GDB Game Notes Canucks @ Oilers: Home Show

It is never ideal when you have more road wins than home victories, especially when you only have 15 road victories. The Oilers have been a much more consistent and competitive team away from Edmonton recently, but if they want to stay in the hunt until the final week of the season they need to start showing up on home ice.

At home they’ve faced many teams on the second half of a back-to-back and haven’t used that to their advantage. They must tonight against the Canucks who scored two goals in the third and defeated Toronto in overtime at home last night.

1. Ken Hitchcock explained the difference he’s seen from his team on the road compared to home.

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“We’ve been guilty of looking for space rather than fighting for space,” said Hitchcock. “On the road we have been willing to work for it. It doesn’t matter if you are in the playoffs now. You are either fighting for a playoff spot or you are fighting for a job. Our best game is when we check. Check for chances, check to keep the puck and when we have that attitude we are good. I want to bring that from the road to home.”

2. The Oilers did win their previous two home games over the Ducks and Islanders, before heading on the road, so maybe they have figured out how to get the home crowd excited. However, prior to those victories they’d only won two of their previous 14 home games between December 18th and February 19th. It was a two month run of unacceptable home play. They were outscored 39-61 in that span. On home ice. The frustrating part of that two-month famine was they started the season very well on home ice, going 10-4-1.

3. The recent 3-1-1 road trip by the Oilers had them playing sound defence in four of the five games. They didn’t show up in Toronto, but were very good the other four games. Their overall team defence has been much better for the past few weeks, and it isn’t a coincidence that coincides with the return of Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom. I asked Hitchcock what those two bring to the overall team defence.

“We just got the analytics for the past ten games or so with those guys (Sekera and Klefbom) in the lineup and it is black and white. It is simple. We spend so much less time in our zone than we did before. We aren’t stuck in the zone. We aren’t defending for extra time. We’ve been top-five in the league in getting out of the zone under pressure (since their return). I think there has been maybe two other teams better than us in spending less time in our zone,” said Hitchcock.

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4. Hitchcock then went on to discuss the value of D-men who can transport the puck.

“When you spend less time in the zone and get out, not clean necessarily, but you get out on first touch that is a good thing. The other thing they do very well is they create separation out of coverage. In other words, you are in coverage and a lot of times when you get the puck the first thing you do is rim it or feed it somewhere else, but you are still in coverage. They (Sekera/Klefbom) skate it out of those areas and they buy us time to get open for them. That is composure, and that composure is feeding into other people.

“We had all sorts of effort before (Klef and Sekera returned), but we kept sticking ourselves back in coverage and we would give up a lot of goals against getting worn down. That isn’t happening now as much.”

5. Sekera isn’t playing a lot, and I’m not sure he would be as effective in a top-four role against the top forwards, but he is an outstanding third pairing defender right now. The other thing Sekera brings is a presence in the dressing room. He can be calming, but he also isn’t afraid to let players know when they need to do more. He is highly respected in the room and from what I’m told by coaches and players he has a knack of knowing when to say the right thing. Those things don’t show up on a stat sheet, but they are important for any successful team.

6. The Canucks only have three wins in their previous 14 road games and they’ve been shutout five times. Their road PP has really struggled going 5-of-47 (10.6%) during that span. They played last night, they are banged up and are just behind Edmonton in the playoff picture. The issue for the Oilers is the Canucks are 2-0-1 against them this season and their PP has ripped the Oilers to the tune of 40% with four goals on ten PP opportunities. The Canucks work extremely hard, and Connor McDavid has spoke glowingly about how difficult it is to generate chances against them. The Oilers have to match their intensity and they can’t turn pucks over when Vancouver forechecks aggressively. Moving the puck out quickly and accurately is a must and Edmonton needs to protect the neutral zone and limit turnovers between the bluelines. That is how Vancouver has had success this season. The Oilers turned pucks over at both bluelines far too often.

7. Zack Kassian has looked comfortable on the top line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and that isn’t as easy as people think. Playing with elite players can be very difficult for some players. Kassian had a stint with the Daniel and Henrik Sedin a few years ago in Vancouver and had a career-best 14 goals. I asked Kassian about the differences for him playing on the top line compared to the bottom six.

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“It is a different style of play playing with them. It is a lot more puck possession, good with your stick in the O-zone, holding on to pucks, really creating space, finding holes and reading off of them. When you play in the bottom six you are dumping it most of the time, you are being really physical, and you play and in your face type of game,” said Kassian. He has adjusted well and his versatility has become quite valuable on a team desperate for some complementary scoring.

8. Does Kassian like playing the more offensive style?

“It is fun scoring goals, but it is fun playing first or fourth line because you are in the NHL. I feel I have a unique skillset where I can play higher up or further down depending on the situation. We ended up trying me there (top line) and it has worked out a little bit. I’ve always felt I could play anywhere up and down the lineup, and maybe it is about more opportunity. In saying that, I’m not saying I’m a first line player. I can play there, but I will play wherever the coach plays me. I feel I can help in different roles.”

9. Opportunity is huge factor in success for many players. Some players can handle the added pressure, while others aren’t ready for it at certain times in their career. Kassian scored “goal scorer” type goals in Columbus and Buffalo. His one-timer against the Sabres was a beauty, but not something we’ve seen often from him. Mainly because very few bottom six forwards can make a cross-ice, cross-seam pass like McDavid did, but also because Kassian wouldn’t be in that shooter’s spot when playing in the bottom six. On that goal he showed why he was a first round pick in 2009.

“I think if you have the skill it doesn’t ever leave you, it is just a matter who you play with. In the bottom six you are creating a lot off the cycle, holding on to pucks and first in the corner to get pucks. With those two guys (97 and 29) you are in front of the net trying to create havoc and then a lot of the time if they have it you are trying to get open because they can find you. You have to go to different places on the ice when you play with them,” said Kassian.

10. Tyler Benson, 47 points in 54 games, is getting a lot of press, and rightfully so, for his solid rookie campaign in the AHL, but don’t sleep on Cooper Marody. He picked up two points last night and now has 45 in 44 games. Marody needs to add a bit of speed, but I think he will push for an NHL job next year as much, if not more, than Benson. The Oilers might finally be in a position over the next few seasons where they will have a steady stream of young forwards who can be recalled and produce. And they have different types of players. Marody will most likely be a bottom six centre and there is nothing wrong with that. Productive bottom-six forwards are a must if you want to be competitive, but he is also solid defensively. Benson might become a second line player, but is for sure a third liner, while Kailer Yamamoto might become a complementary first line winger. I’d like to see Benson and Yamamoto given a bit more time to blossom in the minors next season, but they, like Marody, should get a few NHL games next season at some point.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 3/7/2019 – 7:00 am MT

  • Ass Eatn Szn 69

    top 5 in getting it out under pressure? What is he smoking, other than sekera none of them can get it of the zone with control.

    russel back hand off the boards, nurse into the feet, benning falls over when he passes the puck, klefbom is ok, gravel is ok, dont think ive ever seen pertrovic with the puck.

    honestly the best break out passer on the team is gagner just flipping it over everyone onto a streaking forwards stick.

    • Joeboot

      The way I read that quote he was referring to the last 10 games with Klef and Sek back in the lineup based on what the analytics showed. I’ll side with Hitch on this, he has waaaay more experience then most never mind the armchair critics.

  • McHitch

    Oilers have points in 7 out of 8 games with Sekera in the lineup.

    With an Oilers and Lightening win we will be 5 points out with a game in hand.

    The games against the Avs, Coyotes and Stars will be big. Lets keep it rolling boys!!!

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Every game is big, starting with tonight. They can’t take the Nucks lightly.
      Contain Roussell & Horvat & Petey won’t have a target. Boeser is in a real slump & is waiting too long to shoot lately. He may be nursing an injury, as he seems to have lost a step. Markstrom has been a “top-tier” goalie this year but stick side or low glove seems to be the weak point. He’s also been vulnerable side-to-side the last couple of games…
      The Leafs beat them up pretty good last night, though not physically,… cardio. Though that may have just warmed them up… Should be a great game & we need this win. If not just to say that we beat them this year… I don’t know about you guys, but I love it when we beat the Nucks…

  • The Swarm

    The Oilers have a very weak schedule the rest of the way. If they sweep this 4 game home stand, they need 17 more points in the last 12 games to get to 90 points. It’s doable.

    • Señor Frijoles

      It’s still a long shot, but how amazing would it be to slide into that 8th spot and play the Flames first round? Once you’re in, anything can happen.

  • Johnny Zylon

    I think back and reflect about the season the Oilers have had and all the turmoil, criticism, and negativity but here we are in March and they are still in it. They are in the race for the playoffs and although the odds are against them they are, as Coach Hitchcock says, playing as a team. They are playing for each other. Dispite my disgust at Oiler management I’m am going to cheer them on, I am going to be an Oiler Fan. Beat the Canucks tonight! Oiler domination to follow.

  • BobbyCanuck

    I don’t use fancy stats or Corsi or statistical analysis, but what I can tell you:

    We are 6 points out of a wildcard, which means we need to win 3 more games than the teams above us. So that would be 3/17 = 17.6%

    SO if we can play 20% better than the teams in front of us, we should get in.

    Forget about all that talk about needing 90 points or 88 or 85 or whatever the mathematicians are saying, all we need to do is play 20% better than the teams in front of us

  • Towers-of-dub

    the Leafs game still aggravates me. We all know it was a no show from the Oilers because they were lighting it up on Yonge street the night before. Someone should hold them accountable for that garbage.

  • Oily Reign

    Notice how all the soft teams aren’t doing as well since the TDL. The only real difference is in the officiating. The officials, like the players, start gearing up for the playoffs.
    When the Oilers are “on”, they play an above average, playoff style of hockey. We need to learn to play the “All Star game style” that the league allows for the first 2/3 of the season, otherwise we will always be chasing at this time of year.

    • wiseguy

      You can’t have it both ways – complaining that they use “all star” rules and that they don’t call infractions when McDavid gets mugged. That’s call being biased.

      • Oily Reign

        The league has proven that there are a completely different set of rules when it applies to McDavid. That set of rules are there for the whole season, including the playoffs. Arguing otherwise, after the volumes of evidence for, only shows your bias.
        I’m referencing the league as a whole that penalizes “heavy hockey” in the first 2/3rds of the regular season vs. the playoffs push and playoffs.

  • Goon

    When Kassian was with the Canucks, he was great in a couple of brief stints with the Sedins. It was off-ice / maturity issues that kept him from a more permanent position higher up the lineup, not a lack of skill. It sounds like he’s grown up a bit which is good to hear.

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      I paid attention to his interviews when he came to the Oilers, and he was very contrite and honest about his past. I had my doubts at first, but he’s kept on the straight and narrow path. Kudos to him

  • toprightcorner

    Of Chia was still here, he would pencil Kassian as McDavids winger next year and take it off his shopping list.

    It is great to see Zack on a hot streak, but as a regular, he is a 4th line guy. Hopefully he is adding some value to get a good return in a trade. $1.9 is just too much for a 4th liner.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      But it’s not too much for a 4th liner that can play solidly on the first line when the team needs a push… He is a valuable asset to this club.

  • toprightcorner

    I see Marody starting in the NHL next year on the wing and then be eased into center. Oilers need to add a solid vet 3C with some offensive skill.

    I would like to see Benson and Yamamoto on the top line with the Condors for the first half of next season. Benson is close to a point a game this year and hopefully, he and Yamo will both be over a point per game and dominating next year. That is when they can get the call up.

    Benson needs to learn how to score at the pro level. He doesn’t need to score a lot since he is more of a setup guy, but 10-12 goals in the AHL is not enough to score at a top 6 level in the NHL.