The Oilers, fresh off back-to-back losses against two of the weaker teams in the Western Conference, will play their final game before the holiday break against the league’s best team. Here are your game day notes.
1. The Lightning own a 27-7-2 record through 36 games this season, good for a .778 point percentage which puts them on pace for 128 points over the course of the entire season. If the Lightning can actually manage to keep up that pace, they’d finish with the most points in the standings since the Detroit Red Wings put up 131 points with a 62-13-7 record back in 1995-96.
2. Steve Yzerman, the architect of this Lightning team who stepped down from his role as general manager earlier this year, of course, was the captain of that Red Wings team.
It took that Red Wings team a little while to get over the hump. They ended up losing to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final in 1996 (and they had lost in the Cup Final in 1995) but they would go on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998. The Lightning have been in the mix for a while now but haven’t managed to get it done. They lost in the Conference Final last year and they lost in the Cup Final in 2016. This is the best team the Lightning have ever had, including their 2004 Cup team. this the year they get over the hump?
3. What makes Tampa Bay so good? They’re the league’s most dominant offensive team by a wide margin. Tampa Bay leads the league in goals with 148, which is good for 4.11 goals per game. The next best team is the Leafs, who are scoring 3.71 goals per game.
4. The Lightning have two elite scoring lines and a third line that chips in offensively at a higher level than most other team’s third line. Their top line features Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos, and J.T. Miller, who have combined for 38 goals so far. Their other top line consists of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat, who have combined for 40 goals. Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, and Yanni Gourde, Tampa’s current third line, have combined for 28 goals so far.
5. One fascinating thing about the Lightning constructing this juggernaut team is how many diamonds in the rough their scouting department has found. Beyond Stamkos, none of Tampa Bay’s top forwards were acquired with high draft picks. Kucherov was a third rounder back in 2010, Point was a third rounder in 2014, and Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde were both undrafted.
6. Good scouting has afforded Tampa the ability to pull the trigger on trades to augment the rest of their lineup. Last year, they dealt away a bunch of prospects to acquire Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, giving them a good top-four defenceman and top-six winger. They were also comfortably able to let go of former fourth overall pick Jonathan Drouin in a one-for-one swap that landed them blue chip defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
7. While the Lightning’s bread and butter is scoring goals, they’re also pretty difficult to score on. Their blueline is solid, but behind them is one of the better goalies in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s only played in 16 games this year because he missed over a month due to injury, but Vasilevskiy owns a .930 save percentage and has allowed more than three goals in a game just three times.
8. Mikko Koskinen will be in net against Vasilevskiy. Koskinen was Edmonton’s goalie the last time these two teams met back in early November. Koskinen allowed five goals on 35 shots, which was probably his worst start of the season. Koskinen, as we know, has been lights out at home, so we’ll see if he fares better this time than he did last.
9. Speaking of that last meeting between Edmonton and Tampa Bay… Mathieu Joseph won’t have to worry about being hunted down the ice by Milan Lucic this time around. Joseph, who caught the wrath of an angry Lucic for hitting Kris Russell from behind, is currently sidelined with a lower-body injury. It’ll be interesting to see if anybody on the Lightning fights back against Lucic for that play which resulted in a mini-brawl. Personally, I can’t see it. The Lightning don’t really have any heavyweights on their roster.
10. The Oilers are rolling with different forward lines than we’ve seen in the Hitchcock era. Leon Draisaitl is back on his own line with Toby Reider and Alex Chiasson while Jesse Puljujarvi has been placed on the McNuge line. I like seeing Puljujarvi getting time with McDavid, but I’m not sure about RNH going back on the wing because I think he’s become Edmonton’s best defensive centre. If you want to spread the offence away from McDavid, you need to put Draisaitl and RNH together.
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.
Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/22/2018 – 1:00 pm MT