Happy Family Day, dear Nation, and welcome to a brand new Mailbag where I’ve taken your questions about what’s happening with the Edmonton Oilers, emailed them to our writers, and copied and pasted their answers right here on the ol’ Internet for your education and enjoyment. This week, we’re looking at Mike Smith’s fine play, Puljujarvi on the COVID list, Jujhar Khaira, and a whole lot more. If you’ve got one, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.
1) Taylor asks – Was anyone else blown away by how sharp Mike Smith was in his first two starts considering he hasn’t played a game since the opener of the play-in rounds in August?
I was surprised a bit for sure. His pre-game interview before his first game did make me think he might be sharper than we think. He was really confident and spoke about having two weeks on the ice with Schwartz sharpening things. But I don’t think any of us expected him to have a .985sv% in two games. The only goal that beat him was Adam Larsson going bar down. Crazy, but also the Oilers defence has been much better at reducing the high quality chances. And Smith was very quick to point that out.
Yes, actually. He looked very calm, settled and fundamentally sound. Didn’t get lost in the speed of the game. Smith has had stretches in the past couple of years when he looks absolutely finished, but the moment you write him off he comes back with equally solid stretches of play. It seems like it’s consistency that is the issue at this point in his career.
I was really surprised by how well he played, I mean how could you not be? He’s 38-years-old and hadn’t played in a game since August. For him to come in and only allow one goal through six periods is incredible. On top of that, the only goal that went in came off Adam Larsson’s stick. He’s been great and I’m sure there will be struggles at some point, but he’s helping the Oilers rack up points right now and that’s all that matters.
I wrote about this on Saturday! I was surprised by how sharp he was and I will happily admit I was wrong about how those first couple of games were going to go.
2) Geoff asks – I was surprised that the Oilers game against Montreal actually happened after Jesse Puljujarvi was placed on the NHL’s COVID list. I know he was held out as a precaution but was anyone else of the mind that the game would be postponed if an active roster player tested positive on game day?
I trust the medical people. They are experts in it and they had all the information. They take this very seriously, and they had all the facts and information on where players were and with who.
Yes, that’s how I interpret the rules, but Puljujarvi did not test positive.
I was pretty surprised that it wasn’t just pushed to the next night considering the Oilers and Habs both didn’t play on Friday. But, it seems like they did their due diligence and there haven’t been any other positive tests. They really dodged a bullet here.
I was a little bit surprised, but at the same time, if the doctors felt as though the game could go on then I guess we should trust their judgement.
3) Yves asks – Jujhar Khaira has really impressed me since being recalled from the Taxi Squad and I’m wondering what everyone is seeing in his game that is leading to this current run of success?
He is moving his feet. He is playing like he did at the end of last season and in the playoffs. He’s a big, strong man who can skate, and clearly he has a lot of confidence right now. His goal on Jake Allen was a goal-scorers goal. He’s been engaged and he has some confidence. Good for him, because a few weeks ago I wondered how long before he’d get another shot.
Jujhar is best when he moves his feet and gets after people and pucks. It’s also helped that Ennis and especially Archibald have been doing the same. It seems like a good mesh of skills — size with some quickness. The challenge for Jujhar, as always, is maintaining his level of focus and intensity.
For me, a big part of it is skating. When he moves his feet more, the physical side of his game comes through more, and that leads to turnovers and scoring chances. He’s also playing with two wingers who also skate very well, which I think really helps his game. Hopefully, he can turn four good games into eight good games and then more because that’s been his problem in years past. They need Khaira and that third line to keep this level of play up for the remainder of the season.
When Jujhar gets on these heaters, he seems like an unstoppable force with the puck and that’s what we’re seeing right now. That said, he is streaky with these runs and I just hope that he can keep it rolling for a while because I love this player when he’s on his game.
4) Lutz asks – The way Kyle Turris is playing right now, he´s not the answer for the 3C spot. Given he doesn´t improve, which player do you see at the 3C position? Gaetan Haas, maybe even Nugent-Hopkins? Or should Holland trade for one?
He is the 4th line C right now. Khaira’s line is the third line. Turris’ last few games have been better though. He hasn’t been making the major defensive miscues, and he had two really good chances against the Habs. When Haas returns he will push Turris for a spot as long as Khaira is still playing well.
It makes no sense to write-off Turris at this point. The third line with Khaira is playing well, so Turris will have to work his way into whatever spot he gets. I like Haas and there’s nothing wrong with competition for spots in the middle in the bottom six.
I think the play of Khaira really helps mask the struggles of Kyle Turris and honestly, once Gaetan Haas is healthy, I would move Turris to the wing and see if that sparks him a little bit. It couldn’t possibly make him less effective.
I think we’re in it with Turris no matter what anyone says. That said, if you look at the minutes he’s playing, they’ve been dropping gradually since teh start of the year so clearly Dave Tippett is seeing the same thing we all are.
5) AJ88 asks – Seeing how many linemates Connor McDavid has had over the years, how difficult do you think it is to for a new linemate to adapt or fit into Connor’s style of play?
Considering Maroon and Kassian had loads of success, so did Leon Draisaitl I don’t think it is that difficult. And since 2018/2019 McDavid has played 2600 min at 5×5. He played over half of that with Drai, and Kassian has played almost 1200 min. RNH is now at 700. Very few lines stay together in NHL, especially when a team is losing. Now that Oilers are winning, Tippett has luxury to be patient. JP had success right away with McDavid. McDavid creates opportunities, but guys have to finish. JP had a few games, but then he started scoring. RNH is the one winger who hasn’t been able to finish for some reason.
Since 2018/2019… Others have scored more frequently when with McDavid.
Draisaitl: 1383 min, 33 goals. (153 shots, 21.5 SH%)
Kassian: 1164 min, 20 goals. (120 shots, 16.67 SH%)
RNH: 649 min, 7 goals. (90 shots, 7.87 SH%)
Puljujarvi: 188 min, 3 goals. (27 shots, 11.1 SH%)
Archibald: 170 min, 4 goals. (13 shots, 30.77SH%)
RNH hasn’t finished. You would think he will start finishing, but it is also fair to say he needs to start burying his chances. Almost 700 minutes is a decent sample size to say he needs to score more, but I don’t think his lack of finish is due to being difficult to adapt to McDavid.
It is difficult playing with somebody as dominant as McDavid because of his combination of skill and speed. He wants the puck and moves it more quickly than anybody else in the game. Knowing where to go and when to be there is the challenge. When he’s played with Draisaitl he’s been a give-and-go guy, but that’s because Draisaiktl is such an outstanding passer and can find him. Most players can’t replicate that.
I think that’s a really fair question and something I think new players struggle with when they’re put with Connor is understanding that you don’t always have to just give him the puck. Sometimes it feels like players force the puck to him, even when it’s not the right now, because they feel like they have to. Puljujarvi has been very good on that line because he hasn’t been afraid to take the puck into the zone himself and he knows where to go when McDavid has it.
This line McDavid is on right now can be one of the best if RNH starts burying some of the many grade-A chances he’s been getting. When his scoring drought ends, we won’t be talking about this as much. Nuge will start scoring, Jesse will keep improving, and we’ll be looking at an unstoppable force.
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