The Oilers opening night loss to the Devils was only one game, but considering how quickly last season spun out of control for the Oilers, there should be a heightened sense of urgency within the dressing room. Urgency doesn’t mean panic, it just means the players need to realize they can’t feel their way into this season.
“There’s a number of players that are on notice. Tonight would be a good night to establish yourself in the lineup as a consistent player,” Todd McLellan said this morning. He’s right. Different players have different roles and expectations, but not matching the intensity and effort of the opposition shouldn’t the main issue after only one game.
The Oilers were outworked and outsmarted against the Devils. Pretending otherwise is foolish. There is no guarantee the Oilers will win if they work hard, but it is a stone-cold lock they will lose if their work ethic isn’t better tonight.
The Oilers will be better tonight. It will start from the top with Connor McDavid. By his standards, he had a very average game on Saturday. He is rarely average and you know he will be better, and his teammates should follow his lead. McDavid is more comfortable in a leadership role now than he was in the past. He is more mature, he has more experience, and he is more comfortable setting the tone for the group. Most often he will lead via his actions and play on the ice, but players have told me he is becoming more vocal. When he speaks they will listen.
The defence corps needs to be better moving the puck, but so to do the forwards when they are in the defensive zone. I re-watched Saturday’s game this morning and it was painful seeing how many times they missed simple, easy passes. They weren’t sharp. I can’t fathom them being as bad passing the puck tonight.
We should see a great matchup tonight as McDavid’s line goes up against Patrice Bergeron’s line. Bergeron, along with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, have combined for 18 points in three games. They will challenge McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ty Rattie to be good defensively, but McDavid has had a lot of success against the Bruins. In two games in Boston, he has four assists, all at even strength, and is +4.
If you dig deeper here is how McDavid v. Bergeron looked at 5×5.
Year TOI CF-CA FF-FA SF-SA GF-GA
2017 10:37 11-18 9-12 9-8 2-0
2018 8:26 5-6 5-5 5-4 1-0
Bergeron had the advantage in shot attempts, but in shots on goal and goals McDavid won. I’ve long argued the value of goals over shot attempts (Corsi).
The one thing to note however, was in both of those games McDavid had a big winger. In 2017 he skated with Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon while last season Milan Lucic and Mike Cammalleri were his linemates. You need to be strong on the boards against the Bergeron trio. Nugent-Hopkins and Rattie will need to be in the battle defensively tonight.
Offensively I’d expect McDavid’s line to see a lot of the human Crane, Zdeno Chara, and that is where the size of the wingers could play a larger role. McDavid faced off against Chara for 25 minutes at 5×5 in those two games, compared to 19 against Bergeron. That was the matchup Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, wanted on home ice.
The interesting factor about playing against Chara, was McDavid’s analytics numbers were better, likely because in the six minutes away from Bergeron, McDavid was on the offensive attack more. Chara was on the ice for all three GA, same as Bergeron, but McDavid was even in CF-CA, and was +3 in FF-FA.
In the Bruins first three games this season Bergeron has played 34:40 at EV. He has played all of those minutes with Marchand and Pastrnak, except for 33 seconds with Ryan Donato and 20 seconds with a few others. But it is interesting to see which D pairs his line has been deployed with.
They have played 16 minutes with the Kevan Miller-Matt Grzelcyk pairing, then 12 minutes with Chara-Charlie McAvoy and six minutes with John Moore-Brandon Carlo.
Will Cassidy play the Miller-Grzelcyk combo with them more tonight, or will he go heavy with Chara-McAvoy because McDavid is in town?
Their only home game thus far was against the Ottawa Senators and the Sens top line is not close to McDavid. Chara played seven minutes against the Mark Stone line and then five against Matt Duchene’s line and four against Chris Tierney, so they weren’t that concerned with matchups. I suspect that changes tonight.
Don’t be surprised to see different D pairs employed during the game. Part of it has to do with coming out of a powerplay or penalty kill, but also because the second and third pairings aren’t set in stone. “That is the visual (pairs above) to start, but it will depend how they play, who they are matched up against,” said Todd McLellan. “I think you will see some juggling of the defence pairs as we go forward. We are still trying to discover who plays best with who. We are going lefties, righties to start with, so it is limited in how much you can swing guys around.”
We could see Bouchard and Benning switch at times tonight.
Halak gets his second start of the season. He had a 32-save shutout vs. the Sabres last Thursday. Tuukka Rask has an .840sv% in his two starts and has played 87 minutes. Halak has a .960sv% in his 92 minutes. He relieved Rask in their season opener last Wednesday against Washington. Cassidy said he didn’t want Halak sitting out too long, but most backups are used to playing once every few weeks. I believe Cassidy is going with Halak simply because he is playing better.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
It’s going to take a five man unit to stop the Edmonton top line. The Bruins held McDavid to just a 43% CF% in the two games against him last season. Pay close attention to McDavid’s zone entries. He rarely dumps the puck, and passed the puck to a teammate leading to a shot attempt on 32.4% of his controlled entries last season which was fifth in the league. Much of his offense comes off of the rush, and it will take not only Zdeno Chara, but Charlie McAvoy and backcheckers to shut him down.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: I was surprised when I realized the Oilers have won six of their last seven against the Bruins, including three straight in Boston. They’re playing a backup for the second straight game — have to win some of those games. I’m going against conventional wisdom and with a bit of an upset. Oilers win 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers have played one game and it wasn’t good. Oilersnation is restless and short-tempered. Yesterday many prematurely freaked out because Jesse Puljujarvi practiced on a different line than Ryan Strome. They will play together tonight, but the rage will now be focused on McLellan for “wasting” a practice by not having those two together.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Drake Caggiula scores a goal, but many of the same people who are mad at McLellan will barely celebrate Caggiula’s goal, because they don’t think he is any good. There isn’t a lot of joy in Oilersville right now.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Quick Hits: Oilers @ Bruins
- Around the NHL: Week One
- GDB 1.0: Head-to-Head Hart Winners
- Quick Hits: Oilers @ Devils
- Hall discusses Hart trophy, maturing, powerplays and more
- Oilers powerplay must improve
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 10/11/2018 – 12:00 pm MST