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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Nugent-Hopkins Needs to Get Going at 5×5

It is still early in the long 82-game season, but through 12 games Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t have a goal at 5×5. He only has two 5×5 points. I don’t think he is playing poorly, but he is capable of producing more than one goal and seven points in 12 games. Most importantly, he needs to generate more at 5×5.

He is only six months removed from his best NHL season, during which he produced 28 goals and 69 points in 82 games. He scored 15-19-34 at 5×5. He tied his career-best with 0.84 points per game.

However, right now he is only averaging 0.58 points/game. Oddly enough, the only season he averaged fewer points/game was in 2017 when he finished with 43 points in 82 games at a 0.52 points/game clip. That is the only season the Oilers made the playoffs.

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The Oilers are off to a great start, despite Nugent-Hopkins having a slow start offensively. He has hit a few goal posts, so an inch or two here and there and we might not be talking about this, but every year players hit the iron, so regardless of that, the Oilers need more from him at 5×5.

He isn’t the only one struggling — the entire bottom six along with Alex Chiasson are also shooting blanks — but RNH has played the most minutes and he is the most talented of the goalless gang. The Oilers desperately need him to get going.

Player                                5×5 TOI       G-A-P        GF-GA
Nugent-Hopkins              158            0-2-2           6-4
Jujhar Khaira                    127            0-0-0           0-7
Alex Chiasson                  106            0-1-1            3-4
Riley Sheahan                  101            0-0-0           0-8
Markus Granlund            100             0-0-0           1-4
Tomas Jurco                     96             0-2-2           4-3
Patrick Russell                  93             0-0-0           0-4
Josh Archibald                 71              0-0-0           0-4
Joakim Nygard                54              0-0-0            0-3
Gaetan Haas                    35              0-0-0            1-2
Sam Gagner                     24              0-0-0           0-2

I’m not saying RNH isn’t playing well. He simply isn’t producing. He should be producing more points than Tomas Jurco. We have discussed at length the offensive struggles of the bottom six, and they are obvious, but if the Oilers want to keep winning they need Nugent-Hopkins to get going offensively. He is the most talented of the forwards in a 5×5 scoring drought, and if you had to bet on one guy to get going, you would place the most money on RNH.

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However, confidence can impact a player’s game, even veterans. James Neal admitted he had very little last season, and that, combined with a shorter off-season of training, and him not feeling quick, led to the worst season of his career. He’d scored 21+ goals for ten consecutive seasons, but he lost his confidence last year and finished with seven.

You can keep saying it is early, but for players who are used to scoring 12 games seems like an eternity. Nugent-Hopkins wants to score, and it would do him a lot of good to get out of his funk sooner than later. The longer it goes the more likely it can become a season-long issue.

And if the bottom six wants to score they need to stop playing on the outside. Raptors TV play-by-play man Matt Devlin has a unique call when describing long-range three-point shots. “Lowry from Edmonton,” or “Van Vleet from Saskatoon.” He uses it after the drain a long bomb, and that is great in basketball, because you get rewarded more when you make a successful shot from further away.

The NHL is the opposite. Very few players can score from outside the circles, and even if you do it is only one goal. The Oilers bottom six are rarely shooting from inside of 10-12 feet. That has to change if they want to score. They need to get their nose dirty and get in the blue paint.

Last season I jokingly suggested Tobias Rieder was wearing a shock collar and every time he’d go inside the blue paint (the crease) he’d get a shock. So he stayed away. Right now the bottom six is doing the same. They have to put more pucks on net, but the shots need to be from closer range and they need more traffic in front of the goalie creating chaos.

OTHER OFFENSIVE PLAYERS STRUGGLING…

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The proverb Misery Likes Company dates back to the 14th century. The Latin phrase literally translates to: “To the unhappy it is a comfort to have had company in misery,” and Italian historian, Dominick de Gravina, is one of the first credited with using the phrase.

Well if you are that sort who might take solace knowing Nugent-Hopkins isn’t the only offensive player struggling to score at 5×5, check out these other offensive players (minimum 130 minutes) still looking for their first 5×5 goal via Corsica.

Player                                 5×5 TOI       G-A-P         GF-GA        Total Points (All Strengths)
Max Pacioretty                 180            0-4-4            6-10                2-9-11
Jamie Benn                       178            0-3-3            4-8                 1-4-5
Joe Pavelski                      177            0-1-1            5-6                  2-1-3
Mitch Marner                   167            0-4-4           6-13                 3-12-15
Nugent-Hopkins                 158            0-2-2            6-4                  1-6-7
Nick Foligno                     152           0-2-2             5-4                  1-4-5
Tomas Hertl                      149           0-4-4            5-10                 3-7-10
Cam Atkinson                   148           0-2-2             6-3                  3-2-5
Aleksander Barkov           142          0-9-9            11-9                 0-13-13
Bo Horvat                         134           0-5-5             5-5                  5-3-8
Clayton Keller                   133           0-4-4             4-5                 1-7-8
Joe Thornton                    133           0-3-3            5-10                0-4-4
Jonathan Toews               133            0-0-0            3-7                 1-1-2

Marner has been very good on the PP and at 4×4 and 3×3, but he is getting crushed in GF-GA at 5×5 so far this season. The Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks are struggling and not surprising both teams have two of their top guys looking for more at 5×5. Joe Thornton isn’t a big goal scorer, but he and Hertl are both -5 at 5×5 while Benn is also getting outscored 2-1 and producing very little.

Toews is in a similar spot as Nugent-Hopkins right now. Like RNH, Toews set a career-high with 35 goals and 81 points last season, but he is off to a very slow start offensively this season and his possession numbers aren’t great either.

Barkov is the outlier of the group. He doesn’t have a goal, but he has been very productive with assists and still impacts the game positively with strong possession numbers.

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It is early in the season, but even veteran players can see a negative skid stretch out over a full season. It is a good reminder of how much confidence and the mental side factor in being a professional athlete. You can train hard all summer, be in great shape, improve your skills, but when the season starts and if a player struggles offensively, his mind can become his biggest hurdle.

I’m curious to see who can get back to their regular scoring ways at 5×5, or who will see their struggles continue.

If you are looking for a positive: Last season through 12 games RNH only had one goal at 5×5. He had 3-11-14 in his first 12 games, with one goal coming on the PP and SH, and he finished with 28 goals. But I’ve learned that, outside of the truly elite players, what you did last year rarely means you will mirror it the next season. Consistently scoring goals at a rate of 25+ per season is extremely difficult.

The Oilers are just hoping Nugent-Hopkins can tickle the twine soon, relieve some of the offensive burden off the shoulders of Leon Draisaitl (leads NHL in 5×5 scoring) and Connor McDavid (tied for fourth), and get on track to score 20 goals. He doesn’t need to match his career high, but with the lack of 5×5 scoring from all three lines, excluding James Neal, the urgency for #93 to pot one or two right away is increasing.

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