How many times will you hear or read the phrase, “The Oilers lose to bad teams,” or “Habs have lost seven in a row — well that means a loss for the Oilers,” before puck drop tonight?
One hundred? A thousand? I’m sure it will be a lot, but is it accurate or just a narrative that is repeated without substance?
Edmonton has defeated the Devils, Rangers and Kings twice, and the Canadiens, Red Wings, Sharks and Ducks once. They’ve lost to the Sharks, Red Wings, Senators, Blackhawks and Kings while losing twice in OT to the Sabres. They have 22 out of a possible 34 points against bottom-10 teams, which is 64.7% of possible points.
How does that compare to the four Pacific division foes they are battling with for a playoff spot?
Against top-10 teams: 3-4-1
Against middle-10 teams: 10-8-3
Versus bottom-10 teams: 12-4-0 (75% possible points)
Total: 25-13-4 and 54 points.
Against top-10 teams: 3-6-2
Against middle-10 teams: 10-5-2
Versus bottom-10 teams: 11-5-2 (66% of possible points)
Total: 24-16-6 and 54 points.
Against top-10 teams: 8-5-1
Against middle-10 teams: 5-7-2
Versus bottom-10 teams: 10-5-2 (64.7% of possible points)
Total: 23-17-5 and 51 points.
Against top-10 teams: 2-8-2
Against middle-10 teams: 12-6-1
Versus bottom-10 teams: 9-3-2 (71.4% of possible points)
Total: 23-17-5 and 51 points.
Against top-10 teams: 4-3-3
Against middle-10 teams: 8-8-0
Versus bottom-10 teams: 11-5-1 (67.6% of possible points)
Total: 23-16-4 and 50 points.
Edmonton currently has the lowest possible points% among the five, but a victory tonight would tie them with Vegas and have them 1.6% behind Vancouver.
It is interesting to note the Oilers are the only team who has won more games than they’ve lost against top-10 teams.
The Oilers have 60.7% of possible points, while Vancouver sits at 55% (but only four wins in 10 games), Arizona 43.7%, Vegas 36.3% and Calgary only 25%.
Edmonton hasn’t been awful against the weaker teams, but they need to be better. The numbers show it. They need to approach tonight like they did Toronto and Boston. Come out aggressive. Take the play to the Canadiens and see if you can weaken their already-shattered confidence.
The Habs are playing their third game in four nights, while the Oilers haven’t played since Monday. A victory tonight makes life a bit easier, and it guarantees they win more games than they lose on this five-game road trip.
**In 2017, the last time Edmonton made the playoffs, they finished 8th overall among the 30 teams. So they played nine top-10 teams and then 10 middle and bottom teams. They were 10-11-3 against top teams, 15-9-3 against the middle-10 and were 22-6-3 against bottom-10 teams.**
Mike Smith gets his fourth consecutive start. “We are going to ride the hot hand,” said Dave Tippett. “We did that a little bit with Koski in December when Mike’s game wasn’t where he’d like it. He gives our group some life (vocally), and I’m just trying to maximize every player and the goalie is no different. I think it is turning to a two-goalie league, and we have two guys I think are capable of doing the job.
“Both goalies know the situation. They put themselves in the situation of the other guy. When you are playing well you want to get back in the net. When Koski was playing well he got back in the net and now that Smitty is playing well he is getting back in,” explained Tippett.
If you look solely at Sv% in recent games you might think Smith hasn’t been that good. He was solid in Buffalo, excellent in Boston and made some key saves in Toronto. He looked a bit awkward getting across on the Jason Spezza goal, but didn’t have much of a chance on Gauthier’s goal and the third one deflected off a stick and then Darnell Nurse’s skate. Auston Matthews fired a laser late in the game. Smith’s competitive attitude is showing right now, and Tippett is sticking with it. If he wins tonight I’d bet he will start Saturday against his former team in Calgary.
Sam Gagner draws in, Jujhar Khaira comes out and that means a little juggling in the bottom six. Joakim Nygard will play with Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald, while Gagner plays the left-wing with Haas and Chiasson. Tippett likes to give the Sheahan line more defensive starts, and he will play them against scoring lines. He prefers to have Haas’ line in more offensive situations.
***Edit…Gagner didn’t take the warmup so Khaira will play and will take his spot with Haas and Chiasson. I wonder if he sticks there or goes back with Sheahan and Archibald.***
Brendan Gallagher should return to the lineup tonight after missing four games due to a concussion. He will add a spark to their top line. He has struggled on the powerplay though, as he is still searching for his first PP goal of the season.
Recently acquired Marco Scandella has been paired with Shea Weber on the Canadiens’ top pairing. Will head coach Claude Julien use that pair or the Kulak-Petry pair against Connor McDavid? The Habs don’t have a forward line that is considered a shut down line, and with Ilya Kovalchuk playing with Max Domi, the Danault line might get the McDavid assignment.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The oddity continues. The Oilers defeat Carey Price again and extend their point streak to five games with a 4-3 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Montreal is 0-6-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve only allowed one PP goal, which is odd considering the PK is 23rd in the NHL at 77.7%. In the past seven games they have killed off 16 of 17 powerplays. Despite their recent success the #1 ranked PP against the 23rd PK equals a powerplay goal for the Oilers.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: James Neal has averaged 0.21 goals/game against the Canadiens in his career with five goals in 23 games. That is the lowest of his career, excluding Vegas (only three GP and no goals). Neil scores his first goal against the Habs since January 20th, 2015. He ends a five-year drought.