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GDB Game Notes: Edmonton Oilers @ Anaheim Ducks

The Oilers are set to embark on their first California road trip of the season. Things will kick off tonight with a game in Anaheim and then the team will head north to San Jose on Tuesday. Here are your game day notes.

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1. This will be the fourth game of the season between the Oilers and a Pacific Division opponent. They opened the season with games against the Canucks and Kings and then didn’t face another Pacific team until the Coyotes came to town last week. The Oilers have a 2-0-1 record thus far in divisional games. Judging by how the standings look after a little more than a month of play, those divisional games are going to be crucial.

2. The Oilers still sit on top of the Pacific with a 11-5-2 record, good for 24 points. The Flames, after a fairly slow start, have narrowed the gap to one point thanks to a run in which they’ve picked up points in seven of their last nine games. The Golden Knights and Canucks are right behind them with 21 points each while the Coyotes have 20 points. The Ducks are right in the mix, with a solid 9-7-1 record through 17 games, while the Sharks, after a slow start, are climbing back up the standings, having won three games in a row. The Kings are the only team that isn’t a playoff contender in this division. Otherwise, it’s a dogfight.

3. That’s why games within the division will be so important this season for the Oilers. It’ll be a battle to make the playoffs and all of these games are worth four points. Any team that can put up a good record against other Pacific teams will be giving themselves a huge advantage in the playoff hunt. Last year, the Oilers went 12-15-2 against Pacific Division teams. They’ll have to be better this year in order to make the playoffs. For reference, in 2016-17 when the team made the playoffs, they went 20-6-3 against the Pacific.

4. The Ducks’ early-season rebound from last year’s debacle is one of the reasons why the Pacific has gone from a cakewalk to arguably the toughest division in hockey in just one year. Last year, the Flames, Sharks, and Golden Knights cruised to the three playoff spots while the other teams were never in the conversation for anything more than a possible wild card seed. This year, the Ducks are healthy and playing solid, while the Oilers, Canucks, and Coyotes have had early-season breakouts.

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5. Anaheim is an interesting team because they had a decent 35-37-10 record despite losing more man-games to injury than anybody else last year. Adam Henrique was the only Duck to play in all 82 games while key players Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler, Ondrej Kase, and John Gibson all missed time due to injury. Despite not doing anything to improve their roster over the off-season, simply being healthy made the Ducks a darkhorse candidate to rebound and get back into the playoffs.

6. While their 9-7-1 is solid, the Ducks are still having a difficult time putting the puck in the back of the net. They ranked dead last in the league last year in offence with Ryan Getzlaf leading the team with just 48 points. Despite being mostly back to full health, the Ducks’ offensive woes have continued. Rickard Rakell and Ondrej Kase have combined for just five goals thus far and the crop of rookies who contributed to the AHL San Diego Gulls’ playoff run, Sam Steel, Troy Terry, and Max Jones, haven’t been able to produce at the NHL level yet.

7. The thing keeping the Ducks going early on is their ability to keep the puck out of the net. John Gibson and Ryan Miller have been one of the league’s best tandems in net thus far, combining to post a .922 save percentage. For the sake of comparison, Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith, who have both been fantastic, have a combined .918 save percentage this season.

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8. Goaltending is really the only thing the Ducks have done particularly well so far this season. They’re 24th in the league in goals scored and they have the league’s second-worst power play, scoring on just 9.5 percent of chances. They’re fifth in the league in goals against, but, again, that comes down to goaltending more than anything else. The Ducks are in the bottom third of the league in expected goals against, which is based on shot volume and quality, and they’re in the middle of the pack with an 81.9 percent penalty kill.

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9. Tonight will represent Dallas Eakins’ first time facing the Oilers since he was fired a year-and-a-half into his tenure here back in 2015. Eakins had a disastrous run with the Oilers, posting a 36-63-14 record over parts of two seasons. He was hired to coach the AHL San Diego Gulls in 2015-16 and had a successful run coaching the Ducks’ farm team. He’s done very well coaching in the AHL over his career and it’ll be interesting to see if he can make it happen in the NHL.

10. Only four players remain from the team that Eakins coached when he was fired in 2015. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom, and Darnell Nurse. Nurse only played a couple of games at the beginning of the season and Draisaitl was sent down to the WHL mid-way through the season. I know it’s been mentioned a million times before, but it’s amazing what Nugent-Hopkins has seen during his career here. He was drafted by Steve Tambellini and was the only player from the Tambo Tank era to survive the Peter Chiarelli exodus. He’s been coached by Tom Renney, Ralph Kreuger, Eakins, Craig MacTavish, Todd Nelson, Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock, and now Dave Tippett.