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Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Help Me Understand: NHL, Hot Takes, and More

Welcome to the fifth edition of “Help Me Understand.”

Sports, hot takes and narratives. Some make sense, others perplex me.

— I realize Oscar Klefbom is a loss, but help me understand how his loss is more impactful than the lack of a backup goalie? Let’s look at nine games last season without Klefbom and the nine this year.

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He missed nine games between February 17th-March 6th, while he rested his injured shoulder.
The Oilers were 4-3-2 in those games and averaged 3.00 goals/game, allowed 2.89, while the PP was 32% and PK was 86.7%.
This season the Oilers are 3-6. They have scored 2.89 goals/game, have allowed 3.67, and the PP is 20% while the PK is 72.4%.

The powerplay didn’t miss a beat without Klefbom, nor did the PK. The Oilers PP is coming around, but their PK is struggling and Tippett said, “Penalty is killing is sacrificing, getting in lanes and getting saves.”

The Oilers blueline in those nine games last season: Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear, Adam Larsson and Caleb Jones played nine games. Matt Benning played seven, William Lagesson five, Kris Russell four and Mike Green two.

This year, Nurse, Larsson, Tyson Barrie have played nine, Ethan Bear and Slater Koekkoek eight, Jones and Russell five and Lagesson one. Do you think Benning and Lagesson are better than Barrie and Koekkoek? I’d guess no.

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Up front, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Josh Archibald, Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira and Riley Sheahan played all nine. Khaira and Sheahan had no points and were -4 and -8 respectively.
Connor McDavid and Gaetan Haas played seven games, Kailer Yamamoto, Patrick Russell, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis played six while Zack Kassian (4), Sam Gagner and Tyler Benson (3), Markus Granlund, James Neal and Colby Cave (2).

The Oilers point totals in those games:

Draisaitl 9-6-15
RNH: 6-9-15
McDavid: 2-12-14
Yamamoto: 2-4-6
Nurse: 0-6-6
Archibald: 3-1-4
Ennis: 1-2-3
Bear: 0-3-3
Athanasiou: 1-1-2
Kassian: 1-1-2
Jones: 0-2-2
Chiasson and Gagner: 1-0-1
Sheahan, Larsson, Benning and P.Russell: 0-0-1

In the two games McDavid and Klefbom were out, the team went 0-1-1. So in the seven games with McDavid in the lineup, but no Klefbom, the Oilers were 4-2-1. Having both out was an in issue, but with one the team was very competitive.

This year’s point totals through nine games.
McDavid: 5-9-14
Draisaitl 6-7-13
RNH: 4-3-7
Nurse: 1-6-7
Yamamoto: 3-3-6
Kassian: 1-2-3
Larsson: 2-1-3
Barrie: 0-3-3
Bear: 0-2-2
Turris: 1-1-2
Puljujarvi: 0-2-2
Koekkoek, Shore and Archibald: 1-0-1
Neal, Jones, P.Russell, Khaira, Koskinen and Kahun: 0-0-1

The main difference was the amount of games the goalies played. Edmonton had a .914sv% in those nine games. Smith started six and Koskinen started three. This season Koskinen has played all nine and he has a .895sv%.

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For the nine games without Klefbom, they missed McDavid for two, then Yamamoto was out for a different three games. So five of the nine games they were without one of their top-four scoring forwards, but they still managed to go 4-3-2.

Don’t tell me this group is less talented. Missing Klefbom hurts, but it isn’t the main issue on the Oilers right now. Decent teams find ways to overcome an injury to one player.

— Help me understand how the two biggest issues aren’t the mishandling of the goalie situation, and the players on-ice continual giving away “easy goals” to their opponents. The latter is killing them, and the former has them overusing Koskinen. Koskinen says he feels fine, and he might, but he has started nine games in 16 days. If Anton Forsberg hadn’t been placed on waivers he could have played one, possibly two games. Maybe the Oilers don’t win those games, but Koskinen would have more rest, and he plays better with more rest. The numbers back this up.

— Help me understand why management was more concerned with protecting Lagesson than Forsberg? I don’t know for sure if Lagesson would have been claimed, but D-men with more NHL experience went through waivers unclaimed. And even if they did lose him, he has only played one game. He hasn’t been a factor. Even if they didn’t want three goalies on the 23-man roster for a long period of time (that was reason Holland gave when I asked about waiving Forsberg), why not wait at least a week into the season to waive Forsberg? Or they could have claimed Alex Nedeljkovic when Carolina put him on waivers the day they claimed Forsberg. And since no one claimed Nedeljkovi, had Edmonton claimed him they could have traded him back to Carolina for Forsberg, since Carolina only claimed Forsberg to protect them in case Nedeljkovic was claimed.

If you trade a player claimed on waivers within 30 days, you have to offer him to other teams who put in a claim first. And only eight teams were after Carolina (VEG, PITT, PHI, WSH, TB, COL, STL and BOS) in the waiver order and I’m told none put in a claim, which makes sense based on their teams. So Edmonton and Carolina could have made the trade back, since it would have benefitted both as neither goalie would have been required to quarantine. Carolina waived Forsberg once Nedeljkovic went unclaimed, so they clearly preferred Nedeljkovic.

—Help me understand why the Oilers bottom six can’t have a more consistent work ethic. They need to be better, and they have more skill than they’ve shown. The third line has played well since being put together, so that is a good sign, but far too many players, on forward and defence, have been responsible for “gift” goals to the opposition and that is killing the Oilers. Last night Koskinen mishandled the puck on the first goal, and Yamamoto, with time, didn’t get the puck out on the PK. Seconds later it was in the net. Those plays aren’t due to Klefbom’s injury.

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Scottie Upshall outlined his views on the role of a bottom six player on my radio show yesterday. I thought he did a great job of pointing out the challenges that go with it, but also the reality of what you need to do in that role.

As a bottom six guy you need to provide a few things.

You have to be the hardest working guys all the time. You need to be able to take over a game with your hard work, leadership, speaking, doing all kinds of intangibles. You’re never put in situations to score goals, when the other team ices the puck and they are tired, you aren’t the one usually going on the ice, you aren’t the one starting with a face-off down in their end and getting 30 or 40 seconds of  great statistics or analytics. That is never the way things happen.

When you are a bottom six guy and your top guys come off because they are tired, you go on the ice whether that is faceoff in your own zone, or neutral zone, and the other team sends out either their top line or their energy guys, and you got to find away to get the puck in and create chances.

Now, for scoring…In practice it becomes something you need to do over and over again, and that is the little tiny things. The things Connor might be able to do in his sleep when he gets the puck in a good scoring area. You need to work on those constantly in practice. Not dusting it off we used to say, where you stick handle it a couple times and shoot it. Do that in a game and it is going to go into the defenseman’s shin pads or someone is going to hit your stick away. Everyone is too good now defending in front of their net.

I recall working with some guys in St. Louis, our linemates were were Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Reavese, Steve Ott, these types of guys. Guys who have been around for a long time, but realize we’re not going to be taking these O-Zone draws all the time, but when we do, let’s know what the hell we’re doing. Let’s have a plan, and the plan starts with shooting the puck hard, hitting the net, having a guy in front of the net. These sort of things are things that become ingrained in you, and even if things aren’t going well, you’re still going to create a little bit of a chance, and that little bit of a chance is going to give you some positivity going into the next opportunity.

So for the bottom six Oilers guys, who haven’t really stepped up yet, just do the things that got you there and do them well. And be part of the team, because Connor and Leon will score the goals, you guys keep the puck out of the net and chip in when you can, that would be my message.

—- So help me understand why so many disagreed with this tweet last night.

Many said the claim of hard work is overused, and the Oilers simply don’t have enough skill. When I look at this roster of skaters, compared to last year, and especially the nine games without Klefbom, I don’t less skill. I actually see more this year, but I’ve seen way too many huge mental errors (bad reads) or sloppy puck play that has led directly to easy goals against. To me that is a lack of mental and physical focus, which falls under hard work for me.

“We shoot ourselves in the foot. You have to find ways not to lose. We are making mistakes that take away our chance to win and that is what bothers me,” said Tippett last night. He is 100% right.

— Help me understand why the NHL is so fearful to crack down on hits from behind. They cracked down on headshots and we barely see them anymore, because the players adapt to the rules. The league made it clear headshots were no longer tolerable, and, while it wasn’t an instant change, we have seen a significant reduction in headshots. Why the eff won’t the league come down hard on hits from behind?

There is zero reason Kevin Fiala needs to make this hit. I know he isn’t a physical or dirty player, but so what? Send a message to the league and suspend him for five games. Get the players attention. The game is better without head shots, and it will be better without blatant hits from behind.

— Please help me understand why Game Stop was so bad. It seems some rich guys got upset they couldn’t control it, so they whined to get it banned. Am I missing something?

— Can anyone help me understand why Peter Chiarelli and Jason Botterill were mentioned as candidates for the Pittsburgh Penguins GM job? Seriously. What has Chiarelli done well as a GM since 2013? Botterill had no success in Buffalo. Ron Hextall is a much better choice. Or what about Mike Futa, Chris Drury or others? Do people just list Chiarelli’s name so in case he gets the job he will be a good source? I don’t get it. After the horrific trades of Griffin Reinhart, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Strome and even Drake Caggiula, not to mention the Milan Lucic signing, why would you want him as a GM? Maybe he could be a good scout or assistant GM, but as main leader I don’t see why you’d even consider him.

— And lastly, put on your coaching hat for a moment. If you are Dave Tippett which goalie would you start tomorrow v. Toronto and Sunday v. Ottawa? Your options are Koskinen, Stuart Skinner or Troy Grosenick. Who starts which game and why?

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