Last night Cam Talbot played his best game in 40 days. He made some huge saves — two on Cole Sanford and the breakaway stop on Ryan O’Reilly — to keep the Oilers in the game and allowed Oscar Klefbom to tie it late in the third before winning in a shootout.
Talbot is capable of stealing games, or at least keeping his team in games, and he did it regularly two years ago. However in the 83 games since, Talbot’s overall numbers aren’t good. He has a .905sv% and a 3.06 GAA, and the Oilers are 37-40-4 in those games. Last year the Oilers had no other option than to play Talbot, because the backups had worse numbers, but this year Mikko Koskinen is 8-3-1 with a .925sv% and 2.33 GAA. He has been more effective than Talbot this year.
But Talbot played great in St.Louis and now head coach Ken Hitchcock has a tough decision. Who does he start in goal tomorrow v. Minnesota? We’ll discuss that question and a few others today.
1. Who starts in goal tomorrow?
No question Koskinen has been better, but Talbot was great on Friday. I suspect Hitchcock will split them this weekend, but who gets the call tomorrow v. the Wild? I see an argument both ways.
Go with Talbot, because you need both goalies playing well and historically he plays better when he plays more frequently. Hitchcock compared Talbot to Brian Elliott yesterday before the game, at least in their competitive nature, but I found it an interesting comparison because Elliott has never started more than 48 games. He can be good for stretches, but has never been capable of caring the load all season. Was Hitch only referring to their competitive comparison, or is Talbot going to be splitting duties with Koskinen?
Koskinen has earned more starts. He’s been excellent and has proven every doubter wrong to this point. However, he has never played more than 41 regular season games, and he played 23 and 29 last year. Do they have to monitor the potential for fatigue, or do they let Koskinen play a lot if he is playing well? Every starter at some point has to take the jump to playing more games, so maybe he is ready now.
Prediction: Hitchcock gives Talbot the goal on Friday and Koskinen plays the Flames on Sunday. Calgary will be playing their third game in four nights on Sunday. Darcy McLeod (@Woodguy) wrote about this before and over a six year period the team in the Oilers situation has won 62.5% of the time. They have to win that game, so that’s why I see Koskinen on Sunday.
Who would you start?
2. Is it time to split up McDavid and Draisaitl?
The Oilers are 5-2-1 with Hitchcock on the bench. They scored four goals in his first game in San Jose, but they’ve only scored 12 in the past seven. They are 4-2-1 in those seven, and wins are the most important, but over the past seven games the McDavid-Draisaitl combination hasn’t produced very much. They each had three points v. San Jose, but since then Draisaitl is 0-4-4 in seven games and McDavid has 1-4-5 in six games. Draisaitl had an assist on Jujhar Khaira’s goal in Dallas when McDavid was sick, but the 97-29 duo only has two goals at 5×5 in the six games together.
Many have wondered why the Oilers don’t play Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl together on the second line and put two wingers with McDavid on the first. McDavid can score regardless, but I see it as potentially weakening your best weapon by playing him with wingers not as skilled as Draisaitl and RNH. So I understand why Hitchcock and Todd McLellan didn’t do it very often.
But right now the combo isn’t working. Granted it is only six games, a very small sample size, and there is no debate that Draisaitl and McDavid are the most dangerous duo. I understand Hitchcock’s hesitation to separate them, because the odds are still better 97-29 will break out for a big game instead of McDavid with any combination of Drake Caggiula, Alex Chiasson, Ty Rattie, Jujhar Khaira, Valentine Zykov or Jesse Puljujarvi.
However, with the offence in a funk, Oscar Klefbom leads scorers with seven points in the past seven games. Would Hitchcock consider the following lines to start next game?
I have RNH on the wing so the right shots can play the right side in the top six. Draisaitl and RNH can switch on defensive responsibilities similar to how RNH did with McDavid. I’d even consider swapping Chiasson and Rattie, because Rattie has had more success with McDavid in the past. Khaira scored in Dallas, was on the ice for an extra attacker and assisted on Klefbom’s tying goal, so the coach likes his play on the right, and he’s producing some offence so I’d keep him up in the top six for now. Valentine Zykov has been skating in Edmonton since being claimed on waivers, but due to immigration issues he couldn’t play on the road. My understanding is he is cleared to play in Canada so he will likely dress tomorrow and I could see him getting a shot in the top-six right away.
The problem with taking RNH and Draisaitl off McDavid’s wing is you downgrade the skill he plays with. I realize he is the best offensive player in the NHL, and can create scoring chances regardless of who he plays with, but no player has produced at the same rate with McDavid as Draisaitl. When your entire group is struggling to score it is a risk separating your most dangerous combination, even though they have had a slow six-game stretch.
You could start the game with new line combos and always revert back to 97-29, but if I’m coaching I’d stick with my most dangerous duo and be confident they will produce like they have historically. The fact the Oilers didn’t practice today is another reason why I wouldn’t do it yet.
Do you think it is time to try RNH-Draisaitl together and McDavid with two other wingers?
Drake Caggiula will get an MRI on his hand today. There is concern this could end up being more than short-term. He won’t play this weekend. He was one of the few depth guys scoring, so losing him is not ideal at this time. It makes it worse that he got injured in practice during a reaction-time drill with players seeing who could grab the glove on the ice the quickest. Seems like a pointless drill to me.
Zykov has a great shot. Can he get open to use it and can he get if off quick enough? If he can do those two things, he should get some good looks playing with any of McDavid, Draisaitl or RNH. The Oilers are desperate for anyone who can score so I expect he gets a look right away in the top six.
In eight games under Hitchcock the PP and PK are dead even. The PP is 4 of 22, while the PK has allowed four goals on 22 kills. The PP has been dreadful for the past three games, however, going 0-for-11 including an ugly two-minute 4-on-3 in OT last night. The Oilers were way too static. The opposition loves it when McDavid is standing still. When he is moving he scares teams, but the set up played into the Blues’ hands by having very little movement. I also don’t think four lefties is ideal, but the lack of movement was the bigger issue for me. Too easy to defend, regardless of which way the players shoot.
MONTH OF GIVING
Thanks to Steve and Riley for their bids and to On The Rocks and The Ranch for the great packages.
- Four Loge Seats for the Oilers/Canucks game on December 27th.
- $200 GC for dinner at Atlas Steak House
You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.
We will have a Pyramid of Giving for The JCI Holiday Hamper. Tune in at 2 p.m. to hear how you can help feed 900 families at Christmas.
You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out the Christmas Bureau and The Holiday Hamper.