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Game Notes Blues @ Oilers: Chiasson, Persson and Gagner Making Waves

Many depth forwards will go 10+ games without a goal during the regular season, but when the scoring slump begins at the start of a season it becomes a much larger focal point. Fans and media discuss it more, and players think about it more. If you go 13 games without a goal in October or January it should be discussed the same, but often it isn’t. There is more hype, excitement and focus early in a season.

Alex Chiasson is still searching for his first goal. He hasn’t scored in 13 games, and when you combine that with him scoring 22 goals last season and earning a new contract, the pressure, both internally and externally, is mounting.

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1. Chiasson is a very honest player. He speaks from the heart and his words and actions have shown how much his goal-drought is on his mind. He takes a lot of pride in his play. He has spoken openly about needing and wanting to do more. If Chiasson hadn’t scored 22 goals last season, I suspect his expectations would be lower, as would most fans’. But expectations change, and naturally increase after a solid season.

2. After breaking down Chiasson’s career-best season, I don’t think many expected him to repeat it. He scored eight goals on the powerplay, and with the arrival of James Neal it was unlikely Chiasson was going to get as much PP time as last season. However, the expectations were he could chip in 11-13 goals at 5×5. He still can. It is early, but with each passing game it becomes more difficult. It would be easy to tell him not to press, but that is much easier said than done. Players have pride. They want to contribute, and while Chiasson isn’t playing horrible hockey, the lack of goals is impacting him. We’ve seen it with many players over the years, and the harsh truth is very few players can score 20 goals consistently in the NHL.

3. Chiasson isn’t the only Oilers player struggling to score. Tomas Jurco (11 games), Riley Sheahan (12), Patrick Russell (13) and Markus Granlund (14) are all goalless. But none of them are coming of a career year. The pressure, optics and realities are different. But outside the Oilers, other players who were expected to produce are also struggling.

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4. The list of forwards who have played at least 11 games without a goal is a mixed bag. The Blues have two forwards in Alex Steen and Ivan Barbashev. Steen carries a $5.75m cap hit, while Tyler Bozak, and his $5m salary scored his first of the season last night. However, they won the Cup last year and the Blues are third overall in the NHL. There is a different feel in that room compared to in Edmonton where they desperately need to make the playoffs.

Others around the league with goose eggs in the G column include: Joe Thornton, Justin Abdelkader, Andrew Cogliano, Frans Nielson, Milan Lucic, Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Donato, Cal Clutterbuck, Mark Jankowski and fellow-22-goal-man from last season Cody Eakin. They have had varying degrees of success over the years, and each will react differently to not scoring, but all of them would love nothing more than to bury a goal.

5. Look a bit deeper and the list of players with only one goal includes some players who had even better years than Chiasson last season. Andreas Athanasiou (30-24-54), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (28-41-69), Jamie Benn (27-26-53) and Logan Couture (27-43-70). Goals don’t always reflect how a player is playing, but the longer droughts or limited offensive production goes it can become a bigger issue.

6. Scoring 20 goals consistently is difficult. Over the past three seasons, there has been a total of 334 instances with a forward scoring 20 goals. On average 111 forwards per season score 20 goals, but how many did it three years in a row? Only 46 of them.

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Alex Ovechkin (133 total goals), Nikita Kucherov (120), John Tavares and Connor McDavid (112), Auston Matthews (111), Patrik Laine (110), Brad Marchand (109), Sidney Crosby (108), David Pastrnak (107), Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko (105), Leon Draisaitl (104), Anders Lee (102), Jeff Skinner (101) and Cam Atkinson (100) are the only 15 players to tally 100 goals over the previous three seasons.

7. Even good goal scorers will see major spikes from one season to the next. Eric Stall went from 28, 42, 22 the past three years while Jeff Skinner went 37, 24, 40. James Neal was one of those freakishly consistent 20-goal scorers, doing it ten seasons in a row, then dropping from 25 goals down to seven last year. But he has rebounded with 11 in only 16 games this year.

8. I understand Chiasson is a very proud person. He wants to contribute and help the team, but the last thing he needs to do is put more pressure on himself. Head coach Dave Tippett admitted prior to Monday’s game he was trying to get him going and started him with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but not much happened. Although, to be fair, none of the lines did much for the first 32 minutes, but then they dominated the final 28 minutes of regulation. The new mid-game combos worked, and I while I see why Tippett is trying to get Chiasson going, he might be best served playing on a third line. He has produced double-digits in goals from a bottom-six role twice in his career. That is who he is, and while there is new pressure and expectations due to a  $2.15 million cap hit, if you are expecting him to be a regular 15-goal man you likely will be disappointed.

9. Tippett admitted Chiasson didn’t help his cause on the top line on Monday. “I put him in that place to give him a good opportunity tonight and there wasn’t a lot happening there,” said Tippett. “There’s a lot of pucks going through him, it’s just things . . . there’s not much generating there.” When a player lacks confidence it is difficult to generate much. I wouldn’t give up on Chiasson yet and put him in the pressbox, but I’d keep him in the bottom six for now and let him work his way out of it. Chiasson needs to ensure that while he isn’t scoring, he is doing other things to help the team win and right now that will mainly be playing sound defensively.

10. He isn’t the only one struggling. Granlund is goalless in 14 games and only has one assist. Based on yesterday’s lines in practice it looks like he will sit out tonight and Tomas Jurco will get another chance to make an impression. Granlund and Jurco need to play well, or they could be put on waivers when the Oilers active Joakim Nygard and Josh Archibald. Both should be back this week, and their speed and tenacity on the forecheck are attributes Tippett really likes.

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11. Gaetan Haas is looking more comfortable every game, and because of that, we are seeing his speed more often. He started the play that led to a turnover, and the puck getting back to the point, and then he went to the net and deflected Matt Benning’s point shot for his first career NHL goal. It is still early, but his speed and offensive instincts would be a perfect fit for wide open third line centre job. He has a glorious opportunity and I’m curious to see if he can grab hold of it.

12. Joel Persson was benched after he made a soft dump in and then couldn’t disrupt Carl Soderberg as he rushed down the ice and scored the Coyotes second goal on Monday. The benching wasn’t due to one play. It was a build up of too many soft plays by Persson.

“Watched a bunch of video with Jimmy (Playfair) a couple of days ago. Now go out, practice hard and do the things you need to do to be an NHL player,” said Tippett. “He is in a learning curve still. He has never played at any level like this where all of a sudden… two things: The game is hard and fast and the meaning of every game is amped up a long ways from where he is used to. So he gets in another game and he is like, ‘We are playing hockey.’

“Well, there is playing hockey and there is playing hockey for keeps. Sometimes when you are playing for keeps it gets really hard, and those are things that, especially for defenceman, but for a defenceman who hasn’t played at this level… he is learning,” continued Tippett. The harsh reality of the NHL is that it isn’t a developmental league. There will be some bumps along the way for the majority of players. Now we’ll see how Persson responds. When the puck is on his stick he is very intriguing. But he will need to ratchet up his intensity when he doesn’t have it, and in his quest to get it back. Having puck movers is great, but they need to be able to defend and be highly competitive as well. I think his seat on the bench was a reminder he needs to improve the latter.

13. Sam Gagner finished last game on the top line and he will start there tonight.

“He makes plays. Those guys (McDavid and Draisaitl) need somebody who can make plays with them. He jumped in there and starting making some plays. A couple shifts in the second period (on Monday) where they were dominant and we took over the game. Sam did his part. I have a long history with Sam. He is a player who can give you spurts like that, where he looks good, and he did that last game.”

Zack Kassian did a solid job on the top line, and I think moving him down was as much about his energy jumpstarting the other lines as giving Chiasson, and now Gagner, a chance to get going. Gagner is a very smart player. He sees and computes the game very well. I don’t expect him to stay there all year, but he has the ability to get hot for a stretch and he won’t have a better opportunity than playing with McDavid and Draisaitl.

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