Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes: Oilers at Maple Leafs — Game Five

The Edmonton Oilers will play their first game outside of Edmonton since March 5th, 2020 tonight. The Oilers finished last season with three home games, then played the playoffs in Edmonton and started this season with four home games.

They are hoping a change of scenery will help them find more consistency in ever facet of their play. The Oilers have only played one solid game all season, which explains why they are 1-3 to start this season.

— The Oilers were a defensive train wreck in game one against Vancouver and gifted them easy goals. They played solid offensively and defensively in game two and won 5-2. In game three against Montreal, they were a step behind the Habs, couldn’t bury their best chances on Carey Price and gifted the Habs two easy goals. In game four against Montreal, they didn’t give up much at 5×5. Mikko Koskinen needs to stop the Alex Romanov shot, but the Oilers powerplay couldn’t score and it cost them the game.

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— The issue when you gift teams goals like the Oilers did in games one and three, is that even in a game where you play better defensively like they did in game four, you can still lose. They weren’t able to score and it cost them. They need to find a way to recapture their game two performance if they hope to get at least a split in Toronto this week.

— There has been a lot of focus on the glaring errors some D-men have made this year. Rightfully so, and it led to CALEB JONES and Ethan Bear sitting out last game. I could see Bear returning to the lineup tonight, maybe even Jones, but Bear on the right side and sliding Slater Koekkoek back to the left makes sense for me. Head coach Dave Tippett has depth on the blueline and he has the luxury of moving guys in and out if he feels their play is slipping. That is a good situation. While he can do that defensively, he doesn’t really have that option with his forwards. Especially his top guys.

— Yesterday, I wrote about the woes of the powerplay. Because the main participants on the PP are named Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, I expect they will find their offensive touch, but it isn’t just on the PP where this team is struggling offensively. In the Oilers three losses, those two, along with the entire forward group, has struggled to score.

— Edmonton has one five-on-five goal from a forward in its three losses: Kailer Yamamoto in game one. Devin Shore scored shorthanded late in game four, but that’s it. Two goals and then one assist each from Draisaitl, McDavid, Dominik Kahun and Zack Kassian. I realize the defence needs to tighten up in games one and three, but the lack of offence in 75% of the games they have played so far this season is troubling.

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— Often if a player gets some cookies (easier points on the PP) it carries over to his five-on-five play. But, outside of the game two explosion when McDavid and Draisaitl each had four points, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had three and Yamamoto had two, the Oilers offence has been MIA the rest of the season. The Oilers blueline has more goals, three, and the same amount of points, six, as the forwards in the three losses. Usually, if you can average a goal/game from your blueline, then your chances of winning improve, because you’d expect your forwards to contribute. But that hasn’t happened and it needs to change.

— The phrase “If McDavid and Draisaitl don’t score the Oilers won’t win” has been uttered often for the past few years. There is some truth to that, but they are paid huge money because they do produce. That is their role. Of course the Oilers need some depth guys to contribute more, but when McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH and Yamamoto combine for 1-2-3 in three games, the chances of winning are low. Very few teams can afford to have their four most talented forwards produce so little and expect to win. It can happen for one game, maybe two, but definitely not three.

— The Maple Leafs have eight forwards with goals thus far and 10 with points. Edmonton has seven with points and four with goals. The Oilers need more consistent production from their entire forward group, including their top guys. It is hard to win when your forwards only score one 5×5 goal and a total of two over the course of three games. The Oilers must play sound defensively, but they need to find ways to get some more goals. Go to the net. Get some greasy goals.

— Dave Tippett adjusted his lines in the third period last game, but he didn’t go with RNH-Draisaitl and Yamamoto. I’m not sure why he is hesitant to try the RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto line again. Let’s be clear: they won’t score at the ridiculous pace they did last January-March, or at least it his highly unlikely they will, but they will produce more than either top-line is thus far this season. But if Tippett reunites them, who plays with McDavid? Zack Kassian hasn’t been engaged enough so far. He isn’t even yapping at guys or trying to stir things up. Jesse Puljujarvi is skating well and is engaged, but when the puck is on his stick nothing is happening. He’s fanned on a lot of shots or mishandled the puck when no one is around him. Josh Archibald has played there, but he’s more of a bottom-six player. They could insert Tyler Ennis who has top-six skill and hockey IQ.

On the left side, Kahun or Joakim Nygard are the best options. Nygard was on with McDavid when Slater Koekkoek scored five-on-five, and Nygard’s speed and forechecking skills could be a positive asset to get McDavid the puck. Kahun isn’t a finisher though. He gets open, but doesn’t have a great shot. I’d strongly consider putting James Neal on the right side when he is ready, and slot either Nygard or Kahun on the left. Neal goes to the net and he is quicker than Patrick Maroon, who had a lot of success with McDavid. If he makes a change, then I’d rather see RNH with McDavid than McDavid with Draisaitl.

— It is perplexing why Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t had much goal-scoring success with McDavid. Since the start of 2017/2018 his most common linemate at 5×5 has been McDavid. Here are his totals: In 695 minutes he has 10 goals, 26 points and 93 shots. He has a 0.86 G/60, 2.24 P/60 and 8.03 shots/60. Now compare that to Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian’s production with McDavid.

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Maroon: 1,392 minutes he scored 29 goals, 50 points and had 174 shots for a 1.25 G/60, 2.15 P/60 and 7.5 shots/60.
Kassian: 1,128 minutes he tallied 20 goals, 43 points and 119 shots for a 1.06 G/60, 2.29 P/60 and 6.33 shots/60.

RNH has been a much more productive player in his career away from McDavid than Maroon or Kassian, but when with McDavid he doesn’t score as much as those two. A bit odd. It is important to note that Draisaitl was with Maroon and Kassian at times, so that likely impacts their totals.

— But look at RNH’s numbers with Draisaitl since the 2017/2018 season. They are better than with McDavid.

In 636 minutes he has 13 goals, 36 points and 93 shots for a 1.22 G/60, 3.39 P/60 and 8.77 shots/60.

He scores more and has more points. I would expect RNH to score more with McDavid. He hasn’t buried some really good chances, but if the coach is making a change to his lines it makes more sense to me to have RNH with Draisaitl, than to put Draisaitl with McDavid. Only because McDavid can drive a line much better than RNH can.

— It is only four games, and I will bet every dollar I have McDavid isn’t only going to be on the ice for one 5×5 goal in three of four games moving forward. He is just too good 5×5. Even in 2018, when the Oilers PP was 31st in the NHL, he was still highly productive at 5×5. I wouldn’t worry about him. If Tippett changes the lines I’d have 93 with 29 and McDavid on the other line. Placing 97 with Draisaitl for long stretches really limits the production from your other top line.

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—While Draisaitl hasn’t scored a goal yet, and only has two shots on goal at 5×5, he is still outscoring the opposition 5-1 at 5×5. He has been very solid defensively. The offence will come, and the easy fix is to get to the net more and shoot.

— Kassian needs to get more engaged either physically or verbally. Chirp some guys, add some animosity to the ice. He plays better with emotion and the Oilers could really use some.

—McDavid’s highlight reel goal where he blew by Morgan Reilly last January put an exclamation mark on the Oilers  6-4 victory. But it was their first win in eight games over the Maple Leafs. Prior to that night, the Maple Leafs had won seven straight by scores of 3-2, 4-2, 6-4, 1-0. 6-2, 3-2 and 4-1. Edmonton is hoping to build off their last win, but they will need to be much more consistent tonight than they have been in their first four games this season. McDavid loves playing the Leafs, scoring 5-10-15 in nine games.

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