Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers @ Senators: Afternoon Delight

Late afternoon weekday games for the Edmonton Oilers are very rare, and by my research today is the first on a Wednesday, but they have played games this season on Saturday that start at 5 p.m. local time, so the start time should not be an excuse for a sluggish start.

— “It is a bit different, but it is an NHL game,” said Leon Draisaitl in regards to the start time. He quickly shot down the suggestion the start time is odd. “No one should be worried about us getting up for this game. We want to secure a playoff spot and have our game where we want it to be heading into the playoffs.” He is bang on, while it is odd for viewers in Edmonton, a 5 p.m. start local time isn’t that different for NHL players.

— Edmonton leads the NHL with 41 first period goals, while Ottawa leads the NHL in goals allowed in the first period with 51. However, since March 1st the Oilers have only scored 12 first period goals (22nd in NHL) in 16 games and have been outscored 15-12. They haven’t  been as sharp recently in first periods and they need to reverse that trend. Ottawa has allowed the fourth  most GA in the opening period (19) since March first, so they have improved, but not much.

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— While the Oilers have scored a lot in the opening period they’ve also allowed 38 goals (sixth most). Where they have improved the most is not allowing goals in the third period. They’ve only allowed 11 in their past 16 games, third best in the NHL. And four of those goals came in the two losses recently where they allowed Toronto and Montreal to score twice in the third to tie the game and then win it in overtime.

— That is the concerning part for me. In two of their previous five games they’ve blown a two-goal lead in the third. It is a tough lesson to learn, but they allowed Montreal and Toronto to dictate the pace of play in both those periods. But in the same recent time period the Oilers have also come from behind twice in the third period to defeat Winnipeg and Calgary. They are still a better team when they attack.

— It is fair to point out the Oilers top two lines have no goals at 5×5 in five games against Montreal. One, even two games, you could say it isn’t an issue, but five games is a concern. Edmonton is best when they attack off the rush, and Montreal did a good job of not allowing that, and Edmonton’s current top-six is not built to beat you down low on cycling or forechecking. They will have to put more pucks on net and have guys crash the crease. They won’t suddenly become grinding players, but the four wingers will need to go to the gritty areas more often. I realize James Neal isn’t the fastest skater, but his style of play is more effective in the postseason than Dominik Kahun’s. If Neal can get his conditioning back, I could see him or even Josh Archibald getting a look in the top six late in the year or in the playoffs. Unless Ken Holland acquires a top-six player with a style of game that is more prone to battling on the boards and in front of the net.

— The other factor in the struggles against Montreal, and in three games against Toronto, was their lack of quick puck movement through the neutral zone. Former D-man Jason Strudwick made a great point yesterday on my show about how he feels the D could help the top-six.

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“The Oilers defence were too slow in their regroups,” said Strudwick. “They need to move the puck up quicker, rather than going cross ice. Regroups high in the O-zone need to go back the other way quickly before Montreal can get set up. It isn’t easy, but they can do it.”

Against other teams you can go partner-to-partner, but against Montreal, and at times Toronto, the D have to go up the ice quickly. It is a mindset more than a lack of ability on the current D core.

— After Strudwick’s comment many tweeted and texted the show saying Evan Bouchard can do this. He does move the puck well, but is he clearly better at it than Ethan Bear or Tyson Barrie? Unless Dave Tippett moves Barrie to the left side, or dresses seven defenceman, it is difficult to envision a scenario where Bouchard plays. Tippett said he is sticking with the same six defenders for today.

— “I need to be more creative offensively and creating to help those guys. I just need to play better,” said Kyle Turris. Players hold themselves to a higher standard than media or fans, and Turris has been pretty honest in his assessment of his play. We’ll see if he can do more today when he gets back in the lineup against his former team. Sounds like he will draw in for Gaetan Haas.

— Mikko Koskinen starts today and Mike Smith will start tomorrow. Koskinen is 3-0 against Ottawa with a .937sv% and 2.00 GAA. He did that despite allowing a goal on the first shot of the game in twice. Koskinen has struggled recently allowing a goal on the first shot of the game (five of last nine starts), but the rest of the game, especially the final 40 minutes, he has played well. It likely is more mental now than anything, and if he stops the first shot today his odds of having a solid game increase a lot.

— The Oilers superstars have feasted on the Senators. Leon Draisatil has 7-10-17 in their seven victories, while Connor McDavid has 3-13-16. Ottawa can’t handle them off the rush.

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— Edmonton has not beaten a team in eight consecutive games since defeating the St. Louis Blues eight in a row from December 11th, 2007 to December 11th, 2009. A victory today would be give them eight wins in 67 days. Tonight is their 30th game during that time. In the time they have lost seven in a row to the Oilers, the Senators are 12-9-3 in their other 24 games. They’ve been competitive against Toronto (2-2-1), Winnipeg (1-2), Montreal (4-3), Calgary (5-2) and Vancouver (0-0-2), but Edmonton has their number, outscoring them 34-15.

— Anton Forsberg signed a contract with the Edmonton Oilers, but he never played a game, preseason or regular season for Edmonton, before he was claimed off of waivers by Carolina. He then was claimed by Winnipeg, and then later by Ottawa. If a player never plays a game with Edmonton is he really considered a former Oiler? Whatever response you give, it is a bit surprising to me he will not be starting tonight for the Senators. He is 1-1-1 in three starts with a .920Sv% and 3.34 GAA. It is rare to have that high of Sv% and GAA, but he has faced 41 shots against Toronto, 38 against Montreal and 46 against Winnipeg two nights ago. Marcus Hodberg will and he’s been lit up by the Oilers. Odd.

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