If ever there was a test for the Oilers to see how they’re doing as we approach the midway point of the NHL season, it’s going to be this three-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Does it get much better than a Hockey Night in Canada matchup against the team our boys are chasing down for first place in the standings? No, I didn’t think so.
It’s amazing how much things can change in a month, isn’t it? At this point back in January, the Oilers were sporting a 3-5 record and some of us were questioning whether or not they had the jam to get their acts together and maintain pace with the rest of the division. Now, only 14 games later, the Oilers have climbed over everyone in the North Division in their pursuit of another banner for the barn apart from the Maple Leafs, and this three-game set provides a wonderful opportunity to get themselves another step closer to making that happen. To be the best, you have to beat the best and that’s the task at hand over the next few days and I’m very excited to see how our boys handle the challenge.
To beat Toronto, the Oilers will need to make sure that they’re mindful of their choices with the puck because the Leafs are very good at turning things around and burning you with their counter-attack. Even with the injuries that they’re working through right now, the Leafs are a dangerous team with the ability to fill the net if given the chance and the Oilers need to do what they can to limit those opportunities/mistakes. For my money, I think Edmonton’s best bet will be to make simple plays, get plenty of shots on net, and do what they can to avoid turning the puck over at both blue lines, which has seemingly been their kryptonite all season. Put another way, if they can play at the same level as we saw in the series against the Flames and Canucks then I think we’ll be alright.
Let’s see what the numbers say…
|LAST 10 GAMES||8-2-0||7-2-1|
|EXPECTED GOALS FOR%||49.95||51.59|
Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (fancies at 5×5)
RNH – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Kahun – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Ennis – Khaira – Archibald
P. Russell – Haas – Chiasson
Nurse – Barrie
K. Russell – Larsson
Jones – Bear
As of this morning, there’s been no indication about any lineup changes yet but I can’t imagine Dave Tippett will tinker too much considering how well these combos are working right now. And seeing as Mike Smith is coming off a 32-save shutout against the Canucks, I also wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him get the call in the first game of the series but we shall see what happens as the morning rolls on. As always, I will jump back in and update things as news becomes available.
***UPDATED*** Looks like Bouchard is out and Patrick Russell is in.
Hyman – Matthews – Marner
Kerfoot – Tavares – Nylander
Vesey – Engvall – Mikheyev
Barabanov – Boyd – Spezza
Rielly – Brodie
Dermott – Holl
Lehtonen – Bogosian
The Leafs are running into some injury problems right now and I can’t think of a better time for our boys to be going head-to-head with them in pursuit of that first place spot. That said, the Leafs still have more than their share of players that can burn you so the Oilers will still need to mindful defensively while also taking care to make good choices with the puck.
***UPDATE*** No Matthews tonight for the Leafs.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
There’s a lot of permutations of scoring stats that can show you production from a different perspective. One such way is expressing it as a rate based on how much time they spend on the ice. It seems obvious that the more ice time you get, the more likely you are to score, assuming you have the ability to do so.
Expressing these stats as a rate per 60 minutes of ice time is most common, and typically we use either Even Strength or 5-on-5 numbers. Some players aren’t picked for powerplay time, or are shirked with shorthanded time, and that shouldn’t affect our analysis of their abilities, scoring or otherwise.
In terms of points at Even Strength, Auston Matthews is 6th in the league among players with more than 150 minutes of ice time (it’s important to filter out low-ice-time players as there’s a high chance of outliers, such as Rasmus Sandin’s 12 points per 60 having 1 point in just 5 minutes of ice time). Tavares, conversely, is 141st, scoring just 1.87 points for every 60 minutes of ice time. That’s lower even than a number of defenders, including Toronto’s own Jake Muzzin.
In Tavares’ 10 years in the league, this is, by a healthy margin, his worst season (so far) in points per 60 at even strength (from evolving-hockey.com).
Game Day Prediction: Despite giving up an early goal, the Oilers are able to counterpunch their way into a 4-2 win. Josh Archibald will get the empty-netter.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: We will hear McDavid vs Matthews comparisons no less than six times. Place your bets accordingly.
Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: Despite everyone talking about McDavid and Matthews to start this game, it will be Gaetan Haas that everyone wants to hear from when the night is through.
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