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Photo Credit: © Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 46.0: Going the Wrong Way (7pm MST, SNW)

One of my favourite movies scenes of all-time was in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Del Griffith (John Candy) is driving while Neal Page (Steve Martin) is sleeping in the passenger seat. Page wakes up when Griffith starts honking his horn as a car on the highway is trying to get their attention. Page rolls down his window to hear what they have to say.

Page: “He says we’re going the wrong way.”

Griffith: “Oh he’s drunk. How would he know where we are going?”

Page: “Yeah, how would he know. (looks out window to other car). “Thank you, thanks a lot.”

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Moments later they narrowly avoid death, and a head-on collision with two Semi trucks.

I laugh every time I watch it, because of Griffith’s response, “How would he know where we are going.”

It never dawned on him he could be wrong. Even though he had taken the wrong exit minutes earlier, he never questioned his path.

That scene reminds me of the Edmonton Oilers right now. The management team believes they are heading in the right direction. Two weeks ago Peter Chiarelli acquired two defensive D-men because the team needed to defend better. Acquiring Alex Petrovic made sense because he was better than Chris Wideman, but Brandon Manning wasn’t any better than Kevin Gravel. They acquired him anyway and gave up a depth forward in the process. This after moving Ryan Strome for Spooner. Strome hadn’t scored early in the year, but was getting a lot of good chance. He has six goals in 26 games for the Rangers.

From the start of the season, depth scoring as been a problem for the Oilers, yet the moves Peter Chiarelli made has only made their offence worse.

Here is a comparison of some of the Oilers offensive and defensive stats under Todd McLellan’s 20 games and the recent 25 with Ken Hitchcock. It has goals for and goals against per game and shots for and against per game.

Coach                  GF/G         GA/G         SF/G         SA/G
McLellan             2.85            3.30          31.5          30.25
Hitchcock           2.68            3.12          27.0           31.56

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The Oilers GA has improved, but they’ve gotten worse in the other three categories. Their shots for/game are down significantly. It is hard to score in the NHL when you get no pucks on net.

The interesting part is how even the Oilers best forwards are shooting less under Hitchcock.

McDavid averaged 3.4 shots/game with McLellan, and is down slightly to 3.25 with Hitchcock.
Draisaitl went from 2.75 shot/game in the first 20 games to 2.36 in the last 25.
Nugent-Hopkins averaged three shots/game with McLellan and is at 2.24 now.

Those are small drops overall, considering all three of them combine for a total of one less shot per game, and despite fewer shots they are actually producing more points. McDavid had 1.4 points/game through 20, but has 1.625 in the last 24. Draisaitl went from 1.15 PPG to 1.24 over the past 25 games, while RNH was a 0.95 and is down slightly to 0.84. As a trio they are up in points, but the rest of the team is down 3.5 shots/game over the past 25 games.

The major problem under Hitchcock is the Oilers have gone from a +1.3 scoring chance differential to a -2, because they create so few chances according to Mike Kelly from The Point Hockey. It seems the Oilers focus and willingness to improve defensively is limiting their ability to produce. Outside of the top three forwards how many good scoring chances does the rest of the team create? It’s a major problem.

In my eyes the one thing that remains the same from the start of the season is the Oilers don’t have enough traffic in front of the net, nor do they create enough second and third opportunities. Even if the depth forwards lack skill, at the very least they should be able to go to the net and create havoc. How often do we see the Oilers take shots from the blueline with no one in front of the goalie?

Going to the net is about courage and desire. Conor Garland was in the blue paint for both of his goals against the Oilers on Saturday. He is listed at 165 pounds on the Coyotes website, but there he was battling for space in front of the net. He was rewarded with two goals. The Oilers need more players willing to pay the price in front of the net. Get there, get there consistently and get in a position to bang home a rebound, or like Garland, take a puck off your face to score.

The Oilers need to pay more of a price offensively, but the organization and management need to realize scoring goals is hard, and when you trade away players who are more offensively talented than the players you bring in return, it will be difficult to score. I received a text today from someone in the organization stating they are looking to improve their scoring. Great, but are they capable of evaluating the proper players to bring in? The recent track record says no.

They’ve been going in the wrong direction on acquiring skill. That has to change immediately if they have any hopes of acquiring some complementary players to help McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins offensively.

Chiarelli and his scouting staff need to realize the direction of their evaluations hasn’t been good. Successful people and organizations learn from their mistakes. Chiarelli and the entire Oilers organization hasn’t shown they are learning. That is a major concern.

LINEUP…

Oilers

Draisaitl-McDavid-Rattie
Lucic-RNH-Chiasson
Spooner-Brodziak-Puljujarvi
Reider-Khaira-Kassian

Nurse-Russell
Jones-Larsson
Manning-Benning

Koskinen

I’d keep Rattie on the top line for a few games and see what he can do. You need to give RNH someone who can finish so playing Chiasson there makes sense to me. I’d keep him there for the foreseeable future.

Sabres

Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart
Sheary-Mittelstadt-Thompson
Sobotka-Rodriques-Pominville
Girgensons-Larsson-Okposo

McCabe-Ristolainen
Dahlin-Bogosian
Scandella-Beaulieu

Hutton

Carter Hutton is 2-5-2 in his last nine starts with a .914sv%. The Sabres have allowed the fourth most shots per game over the past month at 33.5/game. No excuse for the Oilers to not be able to generate shots tonight.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Die by the Blade:

After missing yesterday’s team skills competition, it is reported that phenom and captain Connor McDavid will be in the lineup.

Most people remember McDavid as the impetus of the original tank – a race to the bottom the Edmonton ultimately won. The net gains have been surprisingly poor, though; while McDavid’s 27 goals (T-5th) and 67 points (4th) are among the top in the league, Edmonton as a whole is failing to put together a solid season. The superstar’s contributions have not been enough to lift the team out of mediocrity. Sound familiar?

Still, McDavid is top-3 in goals created, and is a constant threat anytime he’s on the ice. Toss in an IV chock-full of vitamins and who knows what McJesus will have in store.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: A battle of two teams trending in the wrong direction so we go to OT. Oilers sneak out a 3-2 OT victory in an otherwise uneventful game.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid and Skinner score.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has never scored against the Sabres. He scores his first tonight, with a nice shot on the PP.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 1/14/2019 – 1:30 pm MST