrible team. How are his boots? Does he play a smart game?

  • BobbyCanuck

    but I’d like to have better finish around the net and capitalize on these chances.” McDavid

    Uhmmm…Connie, you do realize to finish means actually taking a shot at net, something you have proven you are not interested in doing

  • HOCKEY83

    With 35 games left and McDavid only 8 points out of the league lead only a moron would bet against him winning. Gauranteed gaudreau will not be ahead of him by the end of the season with his giant 2 point lead right now.