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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 54.O: Defence First (6pm MT, SNW)

It is difficult to outscore your mistakes at the best of times, and it becomes almost impossible when you don’t have enough offensive players. In 2019 the Edmonton Oilers defensive zone coverage has become their most glaring weakness.

Since January 1st the Oilers have allowed 52 goals in 14 games. You won’t win many games allowing 3.71 goals/game. Only Colorado (50 GA in 12 games, 4.16 GAA) and Anaheim (52 GA in 13 games and a 4.0 GAA), have been worse. The Ducks and Avs have a measly six points since January 1st.

The Oilers defensive woes are not new, of course. Defence has been a major issue for 12 of the past 13 years (in 2017 they finished eighth in goals against).

But 2017 is looking like an outlier, because from the start of the 2006/2007 season until now, Edmonton has allowed the most goals in the league at 3,069. Boston has allowed the fewest goals in that span at 2,533. In 1,004 games Edmonton has allowed 536 more goals than the Bruins. The Chicago Blackhawks are middle of the pack, 15th, and Edmonton allowed 359 more goals than them.

The Oilers haven’t been close to the league average. Lack of talent is a factor, no question, but many of the same D-men from the decent 2017 roster Oilers are struggling mightily defensively.

Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell and Adam Larsson were on the 2017 team, and they are here now. The defensive dip shouldn’t be this bad. Of course, goaltending is a factor too.

In 73 starts Cam Talbot had a .919sv% in 2017, and including Laurent Brossoit (.928) and Jonas Gustavsson (.878), the Oilers’ team sv% was .917.

This year, in 53 starts, Talbot and Koskinen have a combined .898sv%. No doubt they need to be better, but so too does the defensive play of the D-men and forwards.

Scoring depth is another issue, as you know, but the attention to detail defensively has to improve from the players. Allowing four goals in 2:58 early in the third period to Chicago highlights how ineffective this team can be defensively.

They shouldn’t be this bad defensively, but until some players commit to picking up the right man, getting pucks out when they have a chance and not turning up ice prematurely in the defensive zone, allowing goals at an alarming rate will continue. During their six-game losing streak they’ve allowed 30 goals. It is impossible to win when you give up five goals per game.

From the goalies to the defenders and up to the forwards, EVERY player needs to be more aware defensively.

Ken Hitchcock sat down in a team meeting yesterday morning. He sat beside Cam Talbot and told the group he would be the starter tonight, and then said the players need to rally around their goalies and stop hanging them out to dry. It was part coaching, part psychologist. He’s trying to get them to play for each other. The challenge for Hitchcock is he will have those types of meetings, but he also has a coaching style that is very demanding and he calls out players. It works with the right team — usually one with enough skill and veterans to win — and I’m curious to see if this group will respond to him.

I agree with Hitchcock’s decision to start Talbot. He has played better than Koskinen lately, which doesn’t bode well for Koskinen’s new deal, but we’ve already discussed that.

The last time the OIlers picked up only 12 points over a 20-game stretch was during Dallas Eakins’ final 20 games as head coach of the Oilers  (they went 3-13-4). In fact they were 3-15-4 in Eakins’ final 22 games. The past 20 games of the Oilers have been very ugly, and the scary part is even with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on pace for 100-point seasons, this team is on a bad run similar to years where they finished 28th in the NHL. Not a good sign.

The frustrating thing about the Oilers recently is they have checked well for a game, or for a few periods in a game, but then fell apart. And that’s why I think their mental focus has been a problem. When things aren’t going well, they snowball — just ask Tobias Rieder, who looks like he might never score again — and right now there is no doubt the Oilers are a fragile team defensively. They don’t have to become great defensively, but even if they can be average they should be able to stay in the Unamazing Race that is shaping up in the West. The other teams are equally inconsistent and at this point all you likely need is to find a solid 10-game stretch to get in the playoffs.

LINEUP…

Oilers

Draisaitl-McDavid-Rattie
Lucic-RNH-Chiasson
Khaira-Malone-Kassian
Rieder-Cave-Puljujarvi

Klefbom-Larsson
Nurse-Russell
Manning-Benning

Talbot

The top three lines aren’t for sure as today was an optional, but this is my best guess for the start of the game. We do know for sure that Kyle Brodziak and Kevin Gravel are out and Brandon Manning and Colby Cave are back in.

“We need better from that position. This is an opportunity for Malone. We need better 5×5 play and on the PK from that position,” Hitchcock said today in regards to Kyle Brodziak being a healthy scratch.

Wild

Zucker-Stall-Granlund
Parise-Rask-Coyle
Greenway-Eriksson-Ek-Kunin
Rau-Fehr-Foligno

Suter-Spurgeon
Brodin-Pateryn
Bitetto-Hunt

Dubnyk

Mikko Koivu is out for the season with a torn ACL. This is a big blow for the Wild, but it likely will give Eriksson-Ek a better opportunity than he has had in the past.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Hockey Wilderness:

“It’s not a good situation to be in,” Charlie Coyle uttered the biggest understatement after the Wild fell to the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout Tuesday night. Though he wasn’t talking about the Wild’s sudden fall in the Central Division standings, but instead of potentially losing Wild captain Mikko Koivu for an extended period of time. On Wednesday, the Wild’s worst nightmare was realized. Michael Russo of The Athletic reported that Mikko Koivu suffered a tear to the ACL and meniscus and will be lost for the season in his right knee.

Because why not?

In a season that was only going to be measured on the Wild making the post-season and their run in said playoffs, losing both Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu is some of the last things this team needed. Dumba may return in time for the playoffs if the Wild qualify, but without someone like Koivu locking down the other team’s top lines, that feat is going to be much harder.

Filling the void the Koivu has left behind will be more than just finding a body to play the 18 minutes night the Koivu played. The Wild captain might not be the most prolific shooter on the team. In fact, he’s maybe good for 1.85 shots on goal per game. Yet, he’s a 52 percent in shot attempt percentage while he’s on the ice at 5v5. When Koivu is on the ice his line is getting their fair share of scoring chances.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: “The Oilers are playing better on the road than at home lately,” is a refrain I’ve heard. They are 2-10 in their last 12 home games so I would hope they are better on the road. They are 5-4-3 on the road in their last 12. It is decent, but they are still winning fewer than half their road games. They desperately need a win, but I don’t see it tonight. Oilers lose 3-2 in a SO.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid and Draisaitl combine for a goal. They each have 10 goals since January 1st. Only Arvidsson (12), Seguin and Zibanejad (11 each) have more.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: This game is highly entertaining. It will have many great scoring chances, some animosity, physical play and…I’m sorry I can’t do it. Wild-Oilers game in Minnesota are rarely entertaining. My real NSOGDP is the Oilers don’t allow a PP goal. They’ve surrendered 11 goals on their past 28 kills for an ugly 60.7% PK rating. The PK stops the bleeding for a night.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 2/7/2019 – 1:30 pm MT