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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 7.0: Elite Matchups (7pm MT, SN1)

Tonight’s clash between the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins will feature, in my opinion, the three most elite centres in the NHL over the past few seasons. That could change as more young guns will push to challenge Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the top-three, but for my money those two, along with Connor McDavid, have been the three best centres the past few seasons.

Neither the Oilers nor Penguins take a lot of penalties or get many powerplays, so we should see a lot of 5×5 play tonight, and I’m curious to see which matchups the coaches will look for, and who will be tasked with trying to contain these three superstars.

You will see these players a lot at even strength.

McDavid leads all NHL forwards with 19:33/game of EV TOI. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is second at 17:43, Crosby is sixth at 17:07, Jake Guentzel is ninth with 16:34, Leon Draisaitl is 24th at 15:44 and Malkin is 45th at 15:17.

It is interesting to note the Oilers’ top-two centres play more minutes than the Penguins’ do, probably due to them being a decade younger, but also because the Penguins depth is more productive.

I dug into the Penguins icetime and matchups, as well as the Oilers, to get an idea of which matchups we might see tonight.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has played Malkin, Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin together all season. Kessel and Hagelin have been on for 80 of Malkin’s 87 5×5 minutes. Jack Johnson has been the most consistent defenceman with 41 minutes with Malkin followed by Olli Maatta at 27.

Crosby has played 95 5×5 minutes and Guentzel has been with him regularly (88 min), but the other wing has been a rotation of three players: Derick Brassard (37min), Patrik Hornqvist (31 min) and Bryan Rust (22 min).

Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, the Penguins top pair, have played 58 minutes with Crosby and I’d expect Crosby’s line and the Letang/Dumoulin pair to matchup against the McDavid line.

EDM MATCHUPS…

“Sid is more of a workhorse, who protects the puck very well,” said Leon Draisaitl when describing the differences between Crosby and Malkin. “Whereas Malkin is more of a fluid player, and he loves to find one-on-one matchups. Both are great players, obviously, and it will be fun to play them,” said Draisaitl.

Draisaitl’s line will get the Malkin matchup. Draisaitl knows he needs to be better defensively. He has been turning his feet up ice when engaging in battles down low, which has caused him to lose the battle and then the puck stays deep. He needs to engage the battle focusing solely on getting the puck first, then he can worry about heading up ice.

The challenge for Draisaitl’s line will be how Jesse Puljujarvi responds. He is still very young, and he will need to be alert and on his toes defensively, and then when he has the puck he needs to make good decisions with it. Malkin and Kessel thrive on turnovers and Draisaitl and his linemates will need to not only work hard, but be very smart or Malkin’s line could burn them. Malkin has 12 points in six games this season. He’s on fire.

Which Oilers D pair will matchup against the Pens top two lines?

Todd McLellan wouldn’t answer it, but did offer this: “One of our top-two pairs will be playing better, just like one of their top centres will start better, and we have to watch for that early and ensure we match accordingly,” said McLellan.

Here is how other teams have ran their blueline pairs against Crosby and Malkin’s lines this season.

Montreal: Jeff Petry and Victor Mete played 13 minutes against Malkin over two games. Noah Juulsen and Mike Reilly Juulsen played 19 minutes against Crosby. The latter was the matchup they wanted the most.

Vancouver had Erik Gudbranson and Ben Hutton out against Malkin and Alex Edler/Chris Tanev against Crosby.

Toronto ran Auston Matthews’ line against Crosby and John Tavares’ line  against Malkin. The Jake Gardiner/Nikita Zaitsev played 8:30 against Malkin and seven minutes against Crosby. Mike Babcock focused more on having the forward line matchup, but wanted Gardiner/Zaitsev out against both lines as much as they could. Ron Hainsey and Morgan Reilly played six minutes v. Crosby and four v. Malkin.

Vegas didn’t work hard for any specific matchup. All six of their D-men played between four-six minutes against both lines.

Washington ran Dmitri Orlov/Matt Niskanen against Crosby and John Carlsson/Per Djoos against Malkin.

Based on what we’ve seen this year I suspect Oscar Klefbom/Adam Larsson will start with McDavid, while Darnell Nurse/Kris Russell will start with Draisaitl. Larsson loves the physical battles and matchups against Crosby, while Nurse and Russell’s speed is a better fit against Malkin/Kessel, in my eyes.

It will be fun to see how they do. McLellan went out of his way to mention Draisaitl often today in his presser when discussing the centres. I see that as a subtle challenge from the coach to his player to get him going. Players are competitive and they want to face the best, so let’s see how Draisaitl handles Malkin. He can’t stop him alone, of course, but he is big and strong enough to go head-to-head. And it is fair to point out Draisaitl doesn’t have the luxury of having Kessel on his wing like Malkin does.

LINEUP

Oilers

RNH-McDavid-Yamamoto
Rieder-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi
Lucic-Strome-Marody
Chiasson-Brodziak-Kassian

Klefbom-Larsson
Nurse-Russell
Gravel-Bouchard

Talbot

Cooper Marody will make his NHL debut alongside Lucic and Strome. Those two have done everything but score at 5×5. Their possession numbers are good, their forecheck has been strong and defensively they aren’t giving up much. If they continue to play like that eventually they will be rewarded on the scoresheet.

Penguins

Guentzel-Crosby-Rust
Hagelin-Malkin-Kessel
Simon-Brassard-Hornqvist
Grant-Cullen-Sheahan

Dumoulin-Letang
Maatta-Oleksiak
Riikola-Johnson

Murray

Crosby has no goals and five assists in six games. His two career goals v. the Oilers is his lowest goal total against any NHL team (excluding Vegas). Is he due tonight?

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From The Pens Blog:

It’s not often you get centre talent like this in a game, so it should be interesting to see how McLellan deploys his top 2 pivots in McDavid and Draisaitl against the fabled duo of Malkin and Crosby. That’s not to say that all four of these guys have been lighting the world on fire, though. In fact, Crosby and Draisaitl have struggled, relatively speaking; 87 has put up 5 assists and no goals through 6 games, where Draisaitl has tallied 6 points in as many games (2G+4A).

The Oilers’ former MVP Hall McDavid has 11 points on the year (4G+7A), but has been bested by Malkin’s 12 (3G+9A). Malkin recorded his third three-point game of the season in the shutout of the Leafs, including a power play marker that opened the scoring and proved enough to be the game-winner.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nine of the last 11 meetings have been decided by one goal, and the other two were two-goal victories. The Oilers have lost four straight to the Pens, and haven’t won at home since January 10th, 2014 when they won 4-3 in OT. All the numbers say they shouldn’t win…I will go George Costanza and pick the opposite. Oilers win 5-4 in an exciting affair.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Malkin, Crosby and McDavid all pick up points.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Marody picks up his first NHL point, an assist, on a Lucic goal. Lucic scores at 5×5 for the first time in 22 games.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 10/23/2018 – 12:30 pm MT

  • dabears318

    NSOGDP : the Toronto media watches the game and realizes Matthews isn’t in the same league as these elite centers.

    Their tears flood the streets of Toronto as the center of the universe collapses on itself.

  • OilersBro

    The real indicator of success is how few times Todd has to put Nuge, McDavid, and Draisaitl together in a last second effort to recover from a poor start.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Who cares, as long as it works?… Really…?
      I’d love to get to the point where we are saying that “wouldn’t it be nice if Khaira can get points on his own, without Strome?”
      Who cares, as long as we win… Doesn’t have to be pretty… (it will be though, cause we have “the best player on the planet”)

        • Glencontrolurstik

          I don’t disagree. I am of the belief that we already have a good team, that just lost its confidence and drive. Call it what you want,… Mojo, whatever… I still think the issue is coaching…
          That 3rd period comeback over the Peg, I don’t think was coaching at all. I think it was McDavid & a few others that said, Right,… & got it done. You could see the confidence rise within themselves…
          Whatever is causing it, I’m not sure? But this is a great team that needs confidence. If McDavid will help provide that, great. If playing the top guys together for 60 minutes for a win. Good, as long as we win… The rest of the team will catch-up. If the team puts in the effort, they will see the reward… They will gain confidence in themselves and the coaches…
          In the meantime, play whoever you need to to win, it’ll work out.

    • jesse says yep

      If he doesn’t score is it time to send him down? Not sure who we replace him with but maybe Marody will blow everything up and score 5 goals in the next 5 games. Yama-Marody-Benson…… meh. They are all interchangeable at this point, whichever of them can start to produce I say give them the NHL Paychecks. Everyone else off to California

  • The future never comes

    For Drai to be succesful he needs to start charging into the opposing teams blue line like a bull and drive it to the net. He’s been unsuccesful because he hits the blue line and strides in flat footed telegraphing a pass to one of his wingers, that’s pretty easy to defend for the oppositions defense. He has to put the onus on himself and challenge himself to be more of a game breaker. The fanbase rightfully or not is piling on the guy because he looks visibily disengaged, if you focus on him for even a couple of minutes each game it’s easy to see a lacking level of compete.

      • The future never comes

        Every time I say okay next game he’ll bring it, then repeat this. Preseason is long over Leon, what is he waiting for playoffs? Because news flash you need to bring it to make the playoffs.

        • Derian Hatcher

          One of the things I most admire about Gretz, Sid, McD and other superstars is that they never seem satisfied with their game. They are always pushing to be better in the details of their game, and overall as hockey players. McD is 10% points better on FO % now compared to last season. I know it’s early, but it’s obvious he has worked on that part of his game, just like Sid did early in his career. Drai needs to find that drive and get going. Come on Leon, you have it in you.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Yes, he has all the attributes to be Getzlaf or Kesslereque…
      Maybe the coaching staff are trying something with him “out of his comfort zone” & he just needs to adjust to it?
      If it doesn’t start working over the next couple of games, maybe viewing the ice from the press-box against an above average team will help him see the ice a bit better, if you get my drift?
      God, we need Hitchcock or Vigneault…

      • Hitchcock or Vigneault so they can report to MR 6 rings? Not going to happen. Self respect. He can play like Kesler or Getzlaf, but unfortunately he is on the wrong side of the border to get away with spreading goaltenders pads
        in the crease and getting away with it.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          Really, now I know you don’t watch the game much… I didn’t think so… Just a trowl U.R…
          If that is all you think, or can remember about those players then you have no idea. Getzlaf will be a HoFer one day? One of the very best power forwards in the league. He’s even still effective when he’s not injured, even at the ripe old age of 57 or so, isn’t he?…
          And as far as those coaches mentioned, I picked those 2 because out of anyone, they wouldn’t give a damn what “6-rings” or anyone said…
          Someone mentioned the relationship of the Pres. Trophy/ Wash/ Cup.
          Vigneault had a few in Vancouver, moved to NY & got one & made them viable for a few years. (they were terrible when he took over)
          I just want a head coach that can read a team, play the players to their strengths & succeed. As I said, those two wouldn’t care about anything else but getting this team successful.

          • Incorrect, In the seats when Gretzky first arrived and long after he was sold. Back when there was not 2 sets of rules slanted in the favor of US franchises. OBC still has their hands on the wheel, despite what the MSM feeds us. I am sure neither of them would give a damn what his highness has to say either, so we agree on that! PS I am not a trowel.

  • Abagofpucks

    Leon has to get it going, sure he has 6 point’s but 4 are on the PP and 1 is in OT and only 1 point 5×5. He’s great as far as special team’s go but 5×5 he has to get it going and soon. We need a win so LET’S GO OILER’S LET’S GO.

  • Rufio Barcoli

    Yamamoto on the first line?
    McDavid with a single point tonight in an Oilers loss.
    What does Kailer done to merit the promotion? 1 goal in 15 games? Hmmmm

    Talbot will let in at least two elementary goals, either with juicy rebounds or with slow reactions time.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Not to mention Pully against the Malkin/Kessel line?
      I’d rather see the Strome line up against them? At least there is some shut-down experience there. Not inexperience with no confidence.
      That’s just going to make the confidence in Pully worse @ the expense of possible team success…

    • bwar

      Who has played better out of all the RW’s on the roster? Yamamoto has been the best RW by a large margin this season. If you don’t agree, I question if you actually watch the games or just base your opinions off the scoresheet.

      Yamamoto is the only forward on the entire team to score a goal away from McDavid. That is a crazy stat for being six games into the season. He’s played very well defensively and has even seen some PK time. The coaches trust him much more than Puljujarvi and I don’t think you can really make a good arguement for anyone else even being in the conversation for 1RW while Rattie is out. The kid has had one game on the top line this season against the best defensive team in the league. I think he deserves at least another game.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Bouchard’s poise with the puck is kind of unreal for a rookie D man. He’s got that fluid calmness to his game that seems to settle his partner down as well. A few times against Nashville I saw him make smart, short passes from the boards with forwards bearing down on him, without a hint of panic or hesitation. Not to mention the lasers he was firing from the point as well. I think we have something with this kid. Predicting he pots his first goal tonight.