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GDB Game Notes: Flyers @ Oilers

The Oilers return home after a successful 3-1 road trip that ended with their first loss of the season in Chicago. The Oilers had some great chances in the first period Monday night to take the lead as Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid both found themselves in all alone on Corey Crawford, but they were unable to score. The Blackhawks scored in the second period and again early in the third and despite becoming the first team in NHL history to win overcome a deficit in each of their first five games and win them all, the Oilers couldn’t do it for a sixth consecutive game.

Good on them for battling back in the first five games, but they need to buck that trend and start playing with the lead more often.

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1. The good news for the Oilers is they have scored first in both home games. Leon Draisaitl scored 5:42 into the first period on opening night and Connor McDavid’s pass banked off a Kings defender and into the net in the first minute of play in their second game. However, they trailed 1-0 in all four road games, and Monday’s game in Chicago was the first time all season the Oilers trailed by two goals.

2. Edmonton (3-1), Winnipeg (4-2) and Boston and Colorado (1-0)  are the only teams with winning records when the opposition scores first. Last season Tampa Bay was the only team with a winning record (23-12-1), so while some people have tried to argue the first goal of the game doesn’t mean that much, the end results prove it does matter significantly.

3. Only one team, the New York Rangers, had a losing record when scoring first last season. Even the last place Ottawa Senators won more than they lost when they scored first. And that is winning %, not points %, so scoring first is impactful.

4. The Oilers goal for/against in the first period is 6-6 this season. Last year they were 10th in the NHL in goals scored in the first, but they allowed the seventh most and finished the season negative at 77-83. But the second period was by far their worst. They were outscored 95-73 and were -22. They were 26th in GF in the second period, but allowed the fifth most goals. The long change seemed to crush them.

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5. So far this season they have improved immensely during the long change. They have outscored teams 5-3. It might not seem like a lot, but only three teams have allowed fewer goals in the middle frame. Their ability to not get hemmed in their zone for long periods has allowed them not to get caught on extended shifts during the long change. Being a positive team in the middle frame has been one of their main improvements early this year.

6. I think Lowetide said it best: People need to be careful when they analyze a team only using numbers. Stats and analytics are great tools, but we need to watch the game and video to see if the numbers match what is occurring on the ice. Otherwise, you can make incorrect statements. Dom Luszczyszyn from the Athletic penned a piece asking if the Oilers start is for real. It is a valid question. Many Oilers fans and pundits are asking the same thing. Some numbers aren’t flattering, no question, but his following comment suggested to me he hasn’t watched the games as much as the stats page.

“Really, not much has changed about this team.

“The defense is still porous and the coverage itself remains an adventure. The group collectively struggles to transition the puck with control leading to a lot of time hemmed in their own zone and getting exposed as a result. Last year the Oilers were a 47 percent expected goals team and with the team at 50 percent this year against a sextet of teams that are at 46 percent on average, I’m skeptical they’ll be much higher in 2019-20.

“The special teams’ performance has been magnificent so far, but it’s probably unlikely that the power play will continue scoring on 26 percent of its shots, especially when only three teams have ever been above 18 percent. They’re a top 10 expected goals team with lots of talent just like last year, but that’s pushing it. On the penalty kill, a .967 save percentage will hide a lot of deficiencies for a team that ranks dead last in expected goals against.”

The Oilers system play has changed drastically. Last year has no relevance to this year’s team. It is a new coach with a new scheme. Their defensive breakouts are much, much better and that is backed by them allowing only 29.8 shots/game (6th lowest in the NHL). They are spending much less time in their own zone and much of that is due to improved breakouts and puck movement.

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And yes, the PK will come down. We all agree, but I’m not sold it is great (95%, first in the NHL) right now solely based on goaltending. The PK system is much more aggressive and they haven’t allowed powerplays to have extended time in the zone. Luszczyszyn is ranking them last in expected goals against based on last season PK’s, but again that has little relevance to this year’s team as they have a new coach and numerous new penalty killing forwards. In his two starts Mikko Koskinen only faced three PP shots. In eight minutes of PK time he faced three shots. I’d say the scheme is a big reason why. Mike Smith has been solid stopping 26 of 27 PP shots, but he too hasn’t had to be incredible as the system isn’t breaking down nearly as often as it was the previous three seasons.

I think we can learn a lot from numbers, but I caution those jumping to conclusions based only on the stats pages.

7. It is only six games, and early trends rarely continue all season, but it is time the Oilers bottom six contribute offensively. None of the bottom six forwards have a point at 5×5, while Markus Granlund and Gaetan Haas are the only ones who have even been on the ice for a goal at 5×5. Luckily they haven’t been on the ice for many goals against, but each of them has a negative GF-GA ratio and they can’t keep shooting blanks.

8. The positive is they seem to be trending in the right direction. In the first four games the bottom two lines combined for 18 shots on goal. In the past two games they have fired eight and ten shots, so they are finally getting some pucks on net. Josh Archibald, Markus Granlund, Alec Chiasson and Riley Sheahan all had a high-quality scoring chance in Chicago, and I’m sure Dave Tippett is hoping some of those chances turn into goals. Soon.

9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has eight goals in 11 games against the Flyers — easily his best goals/game rate against any NHL team. He is looking for his first goal of the season. This is the third longest he has waited to score a goal to start a season in his nine year career. He scored in his 12th game in 2012 (technically January, 2013 of the lockout shortened season). He finished with four goals in 40 games. In October, 2016, he scored in his 11th game and finished with 18 goals. He scored his first game of the season three times: 2011, 2013 and 2015. He scored in game two in 2017, game four in 2014 and game five last season. He has played well, but make no mistake, not lighting the lamp weighs on offensive players. After scoring a career-high 28 goals last year he wants to get a goal soon and seeing the orange of the Flyers jersey will be a welcome sight.

10. Mike Smith has a .917sv% in four starts while Mikko Koskinen has a .914sv%. Combined they have a .916sv%. If they can hover around a that mark all season, without question, the Oilers will be in the playoff hunt. They don’t need to be great, just steady, and they have been through six games.

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11. The Flyers team SV% through four games is .940. In three starts Carter Hart is 2-0-1 with a .938sv% and a 1.62 GAA. The Flyers have allowed the 5th fewest shots/game at 29.5, and their goaltending has been very good. The Flyers won’t give up much, so Edmonton is going to have to bury their chances, which, for the first time this season, they didn’t do in Chicago.

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