Can you believe that we’re already 25% of the way through the 2021 NHL season? It feels like the year is just flying past, doesn’t it? With some much happening on a daily basis as we make our way through the schedule, I wanted to empty my brain out about everything that’s happened over the past week.
Anybody that’s read my stuff or has listened to Oilersnation Radio at all knows how much I love Jujhar Khaira and how it was bumming me out to see him struggle over the past couple of seasons. Well, much to my delight, Khaira has been very, very good for the Oilers over the last five games since making his way back from the taxi squad, and I wanted to give him a shout out for his efforts. Over that span, Khaira has put up five points (2G, 3A), has been physical, is killing penalties effectively, and is really establishing himself on a line with Tyler Ennis and Josh Archibald, which is adding a completely different flavour to the Oilers’ attack. I don’t know how long this heater is going to last — Khaira is historically streaky with his production — but I hope he can keep his spot at the table for as long as humanly possible because he’s a lot of fun to watch when he’s playing at his best.
I’ll be the first to admit that Mike Smith wasn’t my first choice to bring back when you consider all the goalies that were available this past offseason, but I have to give credit when it’s due because the ol’ boy has played extremely well in his first two games since coming back from an undisclosed injury. While his first start against the Senators was certainly impressive, I was waiting to see what would happen when he faced a team that wasn’t a total garbage fire and I thought he handled the challenge incredibly well when that moment came on Thursday night against the Habs. And even though I know that his .985 save% won’t last or that more than Adam Larsson will be able to score on him, but I felt like I need to give a little bit of love to a guy that’s taken plenty of heat around here over the past few months. Mr. Smith, we won’t always be friends and sometimes I’ll throw more jabs at you, but right now, at this moment, I tip my cap to you, sir.
THE PENALTY KILL
Even though I will happily acknowledge that the Oilers’ PK has gotten better over the past week and that they’re perfect in their last three games, they’re still sitting at a 75.5% kill rate which is still far too low for a team that has playoff aspirations. I don’t think I have to explain to anyone why allowing goals 25% of the time when you’re down a man is bad news, but it’s an ongoing problem that needs to get sorted out immediately. If you want to make waves in this league then you’re going to have to be able to kill penalties. In 2019-20, the PK ended the year with a sparkling 84.4% which was the second-best ranked kill in the entire National Hockey League and I refuse to believe that taking away @Riley Sheahan and Oscar Klefbom (I MISS YOU, OSCAR!) has accounted for the nearly 10% decline. From where I blog, in my humblest of opinions, the quickest and fastest way to get back to that level is for the boys to do a better job of paying attention to where they’re shooting the puck on their zone clearing attempts and for the goalies to come up with some saves — simple as that. Easy as pie, right? No problem. Dare to dream, my friends.
I think it’s fair to suggest that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has never been the fastest starter in his NHL career, but we’re talking about a shortened season here with a potential new contract at play, which is a clear indication to me that my boy needs to get himself going. As of this posting, RNH has only one assist in his last five games and that includes missing out on at least seven or eight Grade-A chances from the slot that he would normally bury if things were going well. If RNH had buried even a quarter of those chances then I doubt we’d be talking about this right now, but he didn’t score and so here we are. I don’t know whether he’s feeling the heat from being in a contract year for the first time in nearly a decade but we’re getting to a spot where he really needs to start cashing in his chances. In his defence, I’d be way more concerned about the lack of production if he wasn’t getting chances to score but that’s not the case — Nuge has had plenty of clean looks at the net over the past couple of weeks but hasn’t been able to sink ’em — and I don’t know what kind of sacrifice I need to make to get this monkey off his back but I may head out into the streets to see what I can find. I believe in you, Nuge, and now I’m asking that you get back to believing in yourself. You can do this. #KeepNugeForever