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Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

GDB Game Notes: Bruins vs Oilers

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.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 10/18/2018 – 9:00 am MT

  • dsanchez1973

    It’s terrifying to me that four games into the season after supposedly the best offseason of his life and a new mindset and ready to go, Lucic has zero even strength shots on goal, and has been a minus in every game, while sporting a corsi of 41.6 (especially given that the Oilers have been trailing in basically every game, which should theoretically help their Corsi). If anyone was harboring hope that he was going to turn it around and be a productive player this year, that hope is fading fast.

    • Derian Hatcher

      Somewhere at sea there is a battleship idling, just waiting for somecountry to step over the line.

      Did you see McAvoy hammer Johnny last night? Any flame player going to do anything about it? Nope.

      Looch has been playing better this year IMO. more engaged, physical and a percentage of his salary is paid to him for just being there, like the battleship. If anyone has played a high level of hockey, they will understand the need for someone like Milan / Nurse / Khaira / Kassian.

      Looches salary and term is not his fault. Horrible year last season? yup.
      The man is trying. And he (and others) will make sure there will be consequences for running our players – esp McMagic.

  • TKB2677

    I think you leave the top 4 as is. It makes no sense to me to break up Nurse and Russell who have been good. Why not have 2 effective pairings as your top 4 and play them a lot vs having one decent top 4 pairing and 2 below average pairings because you have a rookie in Bourchard and a lousy Benning. I would sit Garrison and roll the dice with Benning and Bouchard. They are on home ice so it is a lot easier to shelter a pair at home vs on the road.

    Moving forward, Unless Yamamoto lights it up tonight, I would be sending him down and bringing up Gravel. I believe Yamamoto just needs development time. He’s definitely not ready for NHL top 6 yet. Let him light it up in the minors and get used to playing pro hockey against men. Best case scenario, Yamamoto scores you 25-30 points in a 3rd line role. Rieder can do that. Caggulia had 20 last year, could he get 25 pts? Sure. Khaira had 21 pts, could he get 25+ sure. You got Chiasson on the team who can easily play on your 4th line.

    Yamamoto is a scorer. He was a big scorer in junior, he was probably a big scorer in lower levels. Forwards who have scored lots of goals and points at all levels expect to score. When they don’t score, it crushes their confidence. Let him go to the AHL, score some points, get confident. Come back a better player next year. There is no shame in that. Making the jump from junior is a MASSIVE jump that not a lot do. At his size, it’s even tougher.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Unless they assign Yamamoto or Bouchard today (which I highly doubt), there will be no Gravel to insert at 3LD which really leaves some tough options:

    (a) Garrison – I can’t imagine he plays

    (b) Bouchard and Benning – not ideal to have either of those players play their off-side

    (c) move Russell off 2RD where he’s been effective and played big minutes with Nurse

    I think we are going to see option (b) as McLellan did mention its something they would consider (when asked about that potential pairing).

  • Leef O'Golin

    That interview regarding Ovechkin’s shot is really interesting. Soccer players practice shooting the ball a certain way and wear certain kinds of boots to either make it bend or knuckle through the air. I never would have guessed that might apply to a puck, but since it’s smaller and moves so much faster even a little knuckling would be a literal game-changer. Maybe he’s experimented with how he connects with the puck and even the surface of his blade to produce variations on the trajectory.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Anxious to see what the third pairing will be tonight. I know coach said Benning – Bouchard is something they could look at but i can’t see it being a good idea at this point.

    I also can’t see Garrison in the lineup tonight.

    Can he move Russell off that 2nd pairing?

    Too late to call up Gravel unless a non-waiver player is assigned (Yamamoto or Bouchard).

  • Rusty

    ill be in attendance for the first time in 4 years. I am beyond excited. Im worried the bruins will be a bit grumpy after getting pumped in calgary last night. the Mighty oil will have to put together a fairly solid effort in all apects to get points out of tonight i feel.

  • Hemmercules

    The Oil sometimes take these games lightly. Back home, playing a tired team. They need to come out hard and step on them early, get them chasing and tired. I hope Connor’s tone after that last game send some ripples through the dressing room. No time for half efforts and poor defence.

    • TKB2677

      Well he was a #1 overall pick. He is 25, turning 26 in April so he is supposed to be.in his prime for the last couple of season plus the next few. He’s got 461 NHL games under his belt and a career high 56 pts which he did in the 2014-2015 season. So 4 freaking years ago. If he is evolving and poised to break out. It’s about FREAKING TIME.

      Don’t get me wrong, I like Nuge a lot. But you see Oilers fans piling on everyone yet Nuge has pretty much got a free pass. The Oilers drafted him to be a #1 center and first line forward. A career high 56 pts is not first line production.

      • Big Nuggets

        Can’t we have one player that we don’t rag on all the time? I know he’s no Tavares but he has been a good player and good team guy who had to suffer through some terrible Oiler teams, just like we had to suffer watching those teams.