Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

GDB Game Notes: Oilers @ Coyotes

The Edmonton Oilers opened the season with back-to-back victories over Pacific division foes the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings. They haven’t faced another Pacific rival until tonight against the stingy Arizona Coyotes.

The Oilers are 8-4-1 since defeating the Kings on October 5th and they really needed a hot start considering how most of their Pacific Division rivals are playing.

1. Six of the top 15 teams in the NHL reside in the Pacific Division. The Oilers sit first in the division with 21 points, followed by Vancouver (20), Anaheim (19), Vegas and Calgary (18) and Arizona (17). The Kings (10) and Sharks (9) are struggling, but the top six teams are off to great starts. The Coyotes are four points back of the Oilers with two games in hand. Nine of the Oilers next 14 games are against teams within their division. They face the Coyotes, Sharks and Canucks twice and see the Ducks, Golden Knights and Kings once.

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2. The Coyotes are second in the NHL in goals against (28) and goals/against per game at 2.15. They’ve allowed four goals against twice (one was an empty netter), and they’ve surrendered three goals against twice as well. Meanwhile the Oilers are seventh in GA/game at 2.47 and have only allowed more than three goals twice. Goals could be hard to come by tonight.

3. Four of the top seven teams in GA/game reside in the Pacific with the Canucks fourth at 2.36 and the Ducks sixth at 2.44. It is very early, but the Pacific Division has become the most competitive division in the NHL. The Oilers, Coyotes, Ducks and Canucks are some of the biggest surprises in the NHL. Last season only the Coyotes (5th) were in the top-17 in GAA/game. All Oilers, Canucks and Ducks are winning due to being better in their own zone, and, for the Oilers specifically, not spending as much time in their own end.

4. We are seeing the “Kessel effect” for the Coyotes powerplay. Last season Connor McDavid told me he felt Kessel was the best half-wall player in the NHL on the man advantage. Over the past three seasons the Coyotes had the worst PP in the NHL at 16.4%. The Pittsburgh Penguins were second best at 24.6%. So far this season the Coyotes PP is 12th at 22.5% while the Penguins sit 24th at 14.3%. The Pens’ struggles also can be due to Evgeni Malkin only playing three games, but Kessel has made the Coyotes PP much more dangerous. They actually have two units producing right now.

5. The Oilers PP is in a funk at 2-for-21 over their past eight games. Zone entries have become an issue, as they turn it over inside the blueline too often, and they aren’t shooting the puck nearly as much as they were through the first seven games. In their first seven games they scored 10 goals on 22 chances and they had 37 shots in those seven games. Over the last eight games they have 30 shots. They only have two goals, so that means they are getting more actual PP time on each powerplay, but their shot frequency is still down quite a bit from the first seven games. They need more urgency on the PP.

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6. Mike Smith stopped 52 of 53 shots in Pittsburgh on Saturday pacing the Oilers to a 2-1 victory. Mikko Koskinen faced 52 shots against the Flyers earlier this year and stopped 49 of them. The goalies won both those games, but in the other 13 games the Oilers have only allowed an average of 28.2 shots/game. Those two games skew some of the Oilers early season possession numbers. They were dominated in those games, no question, but in their other 13 they have outshot teams 367-358. Whenever we look at numbers it is important to dig deeper than the surface. Early in a season a few really bad, or really good games, can alter the numbers.

7. I’m curious if Dave Tippett sticks with Smith after his stellar performance or he goes back to Mikko Koskinen. Smith has started nine games, while Koskinen has started six. I don’t think he wants to overplay Smith, but he was unreal on Saturday and the Coyotes are his former team. I could see Smith starting tonight and Koskinen playing Wednesday and Friday. Both have stellar numbers right now. Smith has a .931sv% and 2.12 GAA, while Koskinen has a .922sv% and a 2.39 GAA. This morning they are fifth and 11th respectively in sv% among goalies with at least six starts.

8. Darcy Kuemper has started nine of the Coyotes 13 games and he’s been outstanding in all of them. He’s allowed three goals once, two goals five times, one goals twice and he has a shutout. The Islanders were the only team to score three times. He has a sparkling 1.67 GAA and a .942sv%. He is 7-1-3 all-time against the Oilers with a .928sv% and a 2.06 GAA.

9. Consecutive games with goals from bottom six forwards is major step in the right direction for the Oilers. Colby Cave’s goal against the Penguins was dynamite. He looked liked Connor Cave on that goal. If the bottom guys can start chipping in regularly the Oilers will be in much more favourable position. It is only two goals in two games, but you have to start somewhere and Cave’s goal was a big reason they got two points on Saturday.

10. Prior to his goal in Pittsburgh, Cave had shown no signs of having any ability to finish during his time with the Oilers. One goal doesn’t change everything, but confidence is such a big factor and you wonder if that goal will lead to him trying to make more plays offensively. His job is to be good defensively, and win faceoffs, which he was great at in Pittsburgh, but if you want to remain a regular bottom-six forward in the NHL you have to be able to produce some offence. Patrick Russell is playing well, but at some point, he will need to chip in offensively if he wants to remain in the lineup when Joakim Nygard and Josh Archibald return from injury.

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11. Both forwards were skating in Edmonton this past week. Nygard’s ribs are still sore, but Archibald is making really good progress and he is getting close to returning. Adam Larsson also skated this past weekend. He didn’t push it, and he is still a few weeks away, but he is progressing nicely I’m told.

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