Photo Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers @ Senators: A Winning Record?

For the fourth time this season the Oilers have an opportunity to surpass the .500 mark. They lost opening night to Vancouver, game three to Montreal and game 13 to Calgary the previous three times when they had a chance to surpass the .500 mark. A win tonight would boost their record to 8-7, and they’d be four points up on fifth place Vancouver with a game in hand. Calgary is currently in sixth place, with three games in hand on the Oilers and will have four on the Vancouver after tonight.

With every game being a divisional game, creating space from the Canucks right now is crucial. More importantly, a victory tonight would make the Oilers 5-1 in their last six games.

— I realize four of those victories would have come against Ottawa, but the Senators defeated Montreal and Toronto, and they’ve been much more competitive in their last three games. If the Oilers beat a team they are supposed to beat, I see that as a positive.

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— How good was the Ennis-Khaira-Archibald line last night? I thought they had many positive shifts hemming the Senators in the zone. Ennis scored a beauty goal on a nice toe-drag for the game winner, but he also rang one off the goalpost second period. They all contributed and played a lot as Archibald played 15:10, Khaira 14:34 and Ennis 13:25. Khaira and Archibald had a little extra time on the PK.

— They played 9:00 as a trio and had positive possession numbers across the board. Khaira has played really well for two consecutive games, and with Kyle Turris struggling, and @Gaetan Hass on the IR, the Oilers really needed him to elevate his play, and he has. And the coach rewarded him with more ice time. Khaira played 12:25 at 5×5 while Connor McDavid played 14:25 and Leon Draisaitl skated 15:43. Fewer minutes for those two at 5×5 is important heading into the second half of a back-to-back.

— Turris had one of his more effective games of the season as well. He didn’t take a lot of faceoffs, but he won two key draws in the defensive zone and finished 60% on the night. He needs some positives to build off of, and while he still has a ways to go to, there were more positive than negatives in his play last night. Baby steps.

Mike Smith was outstanding in his season debut stopping 27 of 28 shots. The only one that beat him was off of Adam Larsson’s stick. Smith had to make a few big saves, but rarely did the Senators have consistent pressure. If it wasn’t Smith’s first start of the season and only second in 11 months, I could see Dave Tippett thinking about going back to him tonight, but Tippett is making the wise move and playing Mikko Koskinen tonight against Marcus Hogberg (I assume Murray isn’t going BTB either). So Tippett could go with Smith in Montreal on Thursday after a strong first game. Smith’s puckhandling skills made life easier for the Oilers defence on numerous occasions. I know many remember the first goal against Chicago, which wasn’t good, but Smith’s puckhandling skills are a positive far more often than a negative. I kind of forgot how good he is at not just moving the puck, but getting out to play it and stopping the forecheck instantly.

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— These numbers from SportLoqiq outline how well Edmonton played last night. They really controlled the game after a bit of a slow start. They had much more offensive zone time and had twice as many shots from the slot, not to mention they passed up some great opportunities. If Hogberg starts tonight I’d be shooting often. He enters tonight with a .844Sv%.

Team Data EDM OTT
Goals 3 1
Shots 35 28
OZ Possession Time 07:49 04:57
Slot Shots On Net 18 9
Scoring Chances Off-the-Rush 5 3
Controlled Entries 51 40
Controlled Exits 81 61
Completed Stretch Passes For 11 13

— The biggest difference in Darnell Nurse’s play this season is his decision making with the puck. He has really cut down on the major errors, and he has much more confidence with the puck. This sequence is something we wouldn’t have seen in the past. He makes a nice pivot move at the blueline, and then without mishandling the puck handles a difficult pass from Draisaitl that was close to his body. Last year I don’t see him making this play so smoothly.

— Nurse is tied for sixth among D-men in scoring with 10 points. He is second in goals with four, fourth in shots on goal with 37 and only Jeff Petry and Cale Makar have a better +/- among the top-20 scoring D-men (Nurse is tied for ninth overall among all defenders). He is 16th in TOI/game at 24:20, and despite many saying he is playing more minutes than last season, Nurse is only averaging 53 seconds more per game this season. He has just been more effective, and less erratic in those minutes. I’m patiently waiting for PuckIQ to update this year’s stats so I can see if Nurse is playing more minutes against elite players. Last year he played 35% of his time against Elite, while Oscar Klefbom played 33%. I’d guess it is a bit more this year, but how much remains to be seen.

— Some will suggest his possession numbers are better because he plays with McDavid. I’m sure there is some truth to that as Nurse has played 52.2% of his 5×5 time with McDavid, but let’s look at McDavid’s numbers with and without Nurse.

McDavid has played 224 minutes at 5×5. He has a 57.2CF%, 58.05 FF%, 57.2SF%, 50GF%, and a 63.9xGF%.

He’s played 139 minutes with Nurse (62%), so clearly the coaches like having Nurse and Bear/Barrie out with McDavid.

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Here are his possession numbers with and without Nurse.

Info          With Nurse         W/O Nurse
TOI              139:18                 84:43
CF%              60.47                 51.95
FF%              61.98                  50.94
SF%              59.74                  52.50
GF%             60.00                  36.36
XGF%           69.36                  53.82

It would seem that McDavid also benefits from playing with Nurse, as all the information shows significantly better with Nurse. I’m not implying Nurse is the driver at all, just pointing how the benefits run both ways. It makes sense for Tippett to play McDavid with the Oilers best D-man.

— Here is a quick look at McDavid’s information with and without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, his most common linemate.

Info          With RNH         W/O RNH
TOI              179:10                 44:51
CF%              57.06                 58.02
FF%              57.08                  62.07
SF%              57.29                  57.14
GF%             44.44                  62.50
XGF%           64.16                  63.26

The only real difference is actual goals as McDavid is 8-10 with RNH and 3-1 without, but the xGF is basically the same.

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— These numbers don’t tell the entire story. I just see a big improvement in Nurse’s play with the puck as well as his decision making. He is handling the puck much better and his passing has improved quite a bit. Of course he will make the wrong decision at times, all players do, but his five-star errors have been reduced significantly. Nurse has had an excellent start to the season, and the Oilers need it to continue.

— Zack Kassian had a spirited scrap with Erik Gudbranson last night, but he only played one shift after the tilt. He is out week-to-week. Some will say it was a pointless fight, but Tippett said, “You can get injured blocking a shot, in a fight or in other ways. Injuries happen at anytime and are part of the game. You just deal with it.” Alex Chiasson will draw in, and I could see the Oilers placing Kassian on IR and adding someone else from the taxi-squad.

— Last time the Oilers played back-to-back nights, Dave Tippett made five lineup changes. Devin Shore, Tyler Ennis, Slater Koekkoek, @Ethan Bear and Mikko Koskinen played the first game, and they were replaced by Chiasson, Gaetan Haas, William Lagesson, Kris Russell and Stuart Skinner. Bear was injured while playing goalies back-to-back is rare. So he made three other lineup changes despite defeating Toronto in game one. Kassian and Smith will be out tonight, but we will see one or two other changes according to Tippett.

He said the benefit of having so many bodies around is that in a normal season you might have guys play banged up, but with so many extra bodies around you can play a healthy guy. Kris Russell was hobblied blocking a shot, so I could see Caleb Jones or Slater Koekkoek playing tonight. Jones hasn’t played since January 31st, and Tippett has said many times he doesn’t like guys to sit out too long. They like Koekkoek better on the PK, but Jones has much better 5×5 numbers. So we’ll see which way Tippett leans.

— Ethan Bear is still unavailable to play. When I asked Tippett if it was concussion-related he just said Bear is unfit to play. When Bear returns I’m curious to see how long the Oilers will carry nine D-men on the roster. Evan Bouchard had another strong game, so the Oilers don’t have to rush Bear back, but when he’s healthy it will be fascinating to see who Tippett takes out of the lineup.

— Yesterday we launched Episode One of the DFO Rundown Podcast. I’m excited to co-host with TSN’s Frank Seravalli. We discussed many topics, including McDavid possibly pushing 110 points, and Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice was our first guest. He was fantastic. He told some great stories about how it was coaching in Hartford and then in Carolina (I didn’t know their home rink was 90 minutes from where the players lived), and he was very honest about what “information” teams compile. You can download the pod on Apple or wherever you get your pods.

You can listen and watch the full show below:

3:15 – The Bruins success.
4:20 – The Canucks struggles.
7:30 – A blurb on coaches being fired.
8:50 – Can McDavid hit 100 points? Good debate here.
14:40 – Habs goaltending.
16:10 – Frankly Speaking (on video review stuff in CBJ).
22:30 – Maurice Interview starts.
23:49 – Maurice on Dubois, then goes into coaching in the pandemic.
30:15 – Great stuff on Analytics or has he prefers “Information” from Maurice.
37:00 – A funny Jim Rutherford story from both Frank & Paul.
39:00 – How he started in coaching.
44:00 – Rapid Fire Questions.

Clearly I need to upgrade to an HD camera.

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