“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
– Thomas Jefferson
The Oilers didn’t get lucky when they defeated top teams like Winnipeg, Boston, Washington and Nashville. They won because they worked hard and played smart. You can work hard and smart and still lose, but if you don’t put in a good effort, you rarely win. The Oilers need a blue collar effort tonight against the Montreal Canadiens if they hope to end their four-game slide.
The Canadiens aren’t blessed with a lot of elite skill, but they sit in ninth place in the NHL and are two points out of fourth place. They outwork teams.
They lead the NHL with 42 goals at 5×5. The Oilers are 28th with 25. The Habs exchange chances at even strength, allowing 36 goals, eighth most, so Edmonton needs to get some production from lines two through four tonight if they hope to compete.
Currently, three of the Oilers top-six point producers are without a goal. Oscar Klefbom, Tobias Rieder and Adam Larsson have eight, seven and six assists respectively, but a big goose egg in the goal column.
Their top line has produced very little the past five games so Todd McLellan switched it up last game and tonight he will reunite Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. When they play together, they produce. I think people have underrated how difficult it is to find someone who can produce consistently with elite players.
Just because Glen Sather once said, “A fire hydrant could score 40 with Wayne Gretzky,” doesn’t make it realistic. He had Jari Kurri, but never had another consistent winger. Sidney Crosby had Chris Kunitz, who had scored 60 points prior to joining Pittsburgh, but other players weren’t able to produce consistently with him. It seems one winger can, but that winger needs to be very good to maintain it.
McDavid and Draisaitl are a deadly duo, and with the team struggling, and McDavid and RNH unable to produce as many goals as they’d like, I see why the switch was made. If the Oilers have to run with one dominant duo for the time being to produce offence, so be it. We all know it isn’t ideal, but I don’t see many better options at this point.
They need wins and playing McDavid with Draisaitl gives the Oilers the best chance to produce. It is really hard to play with good players. You have to think like they do, and the reality is only a select few players think the game like McDavid. They can’t skate like him, but they can anticipate like him and that is what Draisaitl brings.
The Oilers need a win and putting their best offensive players together is McLellan’s best chance at offensive success. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins only has one goal in 251 of 5×5 TOI. He’s played 233 of that with McDavid. He’s hit a lot of posts and had some great chances, but that duo hasn’t produced lately, so it makes sense to split them up for now. The long-term solution for the Oilers is to have Draisaitl and McDavid centre their own line, but for now I’d play them together.
Benning has played much better the past week, while the Nurse/Russell pair has struggled. Splitting them up makes sense.
Don’t be surprised if McDavid is all over the ice tonight. For his standards, he had a bad game on Sunday. Yesterday he stayed late after practice working on shooting and other drills. This morning he was on the ice for the morning skate. He hasn’t skated on game day mornings very often this season, but he was out there today. He holds himself to a very high standard and he wasn’t happy with his play on Sunday. He is always a must-watch, but tonight I sense he will dial it up a bit more.
“Right now the Habs are outscoring their mistakes,” said Craig Button. They have produced a lot of goals, but they also have surrendered many quality chances. The Oilers should get some good looks, but they have to bury them. They have missed too many great chances recently.
I wrote about Price’s two-year struggle this morning in the game notes so it isn’t a major shock he isn’t playing. He has a 5-4-3 record with a .892Sv% and 3.07 GAA this season.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Both Montreal and Edmonton are searching for consistency from their number-one goaltenders. Carey Price has five of his team’s wins, but his 3.07 goals-against average and save percentage of .892 are far below the Vezina Trophy winner’s standards. On the other side, Cam Talbot‘s stats mirror Price’s, with a 3.09 goals-against average and a save percentage of .895.
Other interesting stats that should be monitored on Tuesday night are those for the special teams. Despite having the manpower, the Habs’ power play is ranked 29th, going in at a measly 13.6%. However, the Oilers’ penalty kill is also found near the bottom of the league, at 72.7%, which ranks them 27th.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The rink will be loud and filled with Habs fans. It creates a good atmosphere and I expect a lot of goals. Oilers win in OT, 5-4.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Leon Draisaitl scores twice.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Lucic scores. He enjoys playing the Habs and scores his 15th career goal against them. Strome picks up an assist on the goal, his first of the season.
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