The Oilers entered the season planning on reducing their goals against at 5×5, but through three games they’ve been leaking goals worse than Rudy Guliani’s hair dye. Edmonton has allowed 10 goals at 5×5 in three games. That is an ugly 3.33 GA/game average.
The past three seasons they’ve allowed 2.16 goals/game, ranging from 2.14 in 2018, to 2.18 in 2019 and 2.16 last year. The goal was to get under 2.00 this season, but they aren’t close right now.
So head coach Dave Tippett decided to make changes.
Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear are out and Kris Russell and William Lagesson are in.
Russell will play with Tyson Barrie, Lagesson with Adam Larsson and Slater Koekkoek will slide over to the right side and play with Darnell Nurse.
Lagesson in for Bear is a bit of a surprise, but Tippett made it clear he wasn’t impressed with Bear’s defensive game thus far.
“We have to defend better as a group,” said Tippett. “Our group wasn’t good enough last game and we made some changes to see if we can improve. We need him (Bear) to play better, and we have some quality guys ready to play. So we made a change.”
Tippett added: “We don’t have a preseason to get ready. If guys aren’t ready to compete and be ready we will make changes.”
Not only do they need to reduce goals against, but they have to find more goals 5×5.
Three Oilers forwards have scored a 5×5 goal through three games. Leon Draisaitl has five assists and has dominated at 5×5, outscoring the opposition 5-1, so him not scoring a goal isn’t a concern. But the depth forwards need to get going.
Last season, the Oilers played 14 games in October and were 9-4-1. They outscored the opposition 41-36, but they won on the offensive prowess of three players: Leon Draisaitl had 12 goals and 25 points, including 11 goals at 5×5. Connor McDavid had six goals and 23 points, while James Neal potted 11 goals and 13 points. Those three carried the load, before the rest of the team finally started chipping in.
It is unrealistic to expect that to happen again, especially with Neal not in the lineup.
The only other forwards to score a goal at 5×5 in the first 14 games last season included Zack Kassian (3) and Joakim Nygard and Jujhar Khaira, with one each. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had one PP goal. When you have to elite superstars they will carry your team some nights, but relying on them too often is a recipe for losing.
Right now the Oilers desperately need a few of Kyle Turris, Dominik Kahun, Jesse Puljujarvi, Alex Chiasson, Josh Archibald, Devin Shore and Kassian to light the lamp.
A lack of scoring depth and leaky defensive play has the Oilers 1-2 on the season and desperate for a victory tonight.
RNH – McDavid – Kassian
Kahun – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Nygard – Turris – Puljujarvi
Archibald – Shore – Chiasson
Nurse – Koekkoek
Russell – Barrie
Lagesson – Larsson
“I found a lot of success on the right side last year. It might take me a few shifts to get used to where Doc (Darnell Nurse) is, but I like the right side. I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” said Koekkoek when asked about moving from left to right.
Tippett making three lineup changes (Ennis also comes out) illustrates the urgency in a short season with every game against a divisional rival.
You should expect to see James Neal make his season debut on the road trip. Gaetan Haas will also travel with the team, but isn’t as close as Neal to returning to the lineup.
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Anderson
Toffoli – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Lehkonen – Evans – Byron
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Romanov
Jake Allen will make his first start for Montreal. Even with a relaxed schedule in January and February, and Carey Price playing excellent on Saturday, head coach Claude Julien still opted to go with Allen. He had really good numbers last season and is arguably the best backup in the NHL.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
On Saturday night, the Canadiens were fairly dominant. The shot clock was pretty even, but it seemed like the puck was wedged into the Oilers zone for long stretches of time. The Oilers D struggled with the Habs ferocious forecheck and the depth of the Canadiens just wore out the top-heavy Oilers lineup.
By the end of the night, Jeff Petry had scored twice, Tomas Tatar netted a pair himself and Jake Evans scored his first of the season on a shorthanded break.
Slater Koekkoek would beat Carey Price over the shoulder late in the third period, but the Canadiens goaltender was perfect other than that, stopping 34 of 35 shots. He wasn’t peppered with chances, but did stop Connor McDavid on a breakaway in the first period and turned aside Leon Draisaitl on a couple of chances from the slot.
Mikko Koskinen looked out of sorts in the Oilers goal. He had a difficult time hanging on to any pucks and kept dropping rebounds out into the slot while he spun around in the crease. Price is known for his calm, cool demeanour in goal and Koskinen was quite the opposite.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: I think sitting a regular like Ethan Bear grabs the attention of your team much more than if you switch out the same fourth line players. Oilers tighten up defensively in game two against Montreal like they did in game two against Vancouver. They win 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilersnation has strong opinions on Bear sitting down. Some will agree while others will be upset. When was the last time a regular 20-min/game player was healthy scratched in Edmonton? It creates a lot of debate and it illustrates the urgency Tippett feels for this team to be better defensively. Also McDavid scores his fourth goal in four games.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers unexpected goal scoring from D-men continues. Tyson Barrie makes it four goals in four games for the Edmonton blueline.
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