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Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 8.0: Parade of Champions (7pm MT, SN1)

The parade of Stanley Cup Finalists continues tonight at Rogers Place. After hosting the 2017 finalists Predators and Penguins on Saturday and Tuesday, tonight the reigning 2018 champion Washington Capitals are in town. The Oilers are getting a first-hand look at what true Stanley Cup contenders look like, and while the Oilers were competitive in both games, they were unable to get a victory.

Picking up a victory tonight to give them a 1-1-1 record during the three games would be a huge confidence boost. If you want to be considered a good team, you need to beat the great teams. Tonight is another opportunity for the Oilers to prove they can hang with the big boys.

We know Connor McDavid can hold his own against the best in the NHL. He has produced 7-15-22 in 20 career games v. Nashville, Pittsburgh and Washington, and tonight I expect he will see the ice a lot again.

He played a career-high 28:26 on Tuesday and the Oilers improved to 2-1-1 in games he plays 24+ minutes this season. Twenty-eight minutes is an oddity — it was only the second time in his career he’d played 28 minutes — and I don’t expect that to be a regular occurrence, but I have no issue if McDavid averages over 24 minutes/game this season.

Why wouldn’t you play him that much? He is the best player on the team and the most dynamic player in the NHL. He is the best skater in the game. He is only 21 years of age and just entering the prime of his career. I see no reason not to play him 24 minutes a night. He can handle it, and he likely will be able to handle it for a few more seasons. Down the road when he is 25 and older I see his minutes dipping a bit, but right now I see no concern in unleashing maximum McDavid.

Rod Brind’Amour at 35 years of age averaged 24:18/game in 2006 in 78 games. The Carolina Hurricanes won the Cup that season. I’m not saying the Oilers are a Cup contender, but even good teams will play their top players a lot. McDavid is an effortless skater and his skating style allows him to conserve energy.

In 2009 when the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup, Evgeni Malkin played almost 23 minutes a night. Sidney Crosby played 22 min/game. They had two dominant centres and rode them a lot.

I’ve read many suggesting the Oilers have to play McDavid 24:34/game because they have little depth. That is partially true, but Mark Schiefele is playing 22:40/game on a deep Winnipeg team. McDavid is more impactful than Schiefele, who is a really good player, so why wouldn’t you play him a bit more? Even if the Oilers had more depth I’d still play McDavid 24 minutes a game. If he is only at 90% on a few shifts, his 90% is still better than bottom six players’ 100%.

He is in great shape. His cardio is the best on the team. He loves playing a lot, and he knows how important rest is. He hasn’t been taking morning skates on game days this season, and likely won’t as the season progresses. Players are more in tune with their bodies today than ever before. McDavid is well aware of the importance of proper sleep, nutrition, stretching, physio and other decisions that allow him to play big minutes.

Former NHLer and current TSN analyst Ray Ferraro said this about McDavid’s increased ice time.

“He’s not racing around for 45 seconds on every shift. He’s like a shark or a predator. He waits and looks at certain areas and then all of a sudden, bam, he’s off. One shift he had on Tuesday I  actually laughed because he went through the Penguins like they were pylons. He went all the way through, and then he was the first one back. I was thinking, ‘How did he do that?’ It is actually kind of funny that he’s able to do that. I think because of the way he skates, and the way he can save his energy, because he has a good understanding of what’s going on, I think he can play more minutes than most can. He’s not going to blue collar grind it out. He doesn’t have to do that. So I think it’s possible,” said Ferraro.

No one is expecting him to play 28 minutes regularly, but I think it would be a good use of his skill if he averages 24 min/game this year.

LINEUP…

Oilers

RNH-McDavid-Yamamoto
Rieder-Draisaitl-Chiasson
Lucic-Strome-Caggiula
Khaira-Brodziak-Marody

Klefbom-Larsson
Nurse-Russell
Gravel-Bouchard

Talbot

Jesse Puljujarvi could be a healthy scratch tonight. He and Zack Kassian were on the ice well after the optional morning skate, which is usually a sign of who isn’t playing. Kassian got banged up in the Pittsburgh game, and Todd McLellan wouldn’t confirm who was in or out, but those two look like they will watch from the pressbox this evening.

Many really good players have been healthy scratches early in their career, so spending one game in the pressbox doesn’t mean Puljujarvi is finished. Far from it. But if it stretches out to three or more games, then it makes much more sense to send Puljujarvi to the minors.

I asked Todd McLellan how a coach balances trying to develop a young player and winning. He didn’t answer directly and talked about different scenarios, but did say Puljujarvi is no different than most other players. Or course there are some exceptions, but for those who haven’t established themselves as regular, everyday NHL players, regardless of draft status, the ones who play well will stay in lineup, and those who struggle might take a seat.

I’d much rather ask Peter Chiarelli that question. The coaches job is to win games, while management and scouts should be the ones thinking about development. The NHL is not a developmental league. Players are always evolving and learning, but I see the NHL as a league where a player refines his game. It is too difficult of a league to try and find your game.

I don’t blame Puljujarvi for struggling. He wasn’t NHL ready at 18, and shouldn’t have been here and it is the organizations job to protect him. Sending him down to the AHL as a rookie after 28 unproductive games was wise, but I’d have kept him in Finland at 18 and let him gain confidence, and I would have strongly encouraged him to get an English translator. You can’t change the past, but moving ahead this season the organization has to take a long look inward and realize they need to put Puljujarvi in the best position to succeed. If that means a stint, or a long stay, in the AHL, then do it, and have the courage to not worry about how it might look to those outside the organization.

Capitals

Ovechkin/Kuznetsov/Smith-Pelley
Stephenson-Backstrom-Oshie
Vrana-Eller-Connolly
Jaskin-Dowd-Burakovsky

Orlov-Niskanen
Kempny-Carlson
Orpik-Djoos

Holtby

Do not take a penalty. Do not take a penalty. That will be the Oilers mantra tonight. The Capitals PP is deadly with 12 goals in 31 chances and they are a league-best 38%. I spoke with defender Matt Niskanen about the Capitals PP. He defends all the top players in the league and opposing powerplays so I wanted to get a PKer viewpoint on his team’s PP.

“They have been together for a while now so they are really good at reading which areas of the ice are open,” said Niskanen. “Teams will try to kill us differently with different tactics that we see, and our guys are very good at seeing what is open. I think what hand shots we are sets up well, having two lefties cycling and distributing and three right shot options. We actually don’t have a lot of movement, but are guys adjust very quickly.”

I asked him about defending the Oilers five lefties powerplay.

“There are some areas of the ice you can pressure guys to the backhand, and there are very few players in the league who are as efficient on their backhand as they are on their forehand. If you can push it to one side and force more backhand plays you might have a chance for some pressure and create a turnover that way.

“The other big thing is one-time options. If they are all lefties then you know what direction the one timers are coming from and you can adjust accordingly, but I’ve noticed they set up more on the left side recently,” said Niskanen.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers and Capitals continue the offensive trend from Tuesday. Oilers come up one goal short, losing 4-3.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Both teams score a powerplay goal.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Alex Chiasson has five two-goal games in his career, but he has never scored three goals in a two-game stretch. He achieves that tonight.

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  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Welp, guess I can pencil in a 3-5-1 record onto my twitter profile. This organization is so inept and dumb, I don’t know why I waste my time anymore. We’re gonna lose to Washington and then we’l, get shutout by Nashville again enroute to our 14th straight loss. Oh well, lose for Hughes amiright?

  • Rufio Barcoli

    Yamamoto on the 1st line again.
    Another loss is on the way.

    Toddy should have been fired yesterday, I’m sick of people making excuses for him.
    If the coaches job is to win game and not develop players then Toddy should have been gone long time ago. The only reason his win record is decent is because McDavid won him those game single handedly and it sure as heck wasn’t his blender.

    I’m pretty sure it is the coaches job to develop players, and use them to their full potential, not just stand there and look confused.

  • Spoils

    wow scratching JP! Hopefully, he’s injured. Bummer considering how good he looked in preseason.

    NOW- please try this lineup tonight (If LD continues to NOT drive his own line).

    Reider-McDavid-Yamamoto
    RNH-Draisaitl-Marody
    Lucic-Strome-Chiasson
    Khaira-Brodziak-Caggiula

    Klefbom-Larsson
    Nurse-Russell
    Gravel-Bouchard

    • Spoils

      three trashes – probably means I’m on to something. I got way trashed when I suggested Lucic should go on the second line.

      Here’s my main question – if you have to put RNH on the second line with LD, how to you set the rest of the lines?

  • Natejax97

    Puljujarvi is not a bust. He is a young kid (20!!!) adjusting to life in Canada and the NHL. Can we just give him and MacL a rest here. I am quite sure that development of this player will take time and a game from the pressbox now and then might be a really good thing for him. I don’t get why this gets so much press. Let the kid and his coach figure it out (they will) and when he gets back in and takes his spot beside Strome or Draisaitl or McDavid or Brodziak and starts having some success, all will be well. This is a league where you are measured by wins and losses and tonight Todd and his staff decided that their best opportunity to win did not include Jesse (for tonight!!). Todd and his staff made this decision with full knowledge the crap storm it would start…so you would have to think this is a well thought out conscious decision.

    Say what you want about the Oilers – but the coaching staff has them playing pretty good hockey right now…this could change, but it’s pretty good to be an Oiler fan today.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      I largely agree: JP’s not a bust by any stretch. Way too early to make such a claim. However, comparisons will be made with other early 1st round picks.
      Mathews is Mathews
      Laine is arguably better than Matthews
      Dubois had 20 goals last year
      Tkachuk had 24 goals
      Keller had 23 goals
      Sergachev had 9 goals and 40 pts (on D)
      McAvoy had 7 goals and 32 pts in 63 games (on D)
      JP was a third overall pick that the Oilers got lucky enough to take fourth and yet at least half a dozen players have come out off the gate a lot more quickly.
      It’s hard to be patient when being an Oiler fan means patience is your only option.

      • Dynasty No More

        I can’t help but think that if the Jackets had of just taken Pool then we could have taken the player I had heard we were very interested in….Mikhail Sergachev. What could have been….