The Oilers are heading to Winnipeg riding a four-game winning streak which is their longest of the season thus far. Here are your game day notes.
1. Last time the Oilers played the Jets, they had a wild travel schedule that involved them flying from Boston to Edmonton then from Edmonton to Fargo, North Dakota before bussing to Winnipeg because Winnipeg doesn’t have an airport. Instead of going through customs three times in a 24-hour span, the Oilers decided this time to fly over Winnipeg and parachute into the city.
2. The Oilers’ last game against the Jets represented a spark and a turning point in the team’s early season. The Oilers were 1-2 with back-to-back losses to kick off the season and a pretty ugly win over the Rangers. They were down 4-1 heading into the third period but Connor McDavid willed them back for an overtime win. That win looked like a turning point as the Oilers would go 6-3-1 over their next 10 games but then a stretch of six losses in seven games ultimately cost Todd McLellan his job.
3. Since hiring Ken Hitchcock, the Oilers are 8-2-1. One of those losses came in overtime when Edmonton blew a lead against Anaheim with a few seconds left and one of them came when Connor McDavid had the flu and didn’t play in Dallas. Only three times in Hitchcock’s tenure have the Oilers allowed more than three goals in a game. One was against the Kings and two of the five scored were in an empty net, one was against the Stars in the aforementioned game in which McDavid didn’t play, and one was Tuesday’s win in Colorado when the Avs scored two late goals in a game that was already out of hand.
4. Of course, a lot of this is rooted in an overall team improvement and commitment to defence, but Edmonton’s goaltending has been largely excellent under Hitchcock. Cam Talbot has a .925 save percentage in three games in the Hitchcock era while Mikko Koskinen has a .936 save percentage in eight games.
5. The Jets own a fairly similar 7-3 record to the Oilers in their last 10 games. They’re currently riding a two-game winning streak with big wins over the Flyers and Blackhawks in which they combined to score 13 goals. The Jets have been shockingly consistent all season. Only once have they dropped back-to-back games. That came back in late-November when they lost to Calgary and Minnesota. Otherwise, the Jets don’t have a losing streak this season.
6. While the Jets have had a strong start to the year, there’s no doubt their schedule has made life easy on them. They’ve played one-third of their games against bottom-dwelling teams like St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. In those games, they’re 9-1. In their other 20 games against non-terrible teams, they’re 10-8-2, which is far from bad, but it isn’t excellent either.
7. A key for Winnipeg to do well against good teams and ultimately take the step to Stanley Cup contender will be the play of Connor Hellebuyck. He had a poor start to the season but has improved as of late. He owns a .946 save percentage in the month of December, in four starts, which is a massive improvement on the .904 save percentage he had in 19 starts before that. The Jets need December Hellebuyck to be the Hellebuyck they see the rest of the season.
8. The Jets also boast a lot of offensive firepower. They rank fifth in the league with 107 goals through 30 games played. A lot of that comes down to a dominant power play that has scored on 30.3 percent of chances so far this season. Patrik Laine has 10 of his 21 goals this season on the man advantage and looks like a young Alex Ovechkin waiting at the top of the circles for a one-timer.
9. Last game, the Oilers gave the league’s second-best (behind only Winnipeg) power play six different opportunities but managed to kill off five of them. The Avs failed to convert in what was a mismatched special teams matchup between an elite power play and a mediocre penalty kill. If you play with fire long enough, you’ll get burnt. It would be best if the Oilers could limit their time in the sin bin against the Jets.
10. Speaking of Laine, I wonder what kind of contract he’ll end up signing this off-season. This summer’s batch of restricted free agents is an interesting one. We only ever hear about Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but there’s also Matt Tkachuk, who’s arguably Calgary’s best player, Laine, who might be the league’s best scorer, and Mikko Rantanen, who could win the Art Ross this year, among others. Laine is on pace for 57 goals and a $10 million post-ELC deal isn’t out of the question.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/13/2018 – 8:00 am MT