Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

GDB Game Notes: Oilers @ Islanders

Some might say “It is only two games,” but remember it is rare the Oilers are 2-0 after two games. This is the only the third time in the last 11 seasons the Oilers started 2-0. They went 2-0 in October of 2010, but finished the month 3-4-2 and finished last in the regular season.

In October of 2016, they went 2-0, finished 7-2 in October and finished second in the Pacific and eighth overall in the NHL with 103 points. It never hurts to have a good start, and while Saturday’s 6-5 victory over Los Angeles wasn’t a Picasso in terms of overall execution, it was entertaining and the Oilers won. I don’t think anyone associated with the Oilers or their fans will be worrying how they win, just as long as they find ways to keep winning.

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Tonight they begin a four-game road trip in Long Island. One question to ponder is if Mikko Koskinen will make his first start of the season.

1. Koskinen didn’t get his first start last season until October 27th in Nashville. He won that game and won his first three starts, including a shutout over Chicago and posted a .935sv% in his first three appearances. Last year he was a complete unknown, but now he is battling Mike Smith for ice time. How will he respond to the challenge? Head coach Dave Tippett made it clear by starting Smith in the first two games that Koskinen needs to earn his trust. Does it come tonight, or does he wait until Thursday? Koskinen was drafted by the Islanders 31st overall in 2009 and played four games with them in the 2010/2011 season. Players are always a bit more amped up to play their former team. I’d start Koskinen, but I can see why Tippett might go with the undefeated Smith.

2. Zack Kassian has scored in both games this season. He had two goals in the first 42 games last year. He scored his second goal in game 26, but didn’t score again until game 43. However, since January 14th, 2019 Kassian has 15 goals in 39 games. It is crazy how quickly things can change. In Kassian’s first 231 games with the Oilers he scored 19 goals, but he has potted 15 in his last 39. It helps he is playing in the top six, but confidence is an amazing thing in pro sports and Kassian’s is at an all-time high.

3. Kassian has never had a run like this in his career, even when he got some time with the Sedins in Vancouver. Many factors go into it, but Kassian deserves much of the credit. He is calmer and poised on the ice. He is making the right play more often than not and his confidence with puck is noticeable. Kassian had 54 goals in his first 429 NHL games, prior to popping 15 in his last 39. He looks poised to have his best season ever at 28 years of age. Successful teams always need one or two players to have surprise seasons, and if Kassian becomes a 20-goal, 40+point player that will be a huge boost for the Oilers. He looks very capable of doing that now, and as someone who always cheers for unexpected stories, I hope he gets it.

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4. Tippett has preached competition from day one. He wants players to compete for ice-time, and not just bottom line players. James Neal started on the second PP unit, but he was promoted to the top unit when Alex Chiasson missed Saturday’s game with the flu. Neal scored twice on the PP. Chiasson had some great chances in the first game and set up Draisaitl on a nice set play as well. It will be interesting to see who gets slotted there tonight. Tippet could rotate them as they give the top unit different options. Chiasson’s right shot allows him to run a set play that we saw in game one where Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sets up on the half wall, makes a quick pass down to Chiasson, who is stationed on the goal line to the left of the goal, and he then one touches a pass to Draisaitl in the low slot. It worked perfectly against Vancouver, but Draisaitl just missed scoring. Both Chiasson and Neal can play the net front presence role. I’d start with Neal, he has hot stick, tonight on the first PP unit.

5. Draisaitl leads Oilers forwards with 5:39 TOI on the PK. He is showing how versatile he is, but I can’t see Tippett wanting Draisaitl to be his most used penalty killing forward. And that’s why the return of Riley Sheahan can’t be overlooked. I expect Sheahan to eat up some of Draisaitl’s PK time. It was only two games, and the Oilers had two days off between each game so fatigue isn’t a factor, but don’t expect Draisaitl to be averaging 26:26/game on this road trip.

6. To put into context how much Draisaitl has played through the first two games: He has logged seven more minutes than McDavid. Two more at EV and five more on the PK. He is averaging 3:32 more/game than McDavid. Draisaitl has been excellent in both games, but a reduction in his PK time will be a good thing.

7. I expect the Oilers to activate Sheahan today, which means a player will either be placed on “non-roster” waivers later today, which means under no circumstance is he eligible to play tonight. Or they could place someone on IR. Regardless of the who goes, I think Sheahan will be a big upgrade on Colby Cave. Cave doesn’t bring any offence, and he isn’t as reliable defensively as Sheahan. Gaetan Haas has gotten better every game, and his sweet play off the draw to set up Joakim Nygard is something Cave would never try. Nygard and Haas are the only two forwards who don’t require waivers, and I can’t see either of them being sent down. They’ve looked more comfortable every game.

8. The Islanders stingy defence has picked up where it left off last year. They’ve only allowed three goals in two games to Washington and Winnipeg. And Barry Trotz hasn’t worried too much about matchups for his defence pairs. His six defenders have ranged in EV TOI from the low man, Adam Pelech (17:01 TOI/game), to the most used Nick Leddy (19:47). Leddy plays with Johnny Boychuk (18:25), Ryan Pulock (19:22) is paired with Pelech while Devan Toews (17:23) and Scott Mayfield (17:14) are a duo. Their blueliners have yet to take one minor penalty. The Islanders defend very well as a unit and play Trotz’s system perfectly.

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9. Matt Benning is one of only ten players in the NHL who have been on the ice for four goals for and none against. Benning led the Oilers in 5×5 GF-GA ratio last season as well. He has been a plus player at 5×5 in each of his first three seasons. He was +10 in 2017, +3 in 2018 and +9 last year. Overall he is +26 at 5×5 in his 207 NHL games. Considering the Oilers have been outscored 501-481 at 5×5 in his NHL career, Benning’s +26 is impressive. There is nothing wrong with having a steady, but not spectacular, reliable third pairing defender.

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10. The Oilers PK is off to a good start, killing off eight of nine powerplays, but only Dallas is averaging more penalty kill situations/game than the Oilers. They need to reduce their PK time or eventually it will cost them. Of the top-13 teams in times shorthanded (TS) last season, nine of them had a PK% below 80%. Those nine teams were: Colorado, Anaheim, Washington, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Detroit, Boston and the New York Rangers. Five teams made the playoffs, so you can overcome a lack of discipline, but in my eyes the Oilers PK isn’t proven enough yet to be killing off an average of 4.5 penalties per game.

11. The Islanders have only been shorthanded four times in two games, but they’ve only had two powerplays as well. Last season they were 22nd in PP opportunities and 27th in TS. They don’t take many penalties, and they haven’t drawn many since Barry Trotz arrived.

12. The obscure stat of the day involving the Islanders: Only 19 times last season were they shorthanded four+ times in a game. In those games, they went 12-4-3. So even when they have a rare undisciplined game they win.

13. The Oilers need to get more pucks on goal. They are averaging 26.5 shots/game which is 29th in the NHL. Only Tampa Bay (26) and Boston (23) have put fewer pucks on goal.

14. If Alex Chiasson and Josh Archibald are ready to play which two wingers would you take out? I’m assuming Sheahan is coming in for Cave at centre, but which two wingers will come out? I think Patrick Russell is the obvious one, and then it is between Tomas Jurco, Markus Granlund and Jujhar Khaira. Which one of those do you think takes a seat any why?

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