After picking up a huge win on Saturday evening in Florida, the Oilers will be back in action again on Sunday afternoon as they close out their three-game Southeastern swing against the Carolina Hurricanes.
1. The Oilers are now 2-1 since Connor McDavid got injured. Last night’s game featured an excellent effort top to bottom from a team missing its captain and entire first line. The Oilers came out hard in the first period to grab a lead and played a rock-solid defensive game the rest of the way in order to earn the 4-1 victory. Mikko Koskinen was a rock in net, the forwards skated like mad on the forecheck and backcheck all game, the defencemen played a smart and poised game, and, yet again, the trio of Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Kailer Yamamoto came through offensively as they combined for seven points. There was so much to like about Saturday night’s effort.
2. There has rightfully been a lot of talk about Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yamamoto, as their success is key in the Oilers navigating McDavid’s injury, but one under-the-radar performance from last night I feel deserves praise came from Adam Larsson. It’s been a difficult season for Larsson as he’s had a slow climb back up after getting injured in the team’s first game of the season. But, last night, Larsson looked like the vintage, rock-solid Larsson we saw back in 2016-17. He logged 24:04 in all situations, scored his first goal of the season, and completely suppressed the Panthers’ ability to generate high-danger scoring chances. As I said, there was a lot to like about last night’s effort, but it’s especially nice to see Larsson returning to form as a reliable top-four defender.
3. I thought Tyler Benson played the best game of his NHL career last night. I mean, it’s only been three games, but last night he didn’t look out of place at all. He played 12:46 in all situations mostly alongside Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald and was on the ice for two goals for. One thing that really stood out about Benson was his passing ability. His passing is smooth while breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and into the neutral zone, which is a huge boon for the team’s transition game. I imagine we’ll be seeing more and more of Benson as time goes along.
4. It’ll be a tough task playing on the second night of a back-to-back with a depleted roster, but winning two of three games on a Southeastern swing would be a massive success for the Oilers. Tonight, they’ll be in Carolina to take on the Hurricanes, a team in a dogfight for a playoff position in the most difficult division in hockey.
5. Carolina enjoyed a breakout season last year, making the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and riding their wave all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. They currently have a 33-21-3 record, putting them on pace to put up roughly the same 99 points in the standings as they did last season. But, this year, it might not be enough to even get them into the playoffs. The Canes sit sixth in the Metropolitan Division right now, behind Washington, Pittsburgh, the Islanders, Philadelphia, and Columbus, and just a few points up on the Rangers. Six teams in the Metro are on pace to hit nearly 100 points and one of them will end up missing the playoffs.
6. Like the Oilers, Carolina is also dealing with navigating through an injury to their best player. Dougie Hamilton, who was having a Norris-calibre season for Carolina, will miss the remainder of the season due to a broken fibula. Through 47 games, Hamilton had posted 40 points while logging 23:17 minutes per game. While plus/minus is a flawed stat, he had a plus-30 rating, and given the ice-time he had, it indicates how effective he had been on both ends of the ice.
7. The Canes have the defensive depth to compensate for Hamilton’s absence better than most teams would, but where they miss him most is offensively and on the top power-play. In the 10 games since Hamilton was injured, Carolina has scored just five power-play goals. They have a 21.6 power-play percentage on the season, but that figure is dropping quickly without Hamilton manning the point.
8. Even though their power-play, a key part of the team’s offence, has sputtered, Carolina still boasts a deep, even-strength scoring threat up and down their lineup. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov lead the way with 31 and 23 goals respectively, but five other forwards have scored 10 goals or more. Oddly enough, of the seven Canes with 10 or more goals, veterans Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, and Ryan Dzingel aren’t on the list.
9. Courtesy of Gregor, here is the Oilers’ scoring last year compared to this season, though 58 games, as well as the Hurricanes’ scoring.
|TEAM||TOP-5 FORWARDS||REST OF FORWARDS||DEFENCE|
10. Gregor added, the Oilers sit in 14th place in the NHL with 68 points with a record of 31-21-6. Last year through 58 games they were 27th, 24-29-5, with 53 points. They were outscored 195-160. This year they’ve outscored teams 184-178. The extra 24 goals have come mainly from the depth forwards, which isn’t a major surprise because last season’s depth scoring (#6-#14 goal scorers on team) was the lowest in the NHL since they expanded to 80 games in 1975. They’ve scored 52 goals this season, including 50 in their past 44 games. Those players, combined with better goaltending (17 fewer goals) are the main reasons the Oilers are a better team. The penalty kill has allowed 18 fewer goals through 58 games this season. Their PK Sv% is .904 compared to being .830 last year through 58 games.
THE HAIR MASSACURE
Hair Massacure is taking over Edmonton this winter to support the fight against childhood cancer and grant wishes to some extraordinary young patients. On February 21, 2020 thousands of heads will be shaved, once again, in honour of the journey of sick children losing their hair due to chemotherapy. All funds raised go to Children’s Wish Foundation and Terry Fox PROFYLE. You can help. Go to www.hairmassacure.com to learn more.