Photo Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers @ Habs: Owning Carey Price

The Oilers are 10-5-2 against bottom-10 teams in the NHL, which the Montreal Canadiens are after a seven-game winless streak has them plummeting down the standings to 25th place. They were winless in eight games earlier this season, and going 15 games without a win almost guarantees you won’t make the playoffs.

But despite their winless skid, I don’t think they are as bad as their record.

1. The injury bug is a contributing factor in their losses. They are in games, but ultimately lose by one goal. During this seven-game winless skid they have lost 4-3, 3-2, 3-2 (OT), 2-1, 3-1 (empty net goal), 6-5 and 5-4. They lost six games by a goal and the other by two goals with an empty net. They could get Brandan Gallagher back tonight

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

2. The Habs loss on Tuesday to Detroit stung the most. It became worse because it was the third time this season Montreal has lost to the last-place Red Wings. The Wings have played 44 games. They are 3-0 against Montreal and outscored them 10-6. They are 8-30-3 against the rest of the league and were outscored 161-86. It’s amazing the Habs lost to them three times and that 27% of Detroit’s wins have come against Montreal.

3. Ilya Kovalchuk has three assists in two games with the Habs and Claude Julien is playing him a lot. He played 19:25 against Winnipeg on Monday and then 21:22 against Detroit on Tuesday. He played the most 5×5 minutes of any forward against the Wings. Good for Kovalchuk. If he keeps playing that well a team will likely come calling at the trade deadline. His league-minimum salary of $700,000 makes him easy to acquire, and maybe he has more in the tank than many of us, including myself, expected.

4. Carey Price is in the second year of an eight-year deal with a $10.5m AAV. He is 32. He will be 38 when the final year of his deal begins. He is 16-15-4 with a .902Sv% and a 3.01 GAA. Price was solid to start the season, but he’s struggled since. In his first 18 starts he was 10-5-3 with a .912Sv% and a 2.71 GAA. In 17 starts since November 23rd he is 6-10-1 with a .890Sv% and a 3.34 GAA.

5. Last season he started 66 games and had a strong .918Sv% and 2.49 GAA. But he hasn’t been close to that this season. If we consider .915Sv% to be very good (only nine goalies with 40+ starts had over .915Sv% last year), it is clear by Price’s play this year he has struggled. In his first 18 starts he had a .915Sv% or better in 11 starts. Over his last 17 starts he has only had four games with a  .915Sv% or higher.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

6. Despite the Oilers having the fewest wins in the NHL since 2009, they have owned Price. He is 3-8-1 in his career against Edmonton with a .859Sv% and 3.70 GAA. Some stats are inexplicable and this is one of them. His career Sv% is .917 with a 2.49 GAA, yet the Oilers have lit him up. He had a .960SV% in a win on March 12th, 2017, and a .906Sv% in a win on March 10th, 2009, but in his other ten starts he’s posted a .889Sv% or lower. Amazing. His best performance came against the playoff bound Oilers in 2017. Against those other teams, who floundered near the bottom of the standings, he struggled.

7. This quote from Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe after Monday’s game illustrated perfectly the biggest difference we’ve seen in the Oilers since New Year’s Eve: “From the drop of the puck it was clear they were here for a reason. They played at a higher level than we did today, and at a higher level than any of the opponents we’ve played in quite some time,” Keefe said.

He was bang on. That was the fourth consecutive really good start by the Oilers. They dominated the Rangers, jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Buffalo, and even though Boston scored on a deflection off of Kris Russell’s stick, the Oilers controlled the majority of the play in the first period in Boston and carried it through the second period. The dominated the Maple Leafs in the first period and scored twice in the first 1:45 of the second period.

8. The biggest issue during their December swoon was their inability to score first or have a strong first period. They were down 2-0 far too often, and then they tried to play catch up. I believe that was a factor in Leon Draisaitl’s ridiculous GF-GA at 5×5. He took some chances when they were down, and Dave Tippett understood why. “He wants to make a difference so he was trying to get us back in the game. At times it can lead to more mistakes, but it is a normal reaction. As a former player, I understand it. We talked about it. He is very aware of how he is playing, more aware than most players. He will be better,” Tippett said to me when I asked him about Draisaitl’s struggles prior to the Rangers game.

The snowball effect can impact even the best players. Draisaitl, like the rest of the team, has been much better since. They need to continue it tonight.

9. Here is the Oilers scoring last year compared to this season, as well as the Canadiens scoring, through 45 games.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
2018/19 88 (194) 17 (51) 16 (77)
EDMONTON 90 (217) 31 (71) 13 (81)
MONTREAL 65 (153) 42 (106) 30 (90)

10. Edmonton has a big advantage among their top-five point producers, but mainly on the powerplay. Max Domi leads the Canadiens with 11 powerplay points. Tomas Tatar leads with seven goals. Brendan Gallagher has no powerplay goals in 85 PP minutes. The Canadiens’ PP is actually pretty good, 10th in the NHL at 21.2%. Edmonton is first at 29.2%. They have 40 goals, while the Habs have scored 26.

11. Connor McDavid leads the Oilers with 30 PP points, followed by 28 for Leon Draisaitl, 17 for James Neal, 15 for Oscar Klefbom and 14 for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Each player on the Oilers’ top unit has more points than any Canadiens player on the PP. And they have the 10th best PP. It shows just how good Edmonton’s first unit PP has been this season.

Recently by Jason Gregor: