Oscar Klefbom returns to the lineup for his first game since December 11th, when he fractured two fingers. Klefbom missed 21 games and the Oilers desperately need his presence on the blueline. He is fifth in the NHL in TOI/game at 25:25 and I’m curious how much he will play tonight and moving forward.
Darnell Nurse will remain on the top unit PP, and that makes sense. Nurse has performed very well in Klefbom’s absence, and is in fact on pace to surpass the 38 points Klefbom scored in 2017, so I’d keep him on the top unit and have Klefbom ease his way in on the second.
The biggest discomfort for Klefbom is from the vibration he feels when taking a slap shot. He can let it rip, but it causes some discomfort, so we might not see him tee up clappers regularly right away.
Having Klefbom back should be a huge boost for the Oilers. He will slide in beside Adam Larsson and Kevin Gravel will move down to the third pair with Matt Benning. Klefbom should give the Oilers a solid 20 minutes, possibly more, and he should help them move the puck out of their zone better.
Hitchcock changed their forecheck during the all-star break. They went back to a two-man forecheck, which is what they had under McLellan. The passive forecheck Hitchcock put in place originally wasn’t working.
The game today is about possession, and when you don’t have it you have to pressure teams. If you don’t pressure teams today, they will possess the puck much longer than you want. Going back to a similar forecheck helped and the players looked more comfortable doing it. The Oilers hope it will lead to more possession time, and ultimately more shots on goal.
Prior to the Philadelphia game the Oilers had 26 shots or fewer in 16 of their 20 previous games. You aren’t going to score very often when you can’t even get pucks on net.
I’m interested to see if Klefbom’s return leads Ken Hitchcock to wanting more plays up the middle. Last game the Oilers were moving the puck up the wall almost exclusively. That was a directive from the head coach. I understand the middle of the ice is more dangerous, but it is also the area more teams are using to break out. You have to trust your defenders to make the right play. I don’t think it is wise to discourage using the middle of the ice when under pressure. You don’t want to throw it there blindly, but with the pace and speed of the game you have to use it sometimes.
While Klefbom won’t be on the first PP unit, he will be on the PK, and you’d hope he can help it. The PK has been a problem for two years now. Since February 1st, 2017 the Oilers have played 164 games (equivalent of two seasons) and their PK is 30th in the NHL at 76.4%. Only Ottawa is worse at 75.9%.
Edmonton has allowed 113 PP goals during 479 times shorthanded, the most during that span. The Senators allowed 112 on 464 kills. In case you are wondering, the Oilers’ 479 kills are 18th most, so it’s not like they are taking a lot of penalties. Nashville has been shorthanded the most, 556, with Anaheim slotting in second most with 549.
The PK is a major problem and I don’t believe you can blame it on coaching. There have been two different head coaches and two different defence coaches during the past 164 games and we haven’t seen much improvement. The players need to take onus of it and improve.
“I don’t think it is a structure thing. A lot is on us,” said Matt Benning. “Winning draws and getting the clears would help. I know it is easier said than done as they have five players and we have four, and you are going to make mistakes some times, but right now it is compounding mistakes. You get a chance to clear, we don’t get it down, we get another chance, don’t get it down and that’s when they score. It isn’t a structure thing, it is things that allows them to stay in the zone a bit more, we get tired and then they score. We have to find a way to stop compounding mistakes.”
PK is a lot about hard work, determination and a willingness to get in the shooting lane and then ensuring you block the shot, or get out of the way so the goalie can see it. Since February 1st, 2017, the Oilers have used mostly the same PKers who are still with the team.
Nurse has been on for 306 PK minutes, Larsson 305, Russell 293, Klefbom 253, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 232, Zack Kassian 210, Jujhar Khaira 169, Mark Letestu 169, Leon Draisaitl 142, Connor McDavid 133 and Benning 118. Only Letestu is no longer here. The players have to rally around each other and find a new level of commitment. They’ve had good stretches of ten or 15 games where the PK looks good, but then they revert back to many of the same problems. They allow easy seam passes, don’t get in the shooting lane or don’t bear down and get the puck when they have the chance.
Cam Talbot has a .829sv% (on the PK) in 122 games while Mikko Koskinen has a .855sv% in 29 appearances. Among goalies who have played at least 29 games since February 1st, 2017, Koskinen ranks 43rd in PK SV% while Talbot is 59th among the 63 goalies who’ve played 29+ games. The goalies, like the skaters, need to be better on the PK.
We’ve seen different structures, from a box, diamond to the half T, and none have led to success. It is up to the players to get better and more consistent as a group when down a man.
Interesting to note that since returning from the all-star break Talbot will start for the second time in three games, while Koskinen, fresh off his three-year, $4.5million/year deal has started once. The timing of his signing was a major head scratcher for me.
The Oilers are hoping the league accepts their application for Sekera, when they make it, to have his conditioning stint extended from three games to five. If the league does then Sekera could play this Friday, Saturday and next Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and that would allow interim GM, Keith Gretzky, more time to facilitate a trade so when the activate Sekera they won’t have to send two players to the minors.
Drake Caggiula is on the Hawks’ first line while Brandon Manning is in the pressbox. I wonder if those fans who felt the trade wasn’t that bad still think that way?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
In Edmonton, the heartbeat of the team continues to be their top three centers, McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They are by far that top offensive performers on the team and are the core of the Oilers that Edmonton fans can rally around during this period of transition in the front office and hockey operations group. McDavid leads the team with 76 points (31 G, 45 A), Draisaitl has 63 points (29 G, 34 A), and Nugent-Hopkins has 48 points (16 G, 32 A) this season. Their power play’s success hinges on these three player’s talent, and is ranked ninth in the NHL with a 21.4-percent conversion rate.
Additionally, this will be the first game between the two franchises since defenseman Brandon Manning was traded to the Oilers for Drake Caggiula. Manning has often been heathy scratched by Hitchcock, while Caggiula has been playing on the top line for the Hawks with Kane and Toews.
Both teams have important decisions to make as the trade deadline rapidly approaches, and with the way the Western Conference is playing out this season those plans can all change in an instant depending on how the next two weeks go. The Hawks hope to capture their fifth straight and continue to inch their way closer to the second wild card spot.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton has lost five in a row, the Hawks have won four in a row, but both streaks end tonight. Edmonton defeats Chicago for the third time this season, tonight by a score of 5-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Caggiula scores against his former team.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Kris Russell scores. He picks up his 17th career point v. the Hawks, second most against any team behind the 18 he has against Nashville.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 2/5/2019 – 1:30 pm MT