Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Predators @ Oilers: The Race Is On

The race in the Pacific Division is the closest we’ve ever seen this late in a season. The top five teams are separated by two points and all of them are in a playoff position. Yesterday morning the Calgary Flames were in first place with 55 points. They lost in Montreal, and dropped to second, as Arizona, who didn’t play, also has 55 points, but had played an extra game. Now they are tied in games played, but Arizona has one more regulation win so they are first.

Vancouver is one point behind with two games in hand. Vegas is also a point behind and has played the same 48 games. Edmonton has 53 points and sits in fifth, but has one game in hand. A win tonight puts them ahead of Calgary due to regulation wins. Depending on the outcomes of the Oilers, Golden Knights, Canucks and Coyotes games this evening, the Flames could drop from first place yesterday to fifth place, while the Oilers could go from fifth to first place.

It is that close.

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1. The Oilers have the second wild card spot with 53 points, but Winnipeg is one back with a game in hand. Nashville sits 10th in the conference, four points back of Edmonton with three games in hand. Tonight isn’t a divisional game, but due to the wildcard race it is a big game.

2. Edmonton has to mirror their road success on home ice. The Oilers have played the most road games in the NHL thus far with 26. They are tied with the third most road points in the NHL and have the league’s best road PK at 88.5%, the third best road PP at 27.5% and the sixth lowest GAA/game at 2.69. Arizona (2.52), Boston (2.57), Colorado (2.62), Boston and New York Islanders (2.68) are better. They’ve been really strong defensively on the road. Their offence has been okay at 2.88 goals/game, which is 16th in the NHL.

3. At home, however, it has been a completely different story. They are a league-worst in GAA/game at 3.67. They are averaging almost one more goal against/game on home ice. It doesn’t make much sense to be that different home and away. Their PK is 29th at 74.5%. It is an odd quirk, but it is something they need to rectify if they want to stay in the playoff race, and also battle for home ice advantage.

4. They score more at home at 3.19 goals/game, but not nearly enough to counter their leaky defence. Edmonton needs to be on their toes defensively tonight as the Predators come in as the second highest scoring road team in the NHL. The Preds can score, but their biggest weakness has been special teams and goals against.

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5. Nashville’s road PK is a dreadful 69.2%. Their PK, overall, is bad, sitting 29th at 74.1%. The Oilers top ranked PP at 29.3%, and 31.0% at home, needs to take advantage of this matchup. The Preds average the eighth most penalty kill situations/game in the NHL at 3.54. Edmonton needs to be aggressive, move their feet and force Nashville to take some penalties.

6. A total of 58 goalies have started 10+ games and the Predators goaltending duo has really struggled. Juuse Saros sits 48th with a .897Sv%, while Pekka Rinne is 53rd at .895Sv%. Saros shutout the Jets Sunday night, but will start tonight. Pekka Rinne has won 12 consecutive games against the Oilers dating back to October 27th, 2014, while Saros is 2-1 against the Oilers and both his wins have been shutouts. New Predators head coach John Hynes has a tough, but good decision to make on which goalie to start.

7. Roman Josi is having a great year offensively for the Predators. He leads them with 46 points in 44 games. Only John Carlsson in Washington has more points among defenceman with 56. The problem for the Predators is Josi has 15 more points than any forward on the team. Filip Forsberg has 31 while Matt Duchene has 30. Their fourth leading scorer, D-man Ryan Ellis, is out with a concussion after Corey Perry’s elbowed him in the head. Despite none of their forwards having big years, the Predators are still sixth in goals/game at 3.23. There isn’t one line or a few players to focus on.

8. With Zack Kassian sitting out his first of his two-game suspension many have asked why Tyler Benson wasn’t recalled. Kassian still counts on the roster when he is suspended. So in order to recall Benson, they’d have to send someone else down. Kassian’s suspension was announced at 5 p.m. yesterday. So any player who required waivers to go to the minors, wouldn’t be put on until this morning and wouldn’t clear until tomorrow. So the only way Benson could be recalled is if the Oilers sent one of Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas or William Lagesson down. No way the first two are going down, and sending Lagesson down last night would expose them to playing with only five D-men if one of them got sick or injured in the morning skate or warmup. Not worth the risk.

9. Benson is now tied for 16th in AHL scoring with 32 points, although he sits 22nd due to having the fewest goals (8) among the seven players tied at 32. In his last 12 games he has 15 points and he’s scored two points in a game seven times. He has eight goals this season, but they have come in four games. He has a hat-trick, scored two goals twice and had a single once. He has been much more consistent recently and a recall would be more likely after the All-Star break. The Oilers could call him up for Saturday’s game, but to recall him and send him back down for one game would be a bit odd.

10. Here is the Oilers scoring last year compared to this season, as well as the Predators scoring, through 47 games.

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2018/19 92 (203) 25 (71) 16 (80)
EDMONTON 94 (226) 31 (71) 14 (85)
NASHVILLE 61 (132) 58 (140) 29 (116)

11. The Preds are the only team in the NHL who have less points from their top-five forwards combined than from their depth forwards. You can’t have many defensive lapses against the Predators as any of their four lines are a threat to score.

12. Losing to the Flames dropped Edmonton’s record against middle-10 teams to 5-8-2. Many have been upset about their play against bottom-10 teams, but they are 11-5-2 against them. The big area they need to improve is against the mid-tier teams. The Predators sit 20th in the NHL. These are the teams they need to beat.

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