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Photo Credit: © Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 64.0: Breaking the streak (7pm MST, SNW)

The Oilers haven’t defeated the Nashville Predators in almost four years. Their last victory was when they won 5-1 on March 18th, 2014, in Edmonton. Since then they’ve lost eleven straight, have been outscored 33-13, were shut out four times and only scored more than two goals once.

The Predators have been a nightmare matchup for the Oilers and it won’t be any easier tonight, with the Predators sitting in first place in the Western Conference with 87 points. The Oilers will have changes on the blueline, but don’t expect any on the Oilers top line.

Todd McLellan was asked many questions about Milan Lucic this morning.

“He is a crucial piece for us. He is a long-term Oiler, and in these last 19 games he has to get back to where he feels good about himself and gets some confidence,” said McLellan.

Is it fair to keep playing him if he isn’t producing?

“We’ve done the other (limiting ice time). You will recall a few weeks ago who he was playing with, the powerplay time and missing a few shifts, and I think that led to greater frustration for him, which probably put him further in the hole. We have done that.

“We are missing some players. We are missing Patty Maroon’s size on Connor’s line and right now Looch will get that opportunity and we hope he takes full advantage of that and gets his game up and running. We have priority players that we are looking at right now and he is one of them at the top of the list to get going,” said McLellan.

Lucic has five years remaining on his contract and the Oilers can’t afford to have him floundering on the third line. It is a tough balancing act as a coach. McLellan obviously wants him to play better, and he tried motivating him with reduced minutes and situations. Now he’ll try to motivate him by playing with McDavid. There aren’t many other options. McLellan is trying supportive love right now, but it might morph into tough love if Lucic’s play doesn’t improve.

McLellan didn’t sign Lucic to a seven-year deal, but he is responsible for trying to get him going. Not a great situation, but Lucic also needs to carry much of the responsibilities. He isn’t suddenly this bad, considering he had 26 points in 36 games before Christmas, but lately he can’t score and his puck decisions have been less than smart.

I’m not oblivious to the reality of the situation. Lucic is signed for five more years at $6 million a year and he isn’t going anywhere. So they will try to work with him. But if he plays like this next year, McLellan will have no choice but to demote him to the bottom six until he proves he deserves to be in the top-six on a nightly basis.

Peter Chiarelli and Lucic need to recognize this as well. You can see Lucic’s frustration. It is obvious. Anyone in his situation would feel the same way, but the reality of the NHL is Lucic is the only one who can change it. It doesn’t matter who McLellan plays him with. Of course playing with McDavid will lead to more scoring chances, but Lucic has to bury them. He also needs to play smarter and make better and quicker decisions.

The scoring slump is the hot topic, and rightfully so, but Lucic needs to recognize his lack of goals isn’t the only deficiency in his game right now. He might not be able to score, but he can control where and how he passes the puck. With so much of an onus on puck possession and passing in today’s game, Lucic needs to do whatever it takes, the rest of this season, or more likely in the summer, to ensure when he comes to camp next year his time as a pastry chef is over. He needs to eliminate the turnovers.

One final note on his slump. No question it is frustrating for him and Oilersnation. I don’t think he just lost his hands over Christmas, before which he had 26 points in 36 games. Now he can’t score on a wide open net, illustrated by hitting the goal post in San Jose, but he’s had bad stretches before. Last season he had one goal in 23 games. In the lockout 2013 season, he only had seven goals in 46 games. He bounced back with 24 goals and 59 points the next year.

The Oilers organization is hopeful he can do it again. They can’t buy him out and it would seem odd to see a player’s skill diminish this quickly, so due to his contract right now, the best option is to try and support him and hope he rewards them with better play. If it doesn’t happen, then a contract that I and many of you questioned, due to the length of it in the summer of 2016, will become an even bigger issue for the Oilers.

LINEUP

Oilers

Lucic-McDavid-Slepyshev
Cammalleri-Draisaitl-Rattie/Kassian
Puljujarvi-Strome-Aberg
Caggiula-Khaira-Pakarinen

Nurse-Russell
Klefbom-Benning
Sekera-Bear

Talbot

Adam Larsson went home to Sweden to attend his father’s funeral, so Ethan Bear will make his NHL debut. His new teammates were ribbing him this morning on the ice, trying to loosen him up. “Don’t worry about it, you’ve only worked 20 years to get here,” they said to Bear on the ice this morning. Understandably, he was all smiles. Making your NHL debut is a massive accomplishment. Good for him and his family.

Kassian skated this morning, but he was out longer than usual so we won’t know if he is in until puck drop.

Predators

Forsberg-Johansen-Hartman
Fiala-Turris-Smith
Hartnell-Bonino-Jarnkrok
Watson-Scissons-Arvidsson

Josi-Ellis
Ekholm-Subban
Emelin-Weber

Rinne

Arvidsson leads the Predators with 22 goals, but skated with Scissons and Watson today. He has played 770 EV minutes this year and 628 has been with Johansen. He played on the top line in Winnipeg on Tuesday, and Laviolette has run lines in the morning that he never used at night. I’d be surprised to see Arvidsson away from Johansen for any extended time. Laviolette loves how Arvidsson plays.

My one concern about the Predators come playoff time is if they have a dominant scorer. Forsberg can light it up at times, same with Johansen and Arvidsson. It didn’t hurt them last year, at least until the Cup Finals, and it might be nitpicking on my part, but lacking a consistent elite point-producer is their only potential weakness.

The Preds are getting scoring from everywhere. All 12 forwards have a goal in the last eight games. Filip Forsberg has the longest goal drought among forwards, and that is only seven games. Every other forward in tonight’s lineup has scored at least one goal in their last three games. That is balanced scoring.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Preds are very good and deep. Oilers lose 4-2.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid quest for 20 goals in 20 games continues as he scores again.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Only six Oilers in tonight’s lineup have scored a goal against Nashville: Russell, Cammalleri, Lucic, McDavid, Draisaitl and Pakarinen. None of the other 12 skaters get their first goal against Nashville, but Lucic finally ends his goal drought.

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  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    I hope I’m wrong, but the Lucic signing is a disaster for the Oilers. He had an okay year last year, but he was brought in to ride shotgun on Connor’s wing and Maroon took that job away from him. His play is only going to decline from here. His best days have passed him by. I’m just gutted at the mismanagement of assets and bad contracts that has occurred in the Chiarelli era. It all seemed to work out last year, but instead of working hard to make the team even better this season, Chia gambled by downgrading in one too many areas and leaning to heavily on McDavid and Drai to carry this team and ignoring the deficiencies of the supporting cast. We need great players to play with our two stars, not counting on them making the players around them better. What a disaster.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I don’t know, to my eye he’s either injured or been told to take the edge off & not take penalties. Maybe because of the dismal PK? I don’t know but Lucic play’s way better with an edge. When he plods down the ice to stand by the net. Most importantly he looks on his game when he is standing up for his team mates. The way he didn’t treat Kane last game tells me that McClellan has asked him to settle down or he is not feeling right?
      Comon’ Looch, show some heart. He’s never played like this ever, even with the Giants for extended periods.
      Do what you were brought here for.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          McLellan’s coaching & staff is driving us backwards.
          Why doesn’t he try Montoya with McDavid and Pully?
          With Lucic, Centering Talbot and Strome on the 2nd line?
          Give Cammilari a shot in net?
          That’ll get em going?

  • godot10

    Phil Kessel won his first Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh as a 3rd line winger for Pittsburgh, and and a 2nd as a middle six winger for Pittsburgh, splitting time between the 2nd and 3rd lines, killing it in the softer minutes.

    If Phil Kessel is willing to play down the roster, why can’t Lucic play down there, and try dominating those minutes for the Oilers as Kessel does for Pittsburgh.

    Nick Bonino was good enough for Kessel as a centre. Why not Ryan Strome and 3rd line minutes and role for Lucic.

    • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

      Because Looch is playing like 💩 right now and coach is counting on Connor to feed him an easy pass for a tap-in goal so he can get his confidence back, I guess.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Because Pittsburgh has a little bit more talent to choose from between Kessel & Crosby maybe?
      But UR right. An earlier article spoke of Nuge to McD’s LW, Drai second centre. I would put Pulluarvi up with Drai & Lucic/Strome/Kassian on the 3rd line.

    • Hemmercules

      Sounds like Looch got a little down in the dumps when they cut his ice time. He should be welcoming third line minutes right now, he could be upstairs eating popcorn instead. I agree though, next season thats where he should be with better wingers playing above him on the top 2 lines. Fortunately for the Pens they have the depth and role players to fill in the spots around their top 3 guys. The Oilers top 9 without Maroon and Nuge isn’t all that attractive.

  • GK1980

    Just heard Pontus interview. So a reporter asked how his first game went and the first thing he said was “well we lost”. New guy gets it but soon he will get used to losing. First thing he will soon start to say as the losses pile up will be “well we had a pretty good effort”.

  • Leo Tard

    Tmacs systems will get ripped into pieces tonight. Prediction: 5-1 Preds. Not so obvious prediction: Kris Russel blocks a shot then takes a massive hit. Lucic moves faster than he ever has, and gets to the bench, hides behind the coach, and makes funny noises while putting his thumbs in his ears and waving with the other parts of his hands.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Looch isn’t and wasn’t the only slumper in the team. The list is long. Why so many guys not able to score that have always scored? To me it’s obvious…we have a very poor system and that’s coaching baby! Let TMac wear the goat horns he deserves them. He is the common denominator…him and Woodcroft!

  • The Future Never Comes

    My thought is that Lucic hears so much about the “new NHL”/ “faster league” discourse and it’s got in his head. He has veered away from how and why he is in the NHL. Make massive hits, add in 5-6 fights a year, and plant yourself in front of the net and power home rebound chances. If he wants out of this drought he needs to quit feeling sorry for himself and will his way out of it with some heightened passion. Get emotionally engaged, that’s his bread and butter for good things happening as a consequence. He’s gotten away from that, hence 27 games with a bagel.

    • slats-west

      Your right. He’s a POWER forward who is playing like a peripheral player. Get to the net and clear some space. Bang in any rebound, set a pick out there and beat the crap out of anyone close to McD. Easy game plan for you.

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    So…. the Oilers are dead last in BOTH PP% and PK% (Preds are top 5 in both).

    So…. why do Woodcroft (PP) & Johnson (PK) still have jobs?

    A November 19, 2016 Edmonton Journal article was bashing the coaches. Why the Loooooonnnnng leash?

  • Fire Woodcroft!

    Looks like Katz is trying to make up for slumping ticket sales with increased advertising revenue… what the hell is that giant banner doing on the glass above the visitors net?

    If I had paid for seats in the sections behind the net I’d be pretty choked…

  • Fire Woodcroft!

    I’m still trying to understand what just happened…

    Was that… did the Oilers just score a power-play goal?!

    Nah… Couldn’t be. Must be dreaming again.

  • oilfan4ever

    Our leader Todd did it again. Close game, 10 seconds to go in the second, We better put out our dman who is playing his first NHL game. How many late and early goals does this team have to give up before the blame falls where it belongs???

  • grumpyKoala

    Bettman. I ratter not talk about just one player.. Oh but you couldn’t sush for life raving about Crosby 5 year ago. Our refs do an amazing job. Its a difficult game to officiate repeat repeat repeat.

    There is litteraly one ref for every 4 player on ice. Have you ever seen what a classroom or a kindergarten look like.

    End rant. Am sorry

  • WHH

    if Sekera stops that pass there is no goal. Stay on your feet or make sure the puck doesn’t go under you, but you’ve got to stop the pass. Help the rookie out.

  • GK1980

    5 minutes left and all I thought was “ready to get disappointed” and then they score. Didn’t think that last season that often. You get up 2-0, good teams win those games. This team is fragile. Probably deserved better but Pekka made some saves for them and Talbot didn’t for the oil. Story of the year.