My five-year-old son has been in Can-Skate for the past 14 months. We have played floor hockey in the garage for years, but last week was the first time I put him on the ice with a hockey stick. I wanted him to learn how to skate first, and after a few falls learning how to balance while he shot the puck, he was wheeling around the outdoor rink with a huge smile on his face.
He is becoming a hockey fan.
He has watched his cousin’s WHL highlights in the morning for a few years, but usually he is in bed when the Edmonton Oilers games start. Over the past few months my wife and I let him watch the first ten minutes of the first period before going to bed. He loves the national anthem. He makes us stand up and sing it because at kindergarten they sing the anthem. It is great to see what kids gravitate towards.
And he is now a Connor McDavid fan. He wants a #97 jersey. I never influenced him at all, but even the most innocent and inexperienced fan can see how great McDavid is. It is no surprise he is the favourite of most kids in Northern Alberta. And the other great part about kids is how honest they are.
He watched part of the San Jose afternoon game at our house. I was at the rink watching it live and Sunday morning when he and I were building lego I asked him about the game. “I asked mom to change the channel. It wasn’t fun to watch,” he said.
I confirmed later with my wife that this is exactly what happened. He just turned five and he has a short attention span, so even if a game is close he sometimes will stop watching, but in this case he simply didn’t like the drubbing the San Jose Sharks were giving the Oilers.
After I explained you can’t win every game, he, in deep thought, looked at me and said, “How come the Oilers can’t score many goals? McDavid and his friend Dra-saddle (It is a hard name to pronounce for kids) score but not the other guys,” he asked.
He is young and as anyone knows kids aren’t vindictive. He was simply curious why they rest of the team struggles to produce. I said it is hard to score in the NHL and that is why those two are so good. It is too early to explain to him the real truths, but I found it interesting how even the youngest fan can see one of the Oilers main deficiencies.
It reminded me that sports isn’t as complicated as us adults try to make it to be. It is pretty basic. You need a great player or two, some quality depth forwards, a sound defence and a reliable goalie. If you have that, you have a chance.
Right now the Oilers have virtually no depth scoring and they are leaking goals at an alarming rate. No doubt some players need to be doing more offensively — mainly Tobias Rieder and Milan Lucic — but Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli hasn’t built a solid enough supporting cast around McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Tonight’s roster illustrates this.
The forward lines are a projection based on yesterday’s practice and the recent trades. I’m certain about the first D pair, while the others are an educated guess. A neat story for Joseph Gambardella. His brother graduated from the New York City Police department two days ago. He will be working his first shift tonight in New York at the Ball Drop, while Joseph plays his first NHL game. A thrill for both in their respective line of work.
Khaira has eleven points in his last eight games and Rattie had three points on Saturday, so they are the best offensive options on McDavid’s wing if you don’t want Draisaitl or RNH there. None of the Oilers wingers enter tonight’s game with more than three goals. Ouch.
Kailer Yamamoto is out with an injury, and I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. My concern with Yamamoto being in the NHL this season was his size. I believe he will be a solid NHL player in the future, but he needs time to develop and get stronger. You can’t rush the latter. It is impossible. He missed three weeks in Bakersfield in early December and I hope for his sake this is just a minor tweak.
Earlier today Peter Chiarelli outlined that Brandon Manning and Alex Petrovic are third pairing defenders. Which is fine. Teams need solid third pair players, but both will be asked to play more tonight. Much of that is due to injuries to Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, but as I wrote earlier today, I don’t see how Manning is much of an upgrade over Kevin Gravel.
I asked GM Peter Chiarelli what Manning does better than Gravel as I see them battling for the same spot on the third pair LD.
“That is where I respectfully disagree with you,” began Chiarelli. “He’s (Manning) an established player in the NHL. He’s a good solid defender, and he can make some offensive plays. I think from the offensive perspective you are going to see more. He’s played longer in the league and he is meaner. Kevin has done well for us. This (trade) is about bringing in some players who can help our defence now. It doesn’t mean we aren’t looking for higher end D, as we have dipped into our LTIR money…but it is a fair question, Jason, but he has more experience and he’s shown he can do more at this level. That is our evaluation of him.”
It is fair to say Manning has more offence in his game. In junior he was a 50-point defender and in the AHL he produced 31 and 43 points. He had 19 points in the NHL last year. He will bring more offence, but it is unlikely he adds a lot. What about defensively though? The Oilers have allowed 31 goals in the past seven games.
On the season Gravel is an even player at 5×5. He’s been on for 12 goals for and 12 against. With Chicago Manning has been on for 26 goals against and nine for. He is -17 at 5×5. Now I recognize that doesn’t mean he was at fault on all the goals against, but he hasn’t been outperforming Gravel in the D zone. Maybe that changes with a new address, but I think much of this was due to Manning being a more aggressive player.
Chiarelli and Ken Hitchcock like big-hockey. It doesn’t mean they don’t like skill, but I think they still have a soft spot for the bigger, meaner player. I love that type of player, but in today’s game, unless that player also has the skill to make plays his aggressiveness is not nearly as valuable as it was in the past.
The Jets top-six is excellent. They are a tough matchup when your defence is healthy, but the Oilers are without the best defender in Klefbom, and a solid #4 in Russell, so the Jets will pose even more problems. The Oilers get a bit of a break with Dustin Byfuglien out of the lineup with an ankle injury, but I suspect Mikko Koskinen will have to be great tonight for the Oilers to have a chance.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
There was a brief moment midway through this past month where a lot of Oilers fans and media felt that the 30 year old Finnish goaltender was about to take over as the Oilers number one guy in net as he had a 11-3-1 record and three shutouts along the way.
Since then he’s lost his last three games in a row with save percentages below .900 and the last game was especially bad as he gave up four goals on six shots faced against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Oilers need a lot of help pretty much everywhere outside of Connor McDavid, but if Koskinen can rebound and regain the form he had in the first part of the season, it would go a long way in help righting the ship in Edmonton.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Jets are too deep and skate away with a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid, Wheeler Schiefele and Draisailt, who are all top-13 in NHL scoring, register a point.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Jones picks up his third point in seven NHL games and he reminds people how a full season in the AHL is not a bad development plan.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/31/2018 – 1:00 pm MST