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.
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.
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.
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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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 3/01/2018 – 2:00pm MST