The Edmonton Oilers are the final NHL team to play their home opener. After four road games, a record of 2-2 and over 18,000 kilometers of travel, Oilers fans finally get to see their team on home ice. The entire Pacific Division hasn’t been home very much. Calgary played their second home game last night v. Boston and won 5-2. The Canucks have only played one home game. Vegas, Arizona and LA have hosted two games, while the Sharks play their second home game tonight. Anaheim had their third home game last night.
Tonight is the first of four home tilts for the Oilers, and all four opponents had 100 or more points last season: Boston (112), Nashville (117), Pittsburgh (100) and Washington (105). Oilers fans will be treated to some of the best players, and best teams, in the NHL over the next eight days. It will be a great challenge for the Oilers.
1. Tuesday’s stellar comeback in Winnipeg makes the next four games a little less daunting. The Oilers should feel pretty good they are 2-2. They can’t let up, but you can’t underestimate how much positive energy helps a team. The crowd will be much louder tonight before the game than they would have been had the Oilers not mounted their ferocious third period comeback. You are much more excited about tonight’s game because of Tuesday’s result, and so too are the players.
2. McDavid is shooting way more on the powerplay. The past two seasons he played 230 and 231 minutes of 5×4. In 2017 he had three goals and 32 shots and last year he had five goals and 34 shots. In only 14 minutes of 5×4 time this season he has three goals and four shots. He has scored on the rush, which he also did once last season, but he is now setting up on the right side in more of a shooter role than the passer. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is setting up on the left side (which has to occur with five lefties), and he handles as much, if not more than McDavid. Last season McDavid started to shoot a lot more at EV in the final 39 games, but his PP shot totals did not increase. It is early, but he is shooting much more frequently on the PP and not surprisingly the PP is better at 33%, 4th best in the NHL.
3. Nugent-Hopkins also has four PP shots, and two goal posts, while Oscar Klefbom and Milan Lucic have two and Leon Draisaitl has one. Draisaitl does have four powerplay assists, and I’d argue he is the best all-around passer on the team due his backhand prowess.
4. The Oilers second PP unit doesn’t have one single shot on goal thus far. Jesse Puljujarvi (3:48), Ryan Strome (3:43), Ty Rattie (3:30), Kailer Yamamoto (2:22), Evan Bouchard (2:20), Darnell Nurse (1:19), Matt Benning (1:03) and Drake Caggiula (0:55) and Kris Russell (0:36) have combined for no shots. Granted it isn’t a lot of PP time. The first unit has played over 14 minutes, but the second unit does need to sharpen up a bit and at least get a puck on net.
5. The Oilers and Bruins special teams are eerily similar right now. The Bruins PP is very good at 31%, while their 75% PK is struggling. The Oilers PP is 33% and the PK is 63.6%. It is very early and one good night on the PP or PK can alter the numbers significantly. Don’t expect a lot of powerplays tonight. The Oilers are averaging three PP chances per game, 24th in the NHL, while the Bruins are 27th at 2.67 PP chances/game. I’m always interested in season-to-season trends. Last year the Oilers had the fewest PP opportunities, 210, followed by Anaheim (214), Toronto (224), Columbus (227) and Detroit (234). Early this year the Oilers, Ducks (2.57 PP/game), Leafs (2.71) and Detroit (2.83) are all near the bottom again. However, Winnipeg (31st), Pittsburgh (29th) and Boston (28th) are also at the bottom, despite all being in the top-eight last year in powerplay opportunities.
6. Oilers spent a lot of time in yesterday’s practice on defensive zone support when pucks are in the corner, and ensuring D-men are going to the right spot with the puck; preferably where there’s support. That and when they move it to the winger on the boards, the winger is making the right decision with the puck. Not just dumping it out, but looking for save outlets, and in certain situations the other D-men, who should be supporting. Something to watch for tonight.
7. Darnell Nurse scored game winners in back-to-back games on January 12th and 13th in Arizona and Vegas, and then he went goalless in the final 36 games of the season. He scored the game winner on Tuesday, ending a 39-game goalless drought. He only scores game winners in 2018 I guess.
8. Drake Caggiula will be a game time decision. He was injured on the play where Andrew Copp threw him to the ice and received a penalty. Caggiula has been very effective over the past three games. He has been involved and tenacious every game. If he plays he will slot in beside Leon Draisaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi, if he can’t go then Tobias Rieder will slide into is spot. Based on conversations I had yesterday it is more unlikely than likely Caggiula plays tonight.
9. Caggiula leads the Oilers with three penalties drawn in three games. McDavid, Ryan Strome, Kailer Yamamoto and Adam Larsson have drawn two each. He is fourth among forwards with shots on goal, seven, and tied for 2nd in 5×5 shots, also with seven, leads the Oilers in shots/60 at 13.48, has ten hits and zero turnovers. He has played very well in his three games and was promoted, along with Jesse Puljujarvi to play with Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl started to move his feet more when he was slotted in beside those two. Caggiula’s weakness last season was being unable to string together consistent efforts, but so far this season he has been involved in every game.
10. After reviewing the Oilers/Jets game the NHL awarded Nugent-Hopkins an assist on the Oilers first goal giving him four assists in the game. It is his second four assist game of his career and first since he had five assists on November 19th, 2011 against Chicago. As a rookie he had five assists in only 13:30 of icetime of a 9-2 blowout over Chicago.
11. The Oilers overcame a third period three-goal deficit in Winnipeg on Tuesday. The last time they did that was on October 7th, 2013 v. New Jersey. Since entering the NHL in 1979/1980 the Oilers have had nine three-goal, third period comebacks. They are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the most such comebacks in the NHL since 1979.
12. This has nothing to do with tonight’s game, but with Washington here next Thursday I felt it was noteworthy. Russian journalist Maxim Nikerin of Sport.business-gazeta.ru talked to Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy about last seasons playoffs. In the interview, he was asked about Alex Ovechkin. Igor Nikonov of Raw Change translated the interview. You can read the entire translation here. I was most interested in Vasilevsky’s response to Ovechkin’s shot.
Nikerin: Did you analyze Ovechkin in the playoffs?
Vasilevskiy: Yes, but I played against him before and know his shot, and how he’s able to shoot from every position and how his shot is “radio-controlled“.
Nikerin: Could you explain?
Vasilevskiy: Do you know how soccer players hit the ball and it’s changing trajectory during the flight? It’s the same with Ovechkin and his shot. It’s even harder to catch the puck when he’s shooting from long distance, because the puck can change its trajectory many times. I don’t know where he learned it, but he scores 50-60 goals every season. We talked with the coaching staff that we should try to reduce the number of his shots. Because I’m not the octopus to catch every one of his shots. It’s easier for me to play against such players as John Carlson. He’s got a powerful shot but it’s predictable. We tried it (to limit his shots), but Alex is an experienced player and he knows how to make space to shoot.
A great explanation from a goalie who faces Ovechkin regularly. No one should assume another player will be able to produce on the PP because they can one-time the puck. There is so much more that goes into it, and as Vasilevskiy said, Ovechkin’s biggest strength is he knows how to find the space to get his shot off. That is a major skill, not to mention his unreal shot, but his ability to constantly get open looks is unreal. Every team tries to defend it, but they can’t.
Ovechkin scored two more powerplay goals last night. He is now 8th all-time in PP goals with 232. Here are the top-eight powerplay goals scorers of all time including games played, total goals and PP goals.
Player GP Goals PPG
Dave Andreychuk 1639 640 274
Brett Hull 1269 741 265
Teemu Selanne 1451 684 255
Luc Robitaille 1431 668 247
Brendan Shanahan 1524 656 237
Mario Lemieux 915 690 236
Marcel Dionne 1348 731 234
Alex Ovechkin 1009 613 232
He needs six more PP goals to move into 5th all-time and at only 33 years of age it seems inevitable he catches Andreychuk for first overall before retiring.
Ovechkin’s 613 goals is 15th overall. He will likely pass Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla (625 each) and Andreychuk (640) and sit 12th at the end of the season.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Oil Change: 20 Minutes of Fire
- GDB 4.0: Going to Winnipeg
- Game Notes: Oilers @ Jets
- A must win? Sadly, yes
- Quick Hits: Oilers @ Bruins
- Around the NHL: Week One
Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 10/18/2018 – 9:00 am MT