Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers @ Senators: Stop The Bleeding

The Edmonton Oilers have a goals-against problem. It has been an issue for years, and until they lower their goals against it will be extremely difficult to win consistently. They’ve allowed three or more goals in 10 of their 13 games, and seven times they’ve allowed four or more. It is not a recipe for success.

Mikko Koskinen allowed three soft goals in Saturday’s loss to Calgary. Those are on him, but it is also on Ken Holland for forcing Koskinen to start 12 of the first 13 games. He can not play that often and be successful. He needs practice time to sharpen his technique, and when he doesn’t have time to work on that, the result of pucks going right through him like we saw on Saturday, becomes an issue. Mike Smith returning to the lineup will help Koskinen, because he will get more practice time.

— How sharp is Smith going to be? He said he’s been on the ice for two weeks and feels great, but even if he is a bit rusty I’d play him tonight and give Koskinen time to work on some technical stuff with goalie coach Dustin Schwartz this morning.

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— But it isn’t just the goaltenders. The Oilers defensive zone coverage still isn’t good enough. Edmonton is 29th in the NHL allowing 3.77 goals/game. To say that is terrible is being polite. I completely recognize there is much more to the game than simply being on the ice for goals for and goals against. Often a player can have zero impact in either, but it will register beside their name in the GF or GA column. If I’m Dave Tippett I’m sending a message to the group and some veterans will be sitting down tonight.

Kyle Turris has been outscored 13-3 at even strength and 12-3 at 5×5. I know it is his former team, but I’d have him take a seat and play two of Gaetan Haas, Jujhar Khaira and Devin Shore instead. Haas is still unavailable to play, yet I’d still go with Khaira and Shore. Khaira was very good in Calgary, so play him. Kris Russell (1-5) and Slater Koekkoek (3-9) would also not be dressed tonight. If Tippett wants to dress seven D-men again, those two would get the night off from me. Again, they aren’t the only culprits, but at some point a stronger message needs to be sent. This isn’t just a 13-game problem. It has been an issue for years in Edmonton.

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— And scoring depth isn’t the main issue. Sure, a few more depth goals would help, but they aren’t losing due to lack of offence. And their depth scoring has been good after a slow start. Edmonton is ninth in the NHL with 3.54 goals/game. Their top-four forwards have 25 goals. The rest have 13. Here is how the other teams in the division stack up.

Team    Top-4 G       Rest of Fwds
VAN        24                   20
TOR        26                   17
MTL        25                   12
WGP       22                   16
CGY        18                   10
OTT        13                   12

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Edmonton needs depth players not to get outscored. They are producing enough offence to be competitive, and if they can come close to breaking even at 5×5, then the Oilers will start to win more frequently.

Connor McDavid has 21 points in his nine-game scoring streak. He has seven consecutive multiple-point games. He’s average 2.00 points/game thus far with 26 points in 13 games. I thought 100 was plausible at the start of the season, and I think I have to raise that to 110 now. Consider that McDavid is producing these totals, despite his most common linemate at 5×5, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, only having 1-2-3 in 167 minutes with McDavid. I have to think he will eventually start producing more.

— McDavid has had RNH on his wing for 80% of his 5×5 time this season, but RNH has produced very little thus far. I assume that will improve. It has to. RNH has a 1.07 P/60 with McDavid so far, but McDavid still has two points/game. It’s amazing. I expect they will produce more offence moving forward and that is why I could see McDavid pushing for 110. He’s had a full off-season to train how he wants. Don’t underestimate a healthy McDavid. I did, when I thought he’d score 1.75 points/game this season. That looks low now.

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— Add that Jesse Puljujarvi is looking much more comfortable the past few games, and at 5×5 he has played better than RNH for the past three games. He is using his size and strength all over the ice, and he is handling the puck better. His goal off-the-rush against Calgary was a beauty. His growth, combined with RNH doing more at 5×5 makes me believe McDavid will score 100 points for sure. The bigger question is: can he get close to 112? It’s crazy to think about it, but it shows how skilled he is.

— And don’t forget about Leon Draisaitl. He’s also on a nine-game point streak and has 18 points in that time. He is also crushing it at 5×5, outscoring opponents 15-4 this season. Offence is not the problem with the Oilers. Make a commitment to clean up the defensive zone, don’t overplay your goalie and the wins will come. But can they make a consistent commitment to defence? And when he gets back in, Koskinen needs to be better. Plain and simple.

— After allowing 38 goals during their seven-game losing streak, the Senators only allowed a total of four in their two-game series against Montreal. They beat the Habs 3-2 and then lost 2-1 on Saturday. They still allowed 35 shots/game, but they got solid goaltending, and didn’t give up as many quality chances as they had previously. This will not be an easy game for the Oilers.

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