Tonight is the classic case of a dangerous offence against a stellar defence. Both the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars are winning games, but they are doing so in much different fashions.
Edmonton has averaged 3.63 goals/game (second most in NHL behind Philly at 3.68) since the start of 2020, while the Stars remain stingy defensively, allowing 2.64 goals/game.
Edmonton is 14-6-4 in 2020 and the Stars are 15-7-3. They have been the fifth and sixth best teams in the NHL since January first and both are battling for home ice in their respective divisions.
Can the Stars slow down the Oilers’ high-scoring offence? Can Edmonton penetrate the strong defensive shell of the Stars?
Stars starting goalie Ben Bishop struggled in February going 4-3-1 with a .903Sv% and 3.20 GAA. Back up Anton Khudobin had seven starts in February and didn’t lose in regulation going 5-0-2 with a .934Sv% and 2.07 GAA. Khudobin has started three of the past four games, but lost in a SO to the Blues in the Stars last game on Saturday.
The Stars announced this morning that Bishop is out with an injury so Khudobin will start, and they’ve recalled goalie Jake Oettinger from the AHL today. You could argue Bishop’s injury benefits the Stars due to how well Khudobin has played.
But the Oilers’ offence is rolling right now so they will still generate some chances. In their past 15 games, Leon Draisaitl has 14 goals and 28 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 6-14-20 while Connor McDavid has 5-12-17 (in nine games) and Kailer Yamamoto has 6-9-15 in 12 games. Their top guys are producing and their depth scorers are chipping in nicely.
The Stars’ highest paid players are not producing how they should be. Tyler Seguin ($9.85M AAV) has 50 points, but only 17 goals. He’s been good, but can’t finish. However, Jamie Benn ($9.5M AAV) only has 19 goals and 38 points. Joe Pavelski ($7M AAV) has 14 goals and 30 points. Their combined cap hit is $26.35 million, yet they’ve combined for a mere 50 goals and 118 points.
The Stars are seventh overall in the NHL and comfortably in the playoffs, but if they want to beat St. Louis and/or Colorado they need more production from their top guys.
They are getting solid production from rookie winger Denis Gurianov. He has 20 goals in 60 games, and nine of them have come in his last 15. He is looking more comfortable every game. He has a great shot and is someone to watch tonight.
I really like the Stars blueline. John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell can really skate and move the puck. However, the Stars haven’t been able to generate much 5×5. They only have 107 goals at 5×5, 30th in the NHL ahead of the lowly Detroit Red Wings. The Stars don’t give up much at 5×5, allowing only 106 goals (third fewest in the NHL), but it is hard to play that defensive all the time.
Colorado (102) and Boston (103) have allowed fewer goals at 5×5, but they have scored 154 (second) and 137 (13th) respectively. Having the offensive punch allows you to not be so concerned about allowing a goal or two. The first goal tonight would be massive against the BB gun offence of the Stars. That being said, Edmonton has to limit the Stars PP opportunities. Dallas is ripping along at 30.4% on the PP since January 1st.
And some things to watch for tonight. The Stars are excellent at limiting scoring chances.
They are first in even strength (ES) shots from the slot against
They are first in ES shots on net from the slot off the rush against.
They are second in ES shot attempts from the slot off the rush against.
They are second in ES shot attempts from the slot against.
They are fourth in ES pass to the slot against.
They are fourth in ES inner slot shots on net against.
Where they have struggled:
They are 27th on rim dump-ins recovery and exit.
They are 27th on soft dump-in recover and exit.
This is where the Oilers could exploit them tonight.
Edmonton is first in pressure Ozone dump-ins without opposition exit on a forecheck.
The Oilers are also excellent at controlled entries into the zone, where they sit third in the NHL.
And they are fourth in offensive zone true turnovers. Leon Draisaitl is 13th in the NHL in turnovers/stripping the puck and when he does it in the offensive zone and creates more time, he is lethal.
The above stats are courtesy of Sportlogiq.com.
James Neal will play his first game since January 29th tonight. Kris Russel is a game time decision and if he can’t go then William Lagesson will play. I’m curious who Dave Tippett takes out for Neal. He didn’t say who it would be this morning. Jujhar Khaira is one of their top-four penalty killers. Alex Chiasson is on the first unit powerplay, and has split time with Neal this season. Andreas Athanasiou was just acquired, and while he might be a bit banged up I’m not sure he’d come out. Gaetan Haas doesn’t play on special teams. They could move Khaira to the middle. It is a good problem to have for Tippett. Who would you take out and why?
Last night was another prime example of why players love playing for Tippett. Riley Sheahan and Zack Kassian were on for both Predators goals in a 14-second span. Ethan Bear, Darnell Nurse and Andreas Athanasiou were on for the second one. Tippett called a timeout after the second goal, and on the ensuing faceoff he went right back to Sheahan, Kassian, Athanasiou, Nurse and Bear. He shows confidence in his players. He shows them he believes in them, and they should too. He’s done this on many different occasions this season. A few weeks ago five minutes into the game against Boston, with a defensive zone faceoff and with last change, he put Gaetan Haas’ line out against Patrice Bergeron’s line.
He shows the players he believes in them, and when he has to critique their game or sit someone down they don’t have the “He doesn’t like me,” excuse. He empowers his players and in return they want to please him. It is why I believe the Oilers have rarely had games where their effort lacked. Even if they don’t feel right, or are fatigued, we rarely see a lack of effort. I think how Tippett handles his players is a big reason their effort has been pretty consistent. He makes them feel important, and when you feel important you perform better.
The Stars top line of Benn/Seguin/Perry have combined for 41 goals and 108 points. Draisaitl has 43 goals and 107 points himself. This is a perfect illustration of just how good he has been, but also it reflects on how the Stars are really lacking a game breaker right now. Seguin is really snakebitten this season with only 17 goals on 234 shots. If he was scoring at his average SH% he’d have 25 goals.
But he is showing signs of coming around. He has six goals in his last nine games on 30 shots. So in his first 56 games he had a 5.3SH% with 11 goals on 204 shots. He is a dangerous scorer and the Oilers need to be aware he is starting to emerge from his scoring slump.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton keeps rolling and skates away with a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Once it is decided who comes out for James Neal, there will be much debate over why it wasn’t someone else. Oilersnation is amped up for the game so this decision will spur much discussion.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: When James Neal scores no one will complain he is one goal away from the Oilers surrendering a third round draft pick. They will be more focused on winning. As it should be.
How could we not? The dude is on a heater to end all heaters, and that calls for a t-shirt. Get your MVP tee exclusively at NationGear.ca
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