The Oilers are back on the road for another meeting with Ken Hitchcock’s former team, the Dallas Stars. Here are your game day notes.
1. The Oilers played the Stars in Edmonton last Tuesday in Hitch’s first game as the team’s head coach at home. They earned a gritty 1-0 overtime win which was fitting for the coach’s homecoming. Hitchcock coached the best years of his career in Dallas in the late-90s and early 2000s and returned to the Stars in 2017-18 for what ended up being an unsuccessful one-year reunion. This, of course, will be his first game in Dallas as coach of the Oilers.
2. I remember many people talking earlier in the season about how the Stars were going to be way more open offensively with Hitchcock out as head coach. That hasn’t happened. Under Jim Montgomery, the Stars rank 23rd in the league in goals for. They’ve scored 74 goals in 27 games, good for just 2.74 goals-per-game.
3. One player I remember many suggesting would improve with the change from Hitchcock to Montgomery was Jason Spezza. Spezza had a miserable 2017-18 season, scoring just eight goals and 26 points over 78 games, struggling under Hitchcock’s defensive system and dealing with a nagging back injury. He got off to a strong start this year, scoring eight points in his first nine games, but has just seven points in 18 games since then. Spezza is now playing on the right wing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin with Alex Radulov on the second line.
4. Much like the Oilers, the Stars are a very top-heavy team. Their big three leading scorers of Radulov, Benn and Seguin have combined for 28 goals and their offence falls off a cliff after them. Spezza and Devin Shore are the next highest goal scorers on the team among forwards with five goals on the season.
5. The last time the Oilers and Stars played, the Identity Line was tasked with shutting down Dallas’ top line. In roughly eight even strength minutes against Radulov, Benn, and Seguin (which was the most of any Oilers forward line that game), the Lucic, Brodziak, and Kassian trio held the Stars’ big gunners to just five shot attempts and two high danger chances.
6. Dallas’ blueline has been decimated by injuries this season. Most importantly, John Klingberg has been on the Injured Reserve since early November with a broken hand. Without Klingberg, the Stars are missing their top defenseman and power play quarterback. They’re also without Marc Methot, Stephen Johns, and Connor Carrick, leaving them without four of their expected top-seven defenders.
7. 19-year-old defender Miro Heiskanen has had to step up his game in Klingberg’s absence. In 11 games since Klingberg went on the IR, Heiskanen has been averaging nearly 24 minutes a game. He’s also been doing so against top competition. Last week against the Oilers, he logged 10 even strength minutes against the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl duo, holding them to three high danger chances and zero goals in regulation.
8. Ben Bishop was activated from the Injured Reserve last week. He started against the Canucks in Vancouver and had an excellent start, stopping 24 of 25 shots for the win. Despite the strong start, it’ll be backup Anton Khudobin starting against the Oilers as the Stars are being cautious with Bishop’s health. Khudobin owns a .911 save percentage on the season over 12 starts.
9. The Oilers will continue to roll the hot hand of Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen has started all three of Edmonton’s games over the course of their three-game winning streak and he owns a .967 save percentage over that stretch. The Oilers don’t have longer than a one-day break for the next three weeks so Cam Talbot will certainly have to find his way back into the net sooner rather than later. Maybe Thursday’s game against the struggling St. Louis Blues would be the time to do it.
10. We talk frequently about how the Oilers need to win games against the Pacific Division in order to climb the standings, but this is also a four-point game. The Stars are one of the other middling Western Conference teams who will be competing with the Oilers for a playoff spot. A win tonight would put the Oilers in a tie with the Minnesota Wild and it would put them just one point behind Dallas in the standings.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/03/2018 – 11:00 am MT