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Photo Credit: © Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Hits Coyotes @ Oilers: Back to the win column

The Edmonton Oilers are 5-10-1 since February 1st. They are showing no signs of improvement. I’ve never bought into the “it is easier to play once you’re out of the playoff race” theory, and the Oilers are proving it. The lack of advancement in any aspect of their team play is the most concerning factor for me. We have seen no tangible upgrades and until they can play more than three consecutive solid games in a row, it is valid to question every aspect of the organization.

The last place Arizona Coyotes are in Edmonton tonight, and despite sitting in 31st place in the NHL, they’ve at least been competitive the past five weeks. The Coyotes are 8-5-1 since the beginning of February and they are showing signs of life. It’s about time the Oilers wake up from their season-long slumber.

1. There is a lot of chatter in Oilersnation about lack of scoring wingers. I’m sure for those who understood the Taylor Hall trade was bad (many of you incorrectly liked it), it is tough to watch him rip it up in New Jersey, but despite his absence, the Oilers’ bigger issues are still in their own end. Only Ottawa and the New York Islanders have allowed more goals. Yes, the horrible PK plays a role, but the Oilers are tied with Chicago for fifth most 5×5 goals allowed. The Oilers are ninth in goals for at 5×5 (were eighth last year) so the important question is why hasn’t this team progressed defensively? They were solid last year, but have plummeted down the rankings again. Is this group not good enough defensively? Is the system or communication of the system by the coaches lacking? Those are the question Peter Chiarelli needs to answer. Moving RNH to the wing can enhance scoring in top-six, but the defensive zone (this is on coaches as well) and puck control of this group has to be addressed.

2. Prior to Saturday’s game versus the Rangers, Todd McLellan said this regarding Ryan Nugent-Hopkins playing the wing.

 “There’s a chance. Nuge played wing for us at the World Cup in Toronto last year, started as a center and moved over to wing when we went down to three lines and he did a good job of it. Quite frankly I haven’t thought that far ahead and once we get him back we’ll see where everybody else is. I like the fact that Ryan Strome is playing well down the middle. He’s played some of his best hockey over the last little bit. JJ Khaira has played quite well down the middle, so maybe we have our three and four centers. We’re pretty sure we have a #1 center in Connor. What are we going to do in that #2 hole?  does Leon go up on the wing? Does Nuge go on the wing? There are some things that we have to contemplate and take into consideration. I do believe that when Nuge does comes back initially, he’ll start where he’s familiar just so he can get his game back.”

He played there on Saturday, but how many more games does he need to get comfortable? He looked fine. Just move him to left wing with McDavid, slot Draisaitl as the 2C and move ahead. Draisaitl is a better centre than RNH, and RNH is the best first line LW option they have. I see no reason to delay moving him there.

3. The move also fixes some other things. It slots Milan Lucic with Draisaitl, which is what we will likely see to start next season. There is no obvious choice for RW1 or RW2 at this point, so try different players there, but at least get some continuity among duos down the stretch.

4. Puljujarvi has had some better looks on the left wing. He is walking into the offensive zone taking the puck to the middle more, so while I didn’t like that move originally, it shows why they tried it. I do like Puljujarvi playing with Strome on the third line, because he won’t face the toughest competition. I’m all for not rushing and force-feeding him tough minutes. I’d rather see Slepyshev there, because he has more experience. I liked moving JP to the third line with Strome, and while I wasn’t in favour of moving him to the left wing, he has actually been more dangerous in the offensive zone there, so I can see why they’d stick with it.

5. I wonder if they feel Puljujarvi-Strome-Slepyshev is best suited as their third line next season. If so, fine, then stick with them, but I’d rather slot Aberg there and put Slepyshev in the top-six. He is a better finisher. On Saturday Aberg came down the right wing, and Alexander Georgiev had left his short-side, top shelf wide open. Aberg’s shot hit him right in the chest. An NHL shooter hits the opening there, and I’ve seen Slepyshev do that more frequently. When he has time and space he hits his spots, and that’s why I’d have him slotted with Draisaitl or McDavid down the stretch.

6. The Oilers powerplay had two third period opportunities to tie the game on Saturday and once again they couldn’t produce a timely goal. The first unit registered one shot in 1:52 of TOI. The second unit had two in 1:16 of TOI. The first unit has not worked all season. At his point, I’d switch out Oscar Klefbom and try Matt Benning, even Ethan Bear, since they are both right shots, but I’d try Benning first. His shot is deceptively hard, but his best asset is he can get pucks through from the blueline. The PP is an ugly 8.8% since January 1st. There has been zero improvement. It’s incredibly predictable.

Former NHLer Nathan Dempsey, who played both PP and PK in his career, said this about the Oilers PP. “I see the same thing over and over. They do a great job moving the puck around the outside, but there is no attack to the net. “Right now they have five guys on the first PP who are unselfish. That doesn’t work. You need someone to be assertive, be selfish and attack. They need to change their mind frame. Keep it simple. Two passes and then attack the net, whether it is from the blueline or on the half wall. Attack the net,” Dempsey said.

7. McDavid has 15 goals in his past 16 games. He had 15 goals in first 49 games this season, (.31 goals per game) and he had 46 goals in his first 127 NHL games (.36 GPG). He is shooting more during his 16-game streak, up to 3.82 shots/game. In his first 176 games before these 16, he averaged 2.8 shots/game. It isn’t a surprise to me, but he is finding ways to become more dangerous.

8. Edmonton resident and Arizona Coyotes defender, Kevin Connauton, is on the best run of his NHL career. The D-man has six goals, all even strength, in his last 14 games. He had six goals in his previous 104 games dating back to the start of the 2015/2016 season. He did have nine goals in 54 games with Columbus in 2015, and he scored 24 goals and 72 points in his only WHL season in Vancouver, when he was 19 years of age. He only played 24 games last season, due to injury, but he has a very good shot and good instincts in the offensive zone. Tonight will be his 244th NHL game and I wonder how many Oilersnation readers know he is from Edmonton. He graduated from St. FX High School and played in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints in his draft year, 2008, but wasn’t selected. He went to Western Michigan in the NCAA when he was 18 and scored seven goals and 18 points as a rookie. He was drafted in the third round by Vancouver in 2009, and then left NCAA and played one year in the WHL, before turning pro and playing in the AHL.

9. In his second AHL season, he was selected to the AHL all-star game and won the hardest shot competition. The next season, lockout shortened, he was traded to Dallas for Derek Roy at the deadline. He made his NHL debut with Dallas in 2013/2014. The next season he was claimed by Columbus on waivers, then the Coyotes claimed him on waivers in January of 2016 and he’s been with the Coyotes ever since. He has been a regular in the Coyotes third pair this season, but he’s seen his minutes increased since February 1st, as he’s enjoying the best offensive stretch of his career. Good for him. He’ll have a loud cheering section at the game tonight.

10. Today, in no particular order, my top-five for the Hart Trophy would be Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov and Taylor Hall. If the wording was about most outstanding player, then McDavid is easily in the top-five, but sadly it isn’t. I’d rather vote on best player in the league, not most valuable to his team, but I digress. Hall and MacKinnon are carrying their respective teams, but if they don’t make the playoffs their case for the Hart will take a big hit. One player who won’t be a Hart finalist, but will be in Vegas for the NHL awards, is Alexsander Barkov in Florida. He could be up for both the Selke and the Lady Byng. He’s had a great season in Florida, and the Panthers are making a charge for the playoffs. They are 12-3 in their last 15 games and are suddenly in ninth place in the east, one point back of Columbus for the second wildcard, and four back of New Jersey, with three games in hand on both clubs. Right now I’d bet on them to make it.

11. Chicago (109), Edmonton and Montreal (103) and the New York Rangers (102) were all in the century club last year and will miss the playoff this season. Ottawa had 98 points, made the conference final, but sits in 29th place this season. St.Louis (99) and Calgary (94) are currently out of the playoffs, while Columbus (108) has a one-point lead on Florida for the final playoff spot. We have never seen eight teams miss the playoffs after making it the season prior. This is also the first season in NHL history we haven’t had a coach fired mid-season, and with eight teams missing the dance and some others still struggling, be prepared for many coaching changes this off-season.

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Source:  Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 03/05/2018 – 10:30 am MST

  • hammer313

    At this point, I have absolutely no idea what the coaches are doing. Lucic, in my opinion, is a wasted position. Watching play Saturday night, he is being excluded from play, because NO ONE, wants to pass to him! Yet, next game, 1st line LW, sick of it and checking out. If this is what the fans have to look forward to for the next few years, I do not know if it will be worth it to me. Too frustrating, change to the organization is warranted this offseason.

  • ubermiguel

    Since you brought it up: “Just in Edmonton, I really didn’t want to talk to coaches. I didn’t really want to have dialogue with coaches.” Some decisions involve more than what happens on the ice.

    did: “I’m sure for those who understood the Taylor Hall trade was bad (many of you incorrectly liked it)…”.

      • Rock11

        Because some opinions are just plain wrong. People have opinions that are not based in fact or reality and as such they are wrong. Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving believes the world is flat. This is his opinion. It is wrong. Taylor Hall is a much, much better player than Adam Larsson. This is fact. Trading Hall for Larsson one for one was a bad trade and anyone believing it wasn’t is wrong.

        • Romance14

          You are missing the context here. I can say “I liked the Hall trade.” This is not wrong. It is how I feel. If I were to say “The Taylor Hall trade was a good trade” you could certainly argue that my opinion is wrong. You can’t tell people their preferences (likes and dislikes) are incorrect.

        • Billy Charlebois

          I agree. I’m pretty sure last season when the Oil were crushing it and Larsson was rock solid and Hall was Hall, the trade was seen as ok. Hindsight is 50-50. I can’t say it was a great trade, but it’s easy to pile-on this season.

  • Hemmercules

    “The first unit has not worked all season”……………. Read that over and over. ALLLLLLLLLL season. Still the same, still the bottom of the league. How do these guys have coaching jobs in the NHL doing the same things over and over and they are a basement team. So tired of being the joke of the league for multiple reasons. The joke continues tonight when they lose to a team that is still somehow worse than the Oilers.

  • Rama Lama

    WOW……..Nathan Dempsey just nailed it. We have no one who wants to direct the puck to the net as a first option……until we find someone who has this mentality nothing will change. Leon will occasionally do this and it very refreshing. This team needs to learn how to score dirty goals before they try all the fancy passing.

    Every game we see the opposition team direct puck to the net and somehow it bounces in. You would think that eventually someone on the Oilers would take notice??

    • Hemmercules

      I read articles in November, again in January and again in February outlining the Oilers PP problems. Nothing. Same sh*t.

      Its really sad that fans and paid hockey minds alike can see the obvious problems yet the Oilers continue on the same path for an entire season. I have never coached in my life an I could probably make that PP better somehow.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Might be a long night for the Oilers? The Coyotes are getting excellent goaltending right now, Antti Raanta has a .924 SV % in his last 5 games. Yoties are 8-2-1 in there last 11 games. Lucic on the 1st line again?

  • crabman

    1) when Hall was 1st traded I wasn’t hard on the trade, although I thought there should have at least picks coming back as well, because I still have Chiarelli the benefit of the doubt. He is the pro and to be honest I didn’t see much of Larsson in NJ. He played well on the top pairing, was a right shot and was signed long-term on a good contract for a top pair guy even if he was a shutdown guy. At the time of the trade we had an awful D and no one on the right side. Hindsight it was a bad trade.

    2) I really hope we get a chance to see RNH on McDavid’s wing for an extended time to finish the season. He can finish a nice pass but also with McDavid shooting more I think he will benefit playing with a good passer like Nuge. And the fact that McLellan says he hasn’t really thought that far ahead sounds awful coming from a head coach.

    3) With Lucic being signed long-term to a substantial contract they are going to want him in the top 6 so moving him and Draisaitl down to the 2nd line together is the obvious choice. I hope they can rekindle some of the chemistry they had last year in the playoffs.

    4) And finally I think bringing Puljujarvi along slowly is the smart play. To me he hasn’t looked very good for week. I think there is a real player there but he looks to be trying to do too much himself. I don’t like how much he tries to carry the puck and he makes many bad decisions at the opponents blueline either forcing his teammates offside or turning the puck over. This in my opinion is why he wasn’t working out on the top line. I know he is a big guy and so he will have a long stick but many times when he loses control it looks like his stick is a bit too long for what he is trying to do. I would like him to stickhandle less and set up in some open ice for a onetimer more often. Playing him on the left side would open that option up more.

    my two cents

  • OilersBro

    Judging by how players have been playing with each other here’s what I would do if I’m Todd next year:

    Nuge McD Yamo (Speed and coordination together)
    Lucic Drai Pulu (The forecheck line)
    Jesse JJ Strome (Versatility)
    Kassian ___ Slepy (Fourth and fast)

    Aberg as an extra

  • hammer313

    Well, heard that Lucic is actually on that 1st line, again. If I was Nickelson, I would start tomorrow morning firing Chiarelli and then in the afternoon walk McClelland out of the building. Enough should be enough. This is a laughable situation, but I’m not laughing, just frustrated. Get rid of these idiots!

  • OilBlood

    Agh…Sorry Gregs no I did not incorrectly like the Taylor hall trade.

    Don’t care what he say doing now. Everything he said since he was traded and most recently indicate that he was a player that couldn’t be coached with attitude problems.

    The fact that Ray Shero had to sit down with him and have a “grow up” talk with him last year shows who he is.

    Don’t get me wrong great player and seems like he’s finally turned on the switch in his brain to know it’s not just about him but that was never happening in Edmonton.

    Oilers played well and made the playoffs without him last year. I truly still would do that trade over again.

    The bigger problem was trading eberle for a lesser player and not using the extra cap space they gained for it.

    Hall was and forever would have stayed a cancer on this team. It’s good for him (wake up call) and the oilers that it happened. PP, PK and goaltending are not problems that would have disappeared with hall on this team.

  • Snoop Scottie Dogg

    GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Yotes score on the first shot (stop me if you heard this before). BUT, they don’t take their first shot until the 10 minute mark. It stings a little less that way.

    Death to the Connor heckler!!!! What kind of complete zero heckles the greatest hockey player on earth. I wish I would have been there 😵🤛