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GDB 56.0: Just Win (6pm MT, SNW)

I loathe having to read between the lines. I prefer a direct approach. In business, at work, in relationships, I find being direct saves time, allows you to see the entire picture and in some cases find a solution.

The Oilers playoff aspirations are cut and dry. They need wins and they need them quickly. There is no room for error or moral victories. They need two points and they will need to find a way to defeat teams currently in the playoffs if they have any hopes of staying in the playoff race.

“We have to be, probably, the most desperate team in the league now,” said Connor McDavid before departing to Pittsburgh. “We have to find a way to win games. It is on us. We have to put together a good road trip.”

Short, direct and to the point. There is no reason to sugarcoat it. The Oilers’ playoff chances are slim, but they aren’t impossible because the Minnesota Wild can’t win regularly either. The St.Louis Blues are playing like the team many expected them to be when the season began. The Blues demolished New Jersey 8-3 last night for their seventh consecutive victory and since January 1st the Blues have the best record in the NHL at 13-4-1. They are eight points ahead of the Oilers and are showing no signs of slowing down. I expect the Blues to catch the Dallas Stars, who are two points ahead of St.Louis, for third place in the Central division, but unless Dallas really stumbles they are likely making the playoffs.

So that leaves one wildcard spot up for grabs.

The Oilers have two games in hand on Minny, Vancouver and Chicago and one game in hand on Arizona and Colorado. The Canucks plays Anaheim tonight, but the other teams are idle. Depending on which projection you look at the Oilers playoff chances are sitting around 11-15%, but that is only a projection. In early December the Blues chances were similar. The Oilers aren’t as deep as the Blues, but is Edmonton really that much worse than the other five teams vying for the final wildcard spot?

All these teams have deficiencies, just like the Oilers do, and the final 27 games will be about which team can maximize the production from their rosters. Edmonton needs to find some consistency in their game. It is obvious their roster lacks the talent to compete with top teams, but if you go player by player and compare Edmonton to Minny or Colorado, Vancouver, Arizona or Chicago I don’t see how Edmonton is significantly weaker than any of them.

And that’s what this race is about. It isn’t about competing with Washington, Tampa, Nashville, Winnipeg, Calgary or San Jose. We know the Oilers aren’t a Cup contender, but the Oilers top three scorers are better than any trio on the other teams. We know the depth is a concern, but as I mentioned all these teams in the Unamazing Race have flaws.

Chicago: They have to outscore their problems right now. They have the third most goals in the NHL since January 1st. Patrick Kane has been destroying the league with 32 points in 16 games. The Hawks have two dangerous duos right now. Kane and Toews, 21 points in 16 games, while Alex Debrincat (21 pts) and Dylan Strome (18 pts) have rekindled their junior success together. Their potent offence is keeping them in the race because they can’t defend. They’ve allowed the fifth most goals, 60, since January first. They won seven consecutive games to get in the race, but their obvious weakness is team defence.

Arizona: They have no scorer to look at every night to lead their team. It is great to have depth, but a lack of a game breaker, or two, means they need everyone going every night. They compete hard. They have a very solid defence core, but can Darcy Kuemper maintain a .920sv% down the stretch? He has started 13 of their 17 games since January first and has been very good, but prior to this season he’s never started more than 28 games in a season. He’s already started 31 this year. We will find out down the stretch if he can handle being the go-to guy every night. He’s waited five years for this chance, so you know he wants to keep it going, but can he? The Yotes play solid team defence, and while the Hawks have to outscore you to win the Coyotes have to out defend you.

Colorado: I’m surprised how much they fallen off. Their team defence has completely eroded. They have won five of their last 27 games. They allowed three PP goals in 1:49 last night. In 16 starts since January 1st, Semyon Varlomov and Philip Grubauer have a combined .870sv%. Even with a dominant top line they can’t outscore that porous goaltending and team defence.

Vancouver: They don’t score a lot. They have the third fewest goals in the NHL in 2019, but with Elias Pettersson back in the lineup they have a major threat. They play very aggressive defensively. They don’t give you any time to make plays. Their major issue is health in goal. They acquired Marek Mazanek from the New York Rangers yesterday just so they have a healthy backup. They had to call up Michael Dipietro from junior on an emergency basis for their game against San Jose on Monday because Jacob Markstrom was banged up. The Canucks have stayed in the race because they compete hard and don’t cheat defensively.

Minnesota: They aren’t flashy. They lack an elite point producer, but they have a lot of good, reliable veterans. They are the most well-rounded team of the six competing for a playoff spot and probably should make it, but so far they haven’t found enough consistency to separate themselves from the pack. Maybe the switch suddenly goes on for their group, but the loss of their captain Mikko Koivu makes them vulnerable.

I know the Oilers roster is flawed. I get it. And some have suggested you shouldn’t get upset at the players because they are overmatched many nights. I agree they are when we compare them to the top teams, but are any of the five aforementioned teams really that much better? I don’t think it is too much to expect this group of players to be able to compete with Arizona, Vancouver, Colorado and Chicago. If they lose out to Minnesota I can see why, because the Wild have more team depth, but Edmonton still has more top end forwards.

It is up to the players now to play with the desperation their captain says they should have.

Need a smile?

I understand your frustration. Oilersnation is tired of all the losing, but even when you’re mad you can smile. This tweet is the perfect analogy.

LINEUP…

Oilers

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

Klefbom-Larsson
Nurse-Russell
Gravel-Petrovic

Koskinen

Matt Benning is still banged up and won’t play. Yesterday Ken Hitchcock talked about getting Petrovic back in. He’s liked how hard he has competed in practice. When you’ve been a healthy scratch like Petrovic has for two weeks, the best way to show the coach you want in is to battle in practice. On Monday he and Jujhar Khaira had a few spirited battles in the corners and in front of the net. Petrovic knows the situation and he is playing for his NHL career right now. He will have the desperation McDavid alluded to.

The right wing combinations aren’t 100%, I suspect we could see them move around, but with Kassian producing like he has lately why not play him on the top line for a stretch.

Penguins

Guentzel-Crosby-Rust
Pearson-Bjugstad-Kessel
Blueger-McCann-Hornqvist
Aston-Reece – Cullen – Wilson

Dumoulin-Letang
Riikola-Johnson
Pettersson-Ruhwedel/Schultz

Murray

Evgeni Malkin will serve his one-game suspension tonight for swinging his stick at Michael Raffl on Monday evening. That is a big break for the Oilers. The Penguins also lost Olli Maatta with a separated shoulder on Monday. It sounds serious and he could be out the rest of the regular season. Justin Schultz might return tonight. It would be his first game since October 13th.

It is amazing how things can change from one year to the next. Last season the Penguins struggled at 5×5, even their best players. Sidney Crosby was -7 at 5×5 last year with GF-GA or 48-55. This season he is +31 (59-28). That is the best G+/- ranking in the entire NHL. Only four other players in the entire league are +22 or better. Crosby is having an outstanding season and I look forward to the McDavid-Crosby battle tonight.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From NBC Sports:

A lack of playoff games is also probably not the early career comparison to Lemieux that McDavid wants.

If you’re an Oilers fan reading this and looking for positives it’s that the Penguins eventually got their act together and over the next few years assembled an arsenal of Hall of Famers around Lemieux, won two Stanley Cups, and were one of the league’s elite teams for more than a decade. But given how much work there seems to be needed around McDavid, the Oilers seem like they are several years away from getting there.

Even this year, in a season where McDavid is playing the best hockey of his career and on pace for 123 points, and in a year where the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff field is as mediocre as it has ever been, the playoffs are still falling out of reach. Of the 20 players who have topped 123 points since 1990, only two of them played on teams that missed the playoffs.

One player alone can not make a team in the NHL because they only impact a third of the game.

But history still shows it is awfully hard to squander an offensive player this dominant.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Pens have won five straight one-goal games over the Oilers. I’m going George Costanza today and doing the opposite of my original thought…so Oilers win 4-3.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid and Crosby each pick up a pair of points.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Zack Kassian has 6-3-9 in his last 11 games. It is his most productive stretch of games since he produced 7-3-10 in ten games late in the 2014/2015 season. Kassian continues his hot streak and picks up his 10th point since January 12th.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 2/13/2019 – 12:30 pm MT