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Game Notes Avalanche @ Oilers: Ailing Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers have elite level top-end skill, and even without Mikko Rantanen and a host of other injured players the Avalanche are an imposing opponent. The Oilers started slow in San Jose and according to head coach Dave Tippett their immaturity showed.

“We got outcompeted by a desperate team,” said Tippett. “It wasn’t a good effort by our team, right through (the lineup). It shows the immaturity of the group. We’re trying to become a really good team and we’re not there yet.”

We’ll see how they respond tonight against a solid, albeit injury-riddled, Avalanche squad.

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1. I like Tippett’s direct approach. He finds ways to challenge his team without demeaning them. They didn’t match the intensity of the Sharks in the first period and before they knew it they were down 3-0. There will be other sub-par performances as the Oilers try to go from a basement dwelling team to a consistent playoff contender. There will be bumps along the way, but so far this season they have been much better at bouncing back after an average or below average performance.

2. Only once in 20 games have they played two games in a row without picking up at least one point. They are not a top team yet, but their ability to avoid multiple bad games in a row has shown me they are learning how to be more regularly competitive. Tonight is a game where they need a killer instinct. The Avs are beat up, and Edmonton needs to attack early and get the Avs thinking it will be a long, tough night.

3. Colorado has been without Rantanen and Colin Wilson for nine games and Gabriel Landeskog hasn’t played the past seven. Defenceman Nikita Zadorov has missed three games with a broken jaw. Starting goalie Phillip Grubauer has also missed three with a lower body injury. Backup goalie Pavel Francouz was injured 31 seconds into their game against the Jets on Tuesday and Pierre-Edouard Bellamare sat out Tuesday’s game after taking a head shot from Nick Foligno that resulted in him being suspended for three games.

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4. Six starters and their backup goalie are out, yet the Avs have managed to win their last three games defeating Nashville, Columbus and Winnipeg, outscoring them 17-6. They are a resilient bunch, but with that many injuries this is a game the Oilers should win. You need to take advantage of injury-riddled teams.

5. In the nine games without Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon has scored 6-8-14, and has been on fire during this three-game winning streak with three goals and eight points. Rookie sensation Cale Makar has 18 points in 18 games this season, and he is averaging just over 19 minutes/game. Free agent Joonas Donskoi has 9-5-14, while Nazim Kadri and Matt Calvert, 13 and 12 points respectively, have given the Avs more balance. At least when healthy.

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6. Goalie Adam Werner made his NHL debut in Winnipeg on Tuesday after Francouz left with an injury, and the rookie stopped all 40 shots in their 4-0 victory. He will start tonight, while Antoine Bibeau will be the backup after he was recalled yesterday. The Avs are on their third and fourth string goalies. Werner was excellent in his debut, but the 22-year-old only has 13 AHL games and one NHL game under his belt.

7. The Oilers are 12-6-2 through 20 games and when you compare this year to last season, there are some noticeable differences. Last season they were 9-10-1, so Edmonton has seven more points through 20 games. This year their GF-GA is 60-53 (+7) while last season they were 57-66 (-9). That is a 16 goal swing.

This season they have scored 60 goals. Their forwards have 54 and the defence has six. Their top-five forwards have 47 goals, the rest have seven.

Last year they had 57 goals. Their forwards had 51 and the blueline has six. Their top-five forwards had 42 goals and the rest had nine.

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This season their goalies have a combined .920sv% stopping 554 of 602 shots. Mike Smith is 5-5-1 with a .913sv% and 2.58 GAA. Mikko Koskinen is 7-1-1 with a .928sv% and 2.16 GAA.

Last year their goalies had a combined .898sv% stopping 539 of 600 shots. Cam Talbot was 5-8-1 with a .888sv% and 3.31 GAA. Koskinen was 4-2 with a .917sv% and 2.60 GAA.

This year their PP is 28.1% (16 of 57) and the PK is 86.4% (nine goals on 66 kills).
Last season their PP was 20.6% (14 of 68) and their PK was 74.2% (17 goals on 66 kills).

Their PP only has two more goals, but on 11 fewer chances. They’ve been shorthanded the same amount, 66 TS, but they’ve allowed eight fewer goals.

Their depth scorers have scored two fewer goals than last year, at this point, but they have contributed much more on the PK. Eventually, they will need to chip in, but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the penalty killers to this point. The team has allowed 13 fewer goals in 20 games and that is the main reason they sit in first place in the Pacific now compared to sixth place last year.

8. It is interesting to look at Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s numbers through 20 games. Both are ahead of last season.

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McDavid has 11-20-31 with 13 points on the PP and 65 shots playing 22:25/game.
Last year he had 12-16-28 with 10 PP points and 68 shots playing 22:13/game.

Draisaitl has 15-21-36 with 10 points on the PP and 64 shots playing 23:05/game.
Last season he had 12-11-23 with nine PP points and 55 shots playing 20:18/game.

Draisaitl has played 49 more minutes at EV and just over nine more on the PK. His PP minutes are within 30 seconds, despite the Oilers having 11 fewer powerplays. The first unit stays on the ice much longer this season on the PP. Draisaitl is absolutely crushing it thus far. His 36 points in 20 games are the third most in the NHL over the past 20 years behind Mario Lemieux (41) in 2002 and Jaromir Jagr (37) in 1999.

9. Caleb Jones was recalled yesterday as Brandon Manning was placed on the IR with a hand injury. Jones has played great in Bakersfield and if I was Tippett I’d play him tonight in the third pair with Kris Russell. I’d play Jones on the right side, which is where Manning played against the Sharks. A scout text me this about Jones’ play this season: “He has been good every game I’ve watched. He controls the game more this year than last. He is more assertive with his decisions and he’s improved his defensive reads. He was dominant many nights and looks ready to be a regular NHLer.”

10. I understand the excitement in Oilersnation about the young defenders, but I caution those who want to play two or three rookies in the lineup and trade away veterans. Playoff hockey is a much different beast. It is way more physical and intense. Puck movement is very important, but so is the ability to defend, retrieve pucks and handle aggressive forechecks in the playoffs that we don’t see in the regular season. I’d want to see how the young defenders handle the second half of the season, when the games become harder. It is great to have depth, but I’d be cautious in wanting to trade away Adam Larsson just yet. His style of play is more suited to rugged, playoff hockey.

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