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