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Photo Credit: © Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Game Day Quick Hits: Oilers vs. Avalanche

The Oilers are finally back in action after a three-day All-Star break followed by three practices. They had an odd schedule in January, playing only three games between January 14th to 31st, but they should be well rested when they face the Colorado Avalanche tonight.

The Avalanche will likely be without their leading scorer, Nathan MacKinnon, who injured his left shoulder in Vancouver on Tuesday in the second period and didn’t return. MacKinnon leads the Avs with 61 points and his second in NHL scoring. Losing him for any extended period of time would crush their playoff chances, but head coach Jared Bednar said yesterday they are confident it won’t be long-term. (At noon Bednar confirmed MacKinnon is out 2-4 weeks). Cam Talbot is sick and very doubtful to start tonight for the Oilers.

1. The Oilers need to play exceptionally well in their final 33 games to even have a hope of the playoffs, and they will need a lot of help from other teams. The MacKinnon injury would be a massive blow for the Avs, but it would help the Oilers as they have to leapfrog five teams to make the playoffs. The Oilers have to win in regulation against teams they are chasing, and without MacKinnon the Avalanche aren’t nearly as dangerous. I had him first on my Hart ballot for the mid-season awards. He’s been unreal for the Avs. Colorado could rally for a few games without him, but if he is out long-term I don’t see them keeping pace in the west.

2. Yes, the schedule is odd for the Oilers, going from three games in 18 days to playing 33 games in the final 66 days of the season, but the final 66 days aren’t much different than most teams in the NHL. Twenty-four teams will play 32-34 games between now and April 8th.

34 games: Nashville, Ottawa, Florida and Boston. (Florida and Boston play on April 8th, so they have 34 games in 67 days).
33 games: Vegas, Edmonton, Colorado, New Jersey and Detroit.
32 games: Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose, Arizona, Vancouver, Chicago, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Buffalo, Washington, Columbus, Carolina, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers.
31: Anaheim Dallas and Winnipeg.
30: St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Toronto and the New York Islanders.

The Oilers don’t have a more difficult schedule than most teams. If they don’t play well down the stretch it has nothing to do with the schedule. In fact, they should be one of the most rested teams heading into February.

3. Did you know over the past five games Oilers fans witnessed something they hadn’t seen in 12 years? Do you know what it is? Answer at the bottom.

4. The Avalanche can score, so even without MacKinnon the Oilers need to be alert defensively. The Avs are fifth in the NHL in goals scored with 159 in 49 games. They scored 165 goals last season. Their turnaround has been one of the biggest surprises in the league.

5. The Avalanche made many changes to their roster from last year and it has paid off. They moved out seven forwards: Matt Duchene (18 goals in 77GP), Mikhail Grigorenko (10 G in 75GP), Rene Bourque (12G in 65GP), John Mitchell (3G in 65GP), Joel Colbourne (3G in 62 GP), Jarome Iginla (8G in 61 GP) and Andreas Martinsen (3G in 55GP and three D-men: Francois Beauchemin (5G in 81GP), Fedor Tyutin (1G in 69GP) and Patrick Wiercioch (4G in 57GP). Those three were all in the Avs top-four D-men in games played last season.

6. Their new forwards are Alex Kerfoot (12 goals), JT Compher, Nail Yakupov and Matt Nieto (9 goals), Colin Wilson (4G in 36GP), Sven Andrighetto (6G in 37GP) and rookie Tyson Jost (3G in 32 GP). Nieto was claimed on waivers last season, while Andrighetto was acquired at the trade deadline. Neither was in their top-12 among forwards in GP last year. Outside of new faces their best forwards are playing much better. MacKinnon had 16 goals last season, he already has 24. Gabriel Landeskog had 18 last year, he has 19 now. Mikko Rantanen scored 20 last year and he has 17 already this year. And their other two returning forwards are playing much better as well. Carl Soderberg only had six goals last year, but he already has ten, while Blake Comeau has nine goals in 49 games after scoring eight in 77 last season.

7. On defence they added Patrik Nemeth, Samuel Girard (in trade for Duchene) and Anton Lindholm. Erik Johnson is healthy and playing 25 minutes a night. Tyson Barrie has 28 points in 35 games after only scoring 38 in 75 games last year, while Nikita Zadorov is in shape and playing much better and Mark Barberio, who was also acquired from Montreal last year has improved their third pairing. GM Joe Sakic very quietly changed his lineup, which he had to considering they only had 48 points, but his moves have improved their team.

8. And their goaltending has been much more consistent. Jonathan Bernier has a .917sv% and 2.67GAA in 24 starts, while Semyon Varlamov has a .911 and 2.87 in 25 starts. Varlamov had a .898sv% and 3.38sv% in 23 starts last year while Calvin Pickard had a .904sv% and 2.98GAA in 48 starts. Varlamov has one year left on his $5.9 million contract, and Sakic’s biggest challenge will be to find a starting goalie moving forward. Bernier is only 29 years of age and has a career sv% of .915 and he can be reliable, but Varlamov’s last three seasons suggest it is unlikely he regains his form.

9. Al Montoya will make his first start in goal for the Oilers tonight. It will be his first start since November 4th, and the 132nd of his career. Montoya has made three relief appearances, totaling 120 minutes, essentially two games, and has a .956sv% and a 1.00 GAA. He won in OT in Winnipeg on November 4th and also defeated Ottawa on October 28th. He also picked up a win in Arizona with the Oilers on January 12th, after Cam Talbot was pulled in the first five minutes and Montoya stopped all 19 shots he faced in the Oilers come-from-behind 4-2 victory. He will try to extend his winning streak to four games tonight.

10. Tonight will be Todd McLellan’s 1000th game as an NHL coach. It is his 755th as a head coach and he had 245 as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings. McLellan is 411-286-86 as a head coach. He needs three wins to pass Jack Adams for 32nd all-time in coaching victories.

***Answer for #3: For the first time since 2005/2006 the Oilers have two D-men with multi-goal games. Brandon Davidson did it last Thursday versus the Flames, and Darnell Nurse scored twice versus the Coyotes. In 2005/2006, Chris Pronger had multiple-goal games twice, while Igor Ulanov and Marc-Andre Bergeron each had one. Davidson was also the first Oilers defenseman to score two goals in a game on home ice since Sheldon Souray scored twice versus Tampa Bay on Feb. 24, 2009.

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Source:  Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 02/01/2018 – 9:00am MST