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Photo Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

GDB -6.0: Top Guns Make An Appearance (7pm MST, Oilers TV)

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.

LINEUP

Oilers

RNH-McDavid-Rattie
Lucic-Draisaitl-Rieder
Khaira-McLeod-Puljujarvi
Chiasson-Marody-Aberg

Klefbom-Larsson
Nurse-Bouchard
Jerabek-Bear

Talbot
Koskinen

Jets

Copp-Lowry-Tanev
Vesalainen-Roslovic-Appleton
Lemieux-Griffith-Dano
Spacek-Everberg-Lipon

Morrissey-Trouba
Niku-Poolman
Stanley-Morrow

Comrie
Brossoit

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.

QUICK HITS…

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?

TONIGHT…

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.”

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • McRaj

    Jason, I heard that there will be no blackout on TSN Jets tonight in the AB region for the Oilers game. Can you confirm if that is true or not? Would be great to catch this game on TV instead of Oilers App.

    • IRONman

      McNuge is going to Rock. That McLeod kid has won my respect. He reminds my of Smitty. The team needs heart like that, and he can skate, and can gain the zone. Management is liking him a lot to give him this shot. Jesse get a goal man. Let’s go boys.

        • Yep, available to Winnipeg viewers only. More great marketing. TSN is famous for ignoring western Canada, much like our federal government. CFL last weekend included reruns for Bombers/Roughriders game, TiCats vs Argos. I missed the Eskimos game the night before, so wanted to watch the rerun. Our province not included as per usual. Probably the league that bars the signal and again , very poor marketing strategy. I believe they are skipping the Flames /Oilers game this weekend as well.

    • Jason Gregor

      Not true. TSN only has regional rights on TSN3. They can’t lift regional blackout. It is in the contract. But reports are Shaw which has a free preview from Oct 3-12th for Centre Ice might have it tonight. I do know if you go to 1st RND they are showing it.

      • Point is , its a stupid contract. Just people in Winnipeg want to watch? Poor marketing period. Also for the Panthers/Habs , screen says available in Ontario, Maritimes and NWT, they just wont come right out and say not available in Western Canada, which is exactly what it is.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    I like the 3rd line you have their but I particularly am intrigued by the defense pairing of Nurse & Bouchard. I really think that this pairing could be effective on a permanent basis? Switch Garrison for Russell & call it a day?

  • Abagofpucks

    I would start Koskinen against winnipeg’s top players might as well its preseason.
    Might as well see what he has against top talent since everybody wants to give him a chance.

    • toprightcorner

      Thats a hard trip for a preseason game as they fly in after lunch and basically play a couple hours after getting to the rink. My guess is they give that one to Montoya to give him his 1 start and Koskinen gets the other 2 starts that Talbot doesn’t get. Koskinen is plan A so to m e that makes more sense. After that Winnipeg game, most teams will be playing 80% of their starting lineup for the rest of the games so quality of opposition won’t be a big deal.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    *gasps*

    YYYEEESSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Nurse and Bouchard? On the same line? Oh I’m looking forward to seeing how those two play!

  • Kepler62c

    I would start Koskinen on Sunday, it’s not like Montoya is an unknown – he’s been around the league and it’s pretty clear what he’s capable of: below average backup, above average 3rd string.

    • Redbird62

      When you look at Montoya’s year by year stats, he seems to roughly fluctuate between a being good back up to a weak back up/rd string guy. Over 8 seasons he played for 4 different teams and with each one of them, he would have a good year (save %s of .912, .919, .920 and .921 are very good for a backup) and a bad year (save % .892, .893, .893 and .899 not so much). Since he was .893 last season, maybe this is his next good year? A 50/50 coin flip is too risky to bet on a backup. Of course no one really knows the odds on Koskinen being successful though with no NHL track record. Hopefully the Oilers have a better sense of that by the end of pre-season so Koskinen definitely needs to get lots of looks.

      • btrain

        This is important information for this organization/fanbase to keep in mind. What’s even more important when looking at backups is their ability win games. Montoya, over his career, has generally won more games when in a backup role, than he loses. This includes last year. If you actually dive in a little and drop his 3 worst outings as an Oiler his save% in the remaining 6 games is a .942. Granted only 2 of these outings were starts, one of his relief outings he was credited with 56:33 TOI and another he was out for 43:14 and in both cases he completely shut the door.

  • 18% body fat

    Vancouver has a larger population sure, im not sure about a larger market. If you take into an account northern BC (i have live there and you can verify with Willis) half the market up there is Albertan with ties to Calgary or Edmonton, and the ones who arent still have more influence from Grande Prairie than Prince George. Taking in account Alberta, NWTT and fans in Sask, I would say there is a much larger market for Calgary-Edmonton game than Vancouver. Vancouver fans are very fairweather too. Majority of Alberta, Sask, and some of the northern BC, and your looking at 5 million. Populations of Canuck fanbase 4 million.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      And only a fraction of that 4 mil would even bother watching hockey, let alone pre-season…
      The head sportscaster on Global is already touting the race for last place & the Hughes draft-pick.
      He wants the brothers together & is excited to get the fans up for that…
      Vancouver Fans just want stories, nothing else, unless they are winning.

  • Prairiechicken

    Scoring more on the first unit, would increase their pp time percentage. ie. they score, the second unit sees 0% of the time. I wonder how much that (that pittsburghs first unit was pretty deadly on the pp) has to do with their big three getting such a high % …. vs them staying out “longer.”

    • Kepler62c

      Really good thought – you’d also have to look at how often it was a shortened PP due to taking a penalty while on the PP or drawing a penalty on the PK (playing 4-on-4 then getting a shorter PP when only the 1st unit would get significant time).

      • Kepler62c

        Might turn out that rates for taking/drawing a penalty while on the PP/PK is pretty uniform across the league and it only matters if they scored (as PP success is obviously not uniform) – but you’d have to check that.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Well if Kositsin has a bad game, it is going to make TM have a fit.The fans wont be happy about it either. If Kositsin does have a bad dame, how long before he is sent down to the HAL to play some games to see if he will do better. Ought to be interesting to see what happens

    • Hemmercules

      First of all, I think you mean Koskinen? Second, he’s not playing (at least not starting). Third, he already had a bad game and the fans aren’t happy.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        Kositsin ( that is a play on Koskinen’s name from the goals he was letting in ( cause its in) Igather he isnt starting, but the Oil should let him start the next one, I think they need to let himplay against some NHL calibre players and see if they have something or not. If Kositsin doesnt fare well, then the Oil need to send him down to the AHL and let him get some games under him and see how he fairs, there is no sense in him riding the pine while Talbot is headlining, get him some games let Montoya back up for now and then bring Kositsin up and see how he does. The oil have to see whether he can handle the NHL style of play, they cant hope he can do well, we saw last year what gassing a bunch of games did and how quick the Oil were out of things, I’d like to not see a repeat of that

      • toprightcorner

        Any knowledgeable fan is fine at this point. It will take him a bit to adjust. I think the smartest move would be to have Koskinen start in the AHL and get 5-8 starts in a row to really get comfortable with the angles of a smaller rink. If he starts in the NHL, he will play 2 of the first 10-12 games and that doesn’t give him enough playing time to give him the best chance to succeed and have a strong season.

  • CMG30

    Important to get your top lines tons of minutes together in the pre season. You don’t want the puck to drop on the regular season and have your primary lines still trying to rediscover the flow they had last season. This means even less time for prospects to impress. Sucks but the NHL is about winning, not making sure all the invites get 5 minutes with McDavid.

      • Redbird62

        I think you misinterpreted his post. I don’t read that he believes the Oilers are giving any invitees this 5 minutes. He appears to be endorsing the line up that the Oilers have for tonight and encouraging that they keep that up for a good chunk of the remaining preseason games rather than experimenting. I think many of the fans are pleased by the sense that Todd and his coaches are going with set lines as much as possible from the start of camp, which if I remember correctly is not how last year’s camp was conducted.

  • bradleypi

    Where are Spyder, la kid and knee drop Talbot when Talbot is playing well? It’s funny how they are never around when he’s playing well. He’s made a couple fantastic saves tonight

  • OILERSORDEATH

    Rattie n Mcnuge…….just wow. That was just preseason against a good Jets team. I’m liking this new for check attack with speed thing they’ve got going on.

  • BlueHairedApe

    Yawn..who’s in charge of the post game wrap ups nowadays? Used to be able to set my clock on baggedmilk no matter how full he was from beets or drink