The Oilers play their first of four home preseason games tonight, and the fans will be treated by getting to see most of the Oilers top skaters as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s lines will play along with the Oilers top top-three D-men. However, the opposition will be a shadow of a regular Winnipeg Jets roster. Such is life for many of the first preseason games.
None of the Jets top forwards made the trip, which is understandable, because I highly doubt any of the Oilers top scorers will be heading to Winnipeg on Sunday. Despite the lack of big names on the road team both organizations and fan bases will be happy. Oilers fans will be excited to see McDavid’s first game of the season. Any time #97 is in the lineup fans will be entertained, not to mention tonight will be the first time the Oilers unveil their new first unit powerplay.
Meanwhile, the Jets coaches get to see how some younger players look against numerous NHL players. And then in Winnipeg the roles will be reversed. Jets fans will get to see their best players, while the Oilers coaches can see how their young defenders and forwards handle playing NHL veterans on a tough travel day.
Earlier this week Todd McLellan admitted training camp isn’t always fair. “I’m the first to admit it and I tell the players that. It just isn’t fair for some guys, but it is their job to work it up to where it becomes fair,” he said. It is true, but the reality is there are usually only 27-28 players who are in the running for a spot on the 23-man roster. How many preseason games is enough? Well, that depends on the organization. I looked at all 31 team’s preseason schedule and teams are playing between five to ten preseason games.
10: Calgary. They play two in China, but ten is ridiculous.
8: Edmonton, Boston (two in China), Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto, Columbus, NYI and Los Angeles. The Kings play four split squad games, playing twice on two different nights. The Islanders and Flyers play each other four times including on back-to-back-to-back nights.
7: Arizona, Dallas, Minnesota, St.Louis, Vancouver, Vegas, Winnipeg, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Washington.
6: Anaheim, Chicago, Colorado, San Jose, Carolina, NYR, Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Nashville. The Predators played two split squad games on September 17th, then play the 21st, 22nd, 25th and 30th. They will have a lot of practice time.
5: New Jersey. The Devils played two split-squad games on the 17th, then play tonight, the 24th and 27th.
I’m interested to see how the Devils and Predators start the season. Is more practice time and fewer preseason games better?
I’ve long believed six games would be more than enough as most of the top veterans on every team dress only four times anyways. Any extra preseason games are done solely for financial purposes, with no real benefit to the players or coaches.
As teams are looking closer at rest, preparation and a lack of practice time during the season I wonder if we see more teams start to follow what the Devils and Predators are doing this season; playing fewer games, but having significantly more practice time.
Trouba and Morrissey will play a lot and likely face McDavid’s line as often as possible. Niku is pushing for a spot on the Jet third pairing, while watch for Mason Appleton up front. He had 22 goals and 66 points as a 21-year-old and was the AHL rookie of the year.
1. I’m curious to find out why Sportsnet airs Vancouver preseason games, but won’t air Calgary v. Edmonton. Vancouver has a larger market, but they do not draw more eyeballs than all of Alberta would. It is very odd to me they will not broadcast next Saturday’s Flames/Oilers game. Both teams will have 95% of their opening night rosters dressed. Hockey fans across the province would watch that game, and it makes little sense why it won’t be on TV.
2. Look for McDavid to play a higher percentage of PP minutes for the Oilers. Last season when the Oilers had the league’s worst PP at 14.8% he played 243 (66.7%) of the 365 minutes the Oilers had on the PP. In 2017 when the Oilers PP was excellent at 22.9%, McDavid played 248 minutes of the 407 (61.9%). Look for him to play over 70% of their overall PP minutes this season.
3. I see the Oilers mirroring what Pittsburgh did last season with Phil Kessel (309 PP TOI), Crosby (299) and Malkin (286). Malkin missed four games, which cost him 14 minutes of PP time. Kessel was on for 74.4% of the PP time, Crosby 72% and Malkin was also on for 72% of the time in games he played. The Penguins PP was rolling so it is easier to stick with your guys, but they also worked hard on the PP. Look for McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH to not only execute better, but I expect a big improvement in the overall work ethic and puck retrieval success rate from this first unit. It starts tonight, and while it won’t be against the Jets top PK players, tonight is the first opportunity for the PP to get comfortable with their new, more movement-oriented, less static positioning powerplay.
4. Last season Draisaitl led Oilers forwards in powerplay shots with 42. That was 65th among all NHL forwards. McDavid was 84th with 36 shots. Their Shot/60 were 66th and 104th respectively among forwards who played 170 PP minutes or more. On the other hand, Oscar Klefbom had the 4th highest shots/60 among D-men, who played over 170 PP minutes. The Oilers relied way too much on point shots from Klefbom last season. Expect much more shots from the Oilers this season, and most will come from closer to the goal.
5. In 2017 when the Oilers PP was successful Lucic, Draisaitl and Mark Letestu led the Oilers in PP shots with 52, 49 and 43 respectively. Klefbom had 31 and he played all 82 games. Last year he had 51 shots in 66 games. Watch closely tonight and I expect you will see most of the shots coming from the forwards.
6. Don’t read anything into McLeod playing with Khaira and Puljujarvi. McLellan said this about the JK-RS-JP trio. “They are getting to know each other and I’ve liked the chemistry they are developing. They will be a line for the time being,” said McLellan. McLeod is getting rewarded for a strong camp, which is great, but tonight’s opposition still isn’t a great measuring stick. I’d guess McLeod will play in Winnipeg on Sunday and the coaches will watch to see how he and other young players handle the Jets best players.
7. After I posted the lineup on twitter, some asked why Talbot and not Mikko Koskinen. McLellan’s main goal is to have his starter ready. Get him in a rhythm playing every second day. But more importantly the Oilers start the season with a long road trip to Germany, Sweden and then play three games in Boston, New York and Winnipeg. It makes little sense to add more travel time to the players who will play heavy minutes like Talbot, the top-three D and the Oilers top forwards, by sending them to Winnipeg this Sunday. And if Talbot didn’t start tonight or Sunday, then he’d have gone a week between starts.
8. After tonight the Oilers have five more preseason games. Talbot will start two of them, so that leaves three starts for Koskinen and Al Montoya. I’m curious to see which of those two start in Winnipeg, because the Jets will play their best shooters. Montoya hasn’t had a start yet, while Koskinen wants to bounce back after a shaky 40 minutes in Calgary. Who would you start Sunday?
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers have their top two lines and the Jets don’t have any of their top-seven forwards. Oilers win 5-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid has two points, probably three.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Rattie scores a pair of goals in his second consecutive game and many watching will say, “I never doubted him for a second.”