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GDB Game Notes: Oilers @ Ducks

It is Thanksgiving weekend in the United States and today is arguably bigger than Christmas in the USA, especially for shoppers. Americans love their matinee sporting events and that is why today’s game starts at 1 p.m. PST (2 p.m. MST).

Don’t look now, but the Oilers are 3-0 in matinee games this season. They won in New York, Detroit and Chicago. The Chicago game started at 5 p.m CST, and that is technically still in the afternoon, so go with it.

Who doesn’t love an afternoon delight?

1. The Ducks are 4-8-4 in their last 16 games. Three of those wins have come in OT/SO. They have been outshot 578-455 and outscored 52-30. They have scored three goals four times and four goals once in their last 16 games. If there was ever a game where three goals should guarantee a win, it should be today. The Ducks offence couldn’t score in a brothel right now.

2. However, the Oilers haven’t been stellar at limiting goals either. Edmonton is 7-8-1 in their previous 16 games and they’ve allowed three goals 12 times, while scoring 3+ goals nine times. They’ve been outscored 53-48 despite outshooting their opponents 524-485. If the Oilers can eliminate glaring errors and Mikko Koskinen continues to give them solid goaltending, this is a very winnable game.

3. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about NHL standings on Thanksgiving and what it means for making the playoffs. Last year five of the eight teams who were in a playoff spot on USA Thanksgiving made it to the postseason. The St.Louis Blues were first in the West with 33 points, but they finished ninth. Calgary and Vancouver also dropped out, while San Jose, Anaheim and Minnesota replaced them. The year prior seven of the eight west teams in the playoffs on Thanksgiving remained there.

In each of the past two years, six of the eight Eastern conference teams in the playoffs on Thanksgiving stayed there.

4. The Oilers currently sit two points behind third place Anaheim. They have two games in hand, while Vancouver is a point ahead of the Oilers, but Edmonton has three games in hand on them. It is a good measuring stick of where a team is, but it is far from a guarantee a team remains in their position. A regulation win and the Oilers are tied with the Ducks and ahead of them based on a better winning percentage, but today is a game they need to win against an injury-riddled Ducks team.

5. The Ducks will be without their two best defenders in Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler. Jacob Larsson (17th NHL game) is in the top pair with Josh Manson, and they will likely be tasked with trying to shut down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, with some help from Ryan Kesler. Manson is a very good defender and Larsson will be good, but this is a rare game where McDavid will face a top pair with fewer than 300 NHL games played.

6. St.Albert resident Josh Mahura will skate in his third NHL game tonight and he will be paired with Brandon Montour. The 20-year-old is in his first pro season and he had an excellent start in San Diego producing eight points in 12 games and playing in all situations. However, the recent injury to Lindholm opened the door for his NHL debut. Mahura has improved every season and last year with the Regina Pats he exploded offensively producing 22 goals and 69 points in 60 games. It will be a thrill for him to play the Oilers, but he’ll also get a dose of McDavid which could be more nerve-wracking than exciting. The Ducks third pair of Marcus Pettersson (44th game) and Andy Welinski (17th) doesn’t have much NHL experience either. Four of the Ducks defenders have a combined 77 games of NHL experience.

7. Richard Matvichuk played 796 NHL games and another 123 in the playoffs and won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. Matvichuk is now the head coach of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars and I spoke to him about Ken Hitchcock.

Was Hitch as tough to handle as some suggest?

“Like everyone else, we found a way to like Hitch, and then dislike Hitch, and then love Hitch, and then all of a sudden it was like, ‘Wow, look what he did to our team. Why are we doing so well?’ And then Hitch would be Hitch. He’s a unique guy. His passion for the game is like no other. What makes him different is that he’s able to find a way to get involved with every player individually, and he’s such a motivator when it comes to that. It’s just a different way, the way he coaches X’s and O’s. You could sit with Hitch one morning and you’re best friends, and then that afternoon he’s kicking you in the butt saying you have to do more. I have great memories with Hitch. He was a great coach for me for a long time and it’s just great to see him as the Oilers Coach.

8. Does he preach defence, defence, defence?

“It’s not that he always wanted everyone to play defence, but he held you accountable in the defensive zone. Every coach does, but he focuses on specific areas. The turnover in the high offensive areas like the offensive blue line, its things like that, that go the other way and end up in your net, that is where you’re held accountable.  It wasn’t that we were playing such a defensive structure that nobody could score goals, it was just a matter of when you make the mistakes, where you were going to make them so the team could recover from them. There are only so many systems, it’s a difference of where you turn the puck over. I saw in one of his interviews last night where he said, ‘You’re playing for each other, not with each other,’ and that was a huge thing he implemented with us. He held everybody accountable to the same standard, and if you did things wrong, it’s usually going to hurt the hockey club.”

9. So for him, it was about being more attentive of turnovers in danger areas?

“It’s a game of mistakes. If nobody ever made a mistake every game would be 0-0. The turnovers are going to happen, obviously there is rarely a free route through the neutral zone now, everybody is too fast, there are no hold-ups. So when you turn that puck over, you have to be ready to react, and your defensemen and linemates have to know that once it gets turned over, what are your first reactions? I know when Hitch was in St Louis, he had a five-stride rule. As soon as that puck was turned over, your first five strides had to be back towards the net. The way guys can skate now and the way the transition speed is, you usually catch someone. Ten years ago that turnover would have been a three-on-two, now with the back pressure it just turns into a three-on-three and a dump, and then you regroup and start all over again. He will focus on ensuring the team knows how to recover when turnovers happen.”

10. Will Hitchcock add a lot of technical changes, or is it more finding how to connect with each player?

“It’s more of connecting. Obviously the little puck battles, how much can you challenge each other will matter. The difference he might have is how fast he can send in a second forechecker or a have a second defensemen pinching at the right area, or having a defensemen standing up all the time and ensuring the transition game is ready. I am sure he has already gone through the Edmonton system to see what his strengths and weaknesses are. Obviously when you have the likes of McDavid, Draisaitl or a Lucic, guys like that, he’s going to make adjustments so that they play to their strengths and that’s one reason why he is such a great coach; he always finds a way to put the system to what the strength of the team is. He’s going to have no issues, I’m sure he’s going to turn things around there, and it’s just great for the whole city,” said Matvichuk.

11. It was interesting listening to Matvichuk tell stories about Hitchcock. He raved about how smart he was and how great he was at connecting with players, but he also told some funny stories about how Hitch could grate on players. That was 20 years ago, and Hitchock has admittedly mellowed in his approach, but we are already seeing how he approaches players. He compliments them and challenges them at the same time. He came in at a great time. The players want to win and a new voice will reinvigorate them. Currently, the Pacific Division is the weakest in the NHL, and if Hitchcock’s pep talks and different approach resonates with the players they will have success.

12. Hitchcock will also be excited, because he is coaching his hometown team. He is a very proud man, and he’d love nothing more than to be on the bench when they win a playoff series. A former player of his text me yesterday and said, “Hitch will thrive in Edmonton. He loves hockey and being in a Canadian market will be great for him. If the players are smart they will listen to what he says, because he will make them winners.”

GAME NOTES BROUGHT TO YOU BY ATB FINANCIAL

From peewee to the pros, Albertans loves the atmosphere, energy, and life lessons that take place at rinks across the province. And where there’s an arena, you’ll find an ATB branch nearby—with our team members cheering and fundraising along with you. See more information at ATB.com.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 11/23/2018 – 6:00 am MT