Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers @ Predators: March Madness Begins

To steal the term directly associated with NCAA Basketball, the Oilers are entering their own March Madness. Starting tonight they play nine games in 15 days. It is a hectic schedule, and it will be interesting to see how Dave Tippett manages the minutes of his top players. Nine of the games are on the road starting tonight in Nashville, tomorrow in Dallas, Thursday in Chicago and then March 15th and 16th in Philadelphia and Washington. In between the Oilers have four home games, so not only are the playing a lot, it involves a significant amount of travel.

1. If you are wondering why the Oilers March schedule is so condensed there are a few reasons. They have played the fewest games, 23, in the NHL since January 1st, and they only play one game in April, on the 4th in Calgary. They play 16 games in 31 days this month, then have three days off before wrapping up the regular season in Calgary.

2. They don’t leave Alberta for the final 17 days of the season, so while the start of this month is brutal, they shouldn’t be too fatigued when the playoffs start. They play in Ottawa on March 18th, and their only road game after that is in Calgary to finish the regular season. Starting this month with three games in four days, for the second consecutive week, is not ideal, but every team has a tough schedule and the Oilers can’t use fatigue or “tough schedule” as an excuse. They need to find ways to win games.

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3.  Hands up how many people felt Mike Smith would find his game after a dreadful December?

Well, Smith found it. Many replies to that tweet suggested he was done and had no game to find. I thought he was capable of being respectable, but I sure didn’t expect him to play as well as he has since January 1st. He is 11-1-4 with a .918Sv%. He has the second most wins in the NHL since January, despite only starting 16 games, and he is 11th in SV% among goalies with at least 12 starts. He also leads the goalie fraternity with 19 penalty minutes courtesy of his tilt against Cam Talbot. Smith’s competitiveness has be very noticeable in 2020. He battles for every puck, and he is giving his team a chance to win every night he plays, which is all you can ask for. He’s been a major factor in the Oilers’ success in 2020.

4. Leon Draisaitl is on pace to score 49.4 goals and 128 points. If he reaches 50 goals he will join an ever more exclusive club than the one he joined on Saturday night when he became the 44th player (ignore my typo on twitter) in NHL history to record 100+ points in consecutive seasons. Only 15 players in NHL history have had consecutive seasons of both 50 goals and 100 points.

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Michel Goulet, Dany Heatley, Pavel Bure, Charlie Simmer and Kevin Stevens did it twice.
Mario Lemieux and Alex Ovechkin had three consecutive seasons of 50 goals and 100 points.
Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Jari Kurri had four in a row.
Phil Esposito and Marcel Dionne had five.
Mike Bossy and Guy Lafleur had six consecutive.
Wayne Gretzky did it nine times.

5. Considering a few seasons ago very few people considered Draisaitl a pure scorer —even he has said he prefers passing — it is remarkable he has a realistic shot to join such an exclusive group. He has worked extremely hard on perfecting his one timer the past few seasons. He isn’t a threat like Alex Ovechkin or Patrik Laine in that regard, but he’s become a very dangerous shooter and it illustrates that when great players focus on improving an aspect of their game, they can reach new levels of points and play.

6. In a tight playoff race, some losses sting worse than others. The Vancouver Canucks led 3-1 last night in Columbus with eight minutes remaining in the game. But then they allowed three goals in 5:44, and then an empty netter with 11 seconds remaining and lost 5-3. The Blue Jackets were without their best D-man in Seth Jones, their leading goal scorer, Oliver Bjorkstrand, first line winger, Cam Atkinson, rugged winger Josh Anderson and a few others, but they found a way to win. Huge victory for the Blue Jackets in the tight wild card race in the east and a brutal loss for the Canucks. They dropped to fourth in the Pacific and sit in the first wildcard spot.

7. When you look at the current standings, the remaining schedules and the current state of the teams in the Pacific and wildcard race, I think 93 points guarantees the Oilers make it. That means they need 17 points in their final 17 games. If they go 8-8-1 I think they are in. They don’t need to be dominant. If they win nine games, they would be a lock.

8. Connor McDavid loves playing in March. In 58 career games he has 32-58-90. He averages 1.55 points/game in March. His next most productive months are October and November where he has averaged 1.35 points/game in 56 (October) and 60 (November) games respectively. He can smell the playoffs, and I think he is poised for a few “did you see that” moments and dominant performances this month.

9. Here is the Oilers’ scoring last year compared to this season, though 65 games, as well as the Predators’ scoring.

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2018/2019 121-153-274 37-60-97 22-84-106
EDMONTON 122-181-303 59-70-129 21-91-112
NASHVILLE 84-75-155 79-132-211 37-121-158

10. Nashville’s biggest weakness, in my eyes, is they don’t have a top-end offensive threat. The Oilers’ top-five scorers have almost double the points as the Predators’ top-five. Nashville has great depth and good defence, but you need one game breaker to win in the NHL and I don’t think they have one. They have a lot of good forwards, but no elite point-producer and I think that is why, even if they make the playoffs, they will be hard pressed to go deep.

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