The Edmonton Oilers are 2-0 against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas is 37-14-3 against the rest of the NHL, while the Oilers are 21-28-4 against everyone else. Most expected the Oilers to be a playoff team, while most expected Vegas to play like an expansion team, but with 27 games remaining Vegas leads the Western Conference, while the Oilers sit in 27th place.
The Oilers look like the expansion team, while the Golden Knights are the surprise of the NHL and are showing no signs of slowing down.
We’ve been waiting for the Knights to slow down, but they haven’t let up, even when they were down to their fourth-string goalie.
They went 8-2 in their first ten games.
Went 5-4-1 in their next ten.
Were 6-3-1 in games 21-30.
Then went 9-1 in their next ten.
Then 6-2-2 in games 40-50.
And they are 3-3 in the first six games of this ten-game stretch.
Compare that to the Oilers season.
They started 3-6-1 over the first ten games.
Then went 4-5-1.
Followed that up by going 5-5.
Then went 5-4-1 in games 30-40.
Were the same 5-4-1 in the next ten.
And they are 1-4 through five games of this ten-game stretch.
Vegas has been consistently good, while the Oilers have been consistently below average. They started poorly, 3-6-1, then went 19-18-3 over their next forty, and have struggled again.
Does Vegas have that much more talent than the Oilers? I’d argue they don’t, but they got off to a good start and have ridden the momentum, and played extremely well along the way.
Vegas plays faster than the Oilers. Are they a faster team? Not really.
David Perron is not considered fast or even quick, but he’s having a career year in Vegas. He has 37 assists in 50 games. His previous best was 35 assists as a 20-year-old sophomore in St.Louis, over 81 games. He isn’t any quicker than he used to be, but he’s oozing confidence and his speed isn’t a factor, because Vegas moves the puck quickly all over the ice.
All the talk about the Oilers being slow is a bit misguided in my eyes. The majority of their team can skate well, but the Oilers don’t move the puck quickly. They hold on an extra half second. Vegas doesn’t hesitate. They move it quickly and they attack well with and without the puck. Watch how often the Oilers pass the puck sideways instead of up the ice, especially in their own zone.
The Oilers, with much of the same team, attacked much quicker last season. Their puck movement on the PP was much quicker and sharper. The Oilers aren’t playing as fast as they did last year at 5×5 or on the PP. They don’t move the puck as effectively. Compare how Vegas moves the puck to the Oilers. They move it up ice quickly, and a player like Perron, who is about the same skater as Lucic, is flourishing. Skating is only one aspect, but Lucic has hit the ditch since Christmas. He spoke about his struggles yesterday.
Of course their special teams have been the main downfall. The PK was bad last season, too. Since November 7th, 2016, the Oilers have played 124 NHL games. Their PK is 75.1%. This has been an issue for almost two full seasons. Don’t get distracted by the home/away percentage this season. Their overall total is what matters and it has been the worst in the NHL for 124 games, and is showing no signs of improvement.
The systems they have tried haven’t worked. It doesn’t mean the system is bad, but the players they are utilizing can’t successfully execute it. I think it is fair to say they have a lot of inexperienced penalty killers, and that is a factor, but if what you are doing isn’t working, you have to adjust. They had experienced killers last year, but the PK was only 78.8% in the final 68 games, so it wasn’t working then, either.
The PK has to be addressed in the off-season.
But the Oilers ability to play fast should be worked on now. It needs to improve. I do believe a portion of it is due to confidence. You can ride a wave of positivity, just like you can get bogged down in a negative one. Vegas is playing great and has all season, and a part of that is due to confidence and the constant positive energy around their team. The Oilers had that last season, but now it’s gone.
Could these teams be in reversed roles next year? It is possible, especially because in today’s NHL, where parity reigns, confidence and riding a wave of momentum can boost teams up quickly, or wash them out. We’ve seen massive changes this year from last.
Chicago had 109 points, Edmonton and Montreal had 103 and Ottawa had 98. They are all now in the bottom eight of the NHL and are 12, 16, 12 and 16 points out of the playoff race today. They’ve plummeted down the standings, while teams like Colorado, New Jersey and Vegas have made big strides or been a major surprise.
Colorado, NJ and Vegas play fast. They move the puck quickly. The Oilers don’t and that, more than the notion of speed, is a big reason why they are tied for 27th place in the NHL.
The Oilers practiced with those lines on Wednesday before flying out. I wouldn’t put too much stock in them. We have seen guys demoted and promoted in game the past three or four games. If you are going early, you will play. I’m guessing Cammalleri is higher in the lineup with the hope a team will want to acquire him for a fifth round pick or something. Once the trade deadline passes, I think you will see Slepyshev’s ice time increase. He was rotating in on the second PP unit at practice and with points in three of his last four games, it looks like he has finally caught up to the the pace of play. His ankle injury in August derailed his season. He missed training camp and preseason and hasn’t looked comfortable until recently. I would have sent him to the AHL in November to get some confidence. It doesn’t matter much now, but the final 27 games are important for young players like Slepyshev, Khaira, Caggiula and Puljujarvi. They need to keep gaining confidence and prove they can be consistent NHLers.
I liked what Slepyshev had to say today about his play. “I was thinking too much, I think. Now if I have a chance to play I just try to enjoy it and play the game,” he said. It is amazing how at times the mind can be a negative asset. He has looked much better recently, and when he uses his shot you wonder just how much he could progress. Could be become a regular 15-18 goal scorer? Becoming that would be a huge boost for the Oilers moving forward, especially because he is a right winger.
Vegas has seven players with 31 or more points — their top-two lines and Miller on defence. Erik Haula leads them with 14 PP points, which is tied for 56th in the NHL, but they have five players in the top 110 in PP scoring. The Oilers have one in the top 178 in PP scoring. McDavid has 14 points, while Nugent-Hopkins has seven and is tied for 179th. The Oilers special teams have been so bad. It is amazing the more you dig into their numbers.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Some stats you can’t explain. The Oilers remain undefeated against the dominant Golden Knights, winning 4-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nine players in tonight’s Oilers lineup are averaging at least one point-per-game in their career versus Vegas. Of course it is only two games, but after tonight at least five will maintain their PPG average. In case you’re wondering, Auvitu (one game), Nurse, Klefbom, Letestu, Caggiula, Khaira, Maroon, Draisaitl and McDavid are the nine heading into the game. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also has two points in two games, but he’s not dressed.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Yesterday some Vegas players were learning how to fly and juggle with Cirque du Soleil. Noted former tough guy Deryk Engelland continues his role reversal. He picks up his 18th point of the season, setting a new career high in points, while also maintaining his career low in penalty minutes with 18. I pretty much guarantee no one thought Engelland would have as many points as penalty minutes 56 games into the season.
Take home a growler, a crowler, a sixer, a mixer, whatever. Sherbrooke Liquor. Where’s Your Beer?
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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 02/15/2018 – 1:00pm MST