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Monday Musings… Offence and Expectations

At the start of the season, I thought 90 points was very attainable for Connor Mcdavid and Leon Draisaitl. I thought if things went exceptionally well, one of them might push close to 100. It is early, but this morning both of them are on pace to surpass 100 points.

McDavid has 22 points in 11 games and Draisaitl has 21. Mitch Marner and Nathan MacKinnon are tied for third with 14 points in 10 games. Right now 90 points (1.60 points-per-game) in this shortened 56-game season looks like the low bar for both McDavid and Draisaitl. Crazy.

Mario Lemieux was the last player to average over 1.6 points/game, in a full season, when he scored 122 points in 76 games (1.61 P/GP) in 1997.

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In 2011 Sidney Crosby scored 66 points in 41 games (1.61 P/GP) and in 2012 he had 1.68 P/GP (37 points in 22 games), but he missed half the games in 2011 and close to 75% in 2012. I wish we would have seen him healthy those two seasons. He was on another level.

But McDavid and Draisaitl are on that level now, and they will push each other all season. I was flabbergasted, but not surprised, earlier this season when during the first Oilers/Maple Leafs game, Sportsnet put up a poll asking who would win the Art Ross and your options were McDavid, Draisaitl, Marner and Auston Matthews. Draisaitl got less than 5% of the votes. Despite winning the Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay last season, he got very little respect. Granted, I realize many Maple Leafs fans voted, but from the start of the 2018/2019 to today, Draisaitl has the most points in the NHL with 236. McDavid has 235, Nikita Kucherov has 213, Nathan MacKinnon has 206 and Patrick Kane has 204. No other players have 200 points.

Draisaitl is a legit superstar and the gap between McDavid and Draisaitl is much smaller than we might care to admit.

Draisaitl has had an incredible start to the season.

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He has 6-15-21 in 11 games. He has outscored the opposition 13-2 at 5×5 and he’s won 57.8% of this faceoffs. And he really excels in the key draws. He is 61-35 (63%) in the offensive zone and he is 40-27 (59.8%) in the defensive zone. He isn’t going to remain at an 86.6GF%, but I argued last season there were incorrect calculations of his defensive play. His 12 games in December were a massive outlier, and completely skewed his season totals. He was outscored 23-3 at 5×5 in those games. You can’t erase them, but to overlook them and not realize they were an outlier was odd to me. Draisaitl’s overall game is very impressive. He can crush you in the offensive zone, and he has really improved his defensive play the past two seasons. And you can put him out for a key defensive zone draw, which is important for any centre who wants to be on the ice in crucial moments.

Meanwhile, McDavid has 15 points in his last 14 periods, and one of those “periods” was the OT against Toronto. Prior to the season, I wrote how McDavid would enter this season with the luxury of training how he wanted, compared to his 2019 summer of rehab, and people should expect a great season. I thought a realistic projection was 1.65 P/GP, which in a 56-game season was 94 points. I might have have underestimated a bit. He’s looked amazing, and if he had anyone on his right wing who could finish he’d have more points.

Zack Kassian didn’t have a great start to the season, but since he was bumped down to the third line he’s been better. In his 72 minutes with McDavid he had no goals, but McDavid did score a goal with Kassian on his line. Jesse Puljujarvi replaced Kassian, and he too is goalless in 71 minutes with McDavid. McDavid hasn’t scored a goal himself yet with Puljujarvi on his line. It is a small sample size though, and I think I know the reason why.

McDavid has only three shots on goal with Puljujarvi on his line, while he had 15 shots playing with Kassian. Kassian had five shots playing with McDavid. Puljujarvi has 13 shots skating with McDavid, but no goals. He’s had a few good chances, but hasn’t finished. Maybe one goes in, but I find it odd McDavid only has three shots on goal in 71 minutes with Puljujarvi. Unless he is playing with an elite finisher on the RW, I think McDavid needs to be the one shooting more.

In 72 minutes RNH-McDavid-Kass had 28 shots on goal. Split up by position, it was 8-15-5.
In 71 minutes RNH-McDavid-JP has 31 shots on goal, and split up it has 15-3-13.

McDavid with Kassian has been outscored 3-2 at 5×5, and with Puljujarvi they’ve been outscored 5-2.

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If Puljujarvi doesn’t start finishing his chances, head coach Dave Tippett might make a switch. Josh Archibald has three shots and one goal in 17 minutes playing with McDavid. I’m not saying he is the long-term answer, but we might see a temporary switch. Or Puljujarvi will score one tomorrow night and it won’t be an issue. But I suspect we will see McDavid start shooting more, like he did earlier in the season, regardless of who is on his wing. He is much more dangerous shooter than any right winger on the team.

And when speaking of changes to the line that doesn’t mean taking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins off of it, there is no reason to break up the Kahun-Draisaitl-Yamamoto line. They are scoring, and they’ve only been on the ice for one goal against.

QUICK HITS…

Jan 6, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Gaetan Haas (91) tries to get away from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Adam Brooks (77) at Scotiabank Arena. Edmonton defeated Toronto. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

— I really liked Gaetan Haas’ game yesterday. His quickness was noticeable and he looks stronger. He said the biggest thing he learned last year was he needed to be stronger so he could be better on puck and board battles. He is a great skater and very smart. I won’t be surprised to see him push Kyle Turris for the third line centre spot as the season progresses. The Turris line has scored in consecutive games, but when I asked Tippett about that line last night, he didn’t give a rave review.

“Nealer got a couple tonight. One on the powerplay, and one on a faceoff, but we’ll see where things go. They are a veteran line, but there are still some areas of their game I’d like to see cleaned up.”

Haas took Turris’ spot on the PK unit last night, and Tippett used only two sets of forward duos. He had RNH with Yamamoto and Haas with Archibald.

Ethan Bear is day-to-day. He was feeling alright yesterday, according to Tippett, but he didn’t skate today for the optional skate. I see no reason to rush him back to play tomorrow against Ottawa. If he sits out he’d have a full week without games before they play in Calgary on Saturday.

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Mike Smith continues to skate. He has yet to skate in a full practice, but Tippett mentioned we could see Smith in a full practice Thursday or Friday. Smith is eligible to come off the LTIR this Saturday, and Tippett said he will have him back within the next week or two.

— The Oilers powerplay has found its stride, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. The skill of McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH, the three main guys on the PP, is too good. It took some time to adjust to Tyson Barrie, and having no preseason games was a factor in the slow start, but now the PP is humming.

The powerplay is 9-for-16 in their past four games and is now 28.6% on the season. In the past four games they have 23 shots in 21:03 of PP time, and nine goals. In their first seven games, they had 44 shot in 46:47 of PP time. They are shooting slightly more, but I think it is more about comfort and confidence. They have integrated two different looks. They start the PP with Barrie-RNH-McDavid-Draisait-Chiasson, and they use Barrie’s one-timer more with Chiasson in front, as he is a good screen. And then they switch Chiasson for Neal, and that is when the look for more plays down low by the crease, as Neal is a better finisher.

I felt Barrie would help the PP more than Klefbom, simply because he is a more dynamic player. Not a knock on Klefbom, but in the offensive zone, Barrie is better and we are starting to see it. So is head coach Dave Tippett.

“It is hard to get things done in training camp, especially your powerplay, because you can’t have your penalty killers out there while he (Barrie) is blasting shots and having someone get hurt. The past couple games are the best he’s played. He has become the dynamic player we were hoping for. He’s played better, our powerplay is getting comfortable and we’ve found some results,” said Tippett.

— The penalty kill is still a work in progress. They allowed two more PP goals last night, running it to six consecutive games with a PP goal against. They are now a dreadful 69.4%. They need a reset. The focus will need to be just try to start one game without allowing a PP goal and go from there. If I’m the coach, I wouldn’t look at the overall season % starting tomorrow, instead just start from there. Otherwise, it is too deep of a hole to climb out of. They can’t change the past. They need to focus on being better moving forward. Jason Strudwick said on Friday he’d have Khaira in the lineup solely due to his PK skills. If Haas takes over Turris’ spot on the third line, then maybe it is an option. I realize Khaira’s five-on-five play hasn’t been close to good enough, but when he is on the ice the PK doesn’t get scored on. In his nine minutes this season, he wasn’t on for a GA, and last season he had the lowest GA of the top-95 forwards who killed for at least 100 minutes. He was only on for three goals against. Maybe it is just a coincidence, as I’d have to look at video to match, but it is something to consider if the PK continues to flounder. If it can start to be respectable then there is no need to dress Khaira, as he hasn’t done much at 5×5.

Alex Chiasson was placed on waivers this morning. Edmonton is hopeful he doesn’t get claimed, and it is unlikely due to his $2.15m cap hit, but this move was done so they could move players up and down from the Taxi-squad to main roster at any moment, and not need the 24-hour waiver window. They currently have 12 forwards, eight D-men and three goalies on the roster. Stuart Skinner will likely be moved back to the TS tomorrow, as Mikko Koskinen starts. Skinner doesn’t require waivers so he can go back and forth. With Bear out, this is the perfect spot to dress Evan Bouchard. Unless his back is still bothering him, and I doubt it is since he practiced Friday, he should play his first game of the season tomorrow. Let’s see what he can do. And when Chiasson clears, then Tippett has the option to recall a forward if he wants to change his forward group.

— The Rangers waived defenceman Tony DeAngelo yesterday. He had 53 points last season, but this was all about his off-ice attitude. Larry Brooks reported that DeAngelo and goalie Alex Georgiev got into an altercation in the hallway after their OT loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday. If this was a first time situation, I doubt it would be discussed. Teammates have gotten into altercations many times in the past and nothing occurred. But DeAngelo is different, and this isn’t a surprise. He’s had issues going back to junior.

He was suspended twice while playing in the Ontario Hockey League for violating the league policy “to keep homophobic, racist and sexist language out of the game.”
In 2017 as a member of the Arizona Coyotes he was suspended three games for attempting to push away a referee following a scrum.

The Rangers suspended him for two games in 2019, for what head coach David Quinn described as “maturity issues.”

He also had his Twitter account temporarily deactivated in November and then deleted his account when Twitter banned Donald Trump’s account.

The thing is, DeAngelo has been a problem for years, but teams looked the other way because of his on-ice abilities. The Rangers decided Saturday’s altercation was enough to put him on waivers. Will they send him home? Will another team trade for him? Is he worth the risk? Definitely not at $4.8m cap hit. This could be the wake up call for him to change.

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