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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Canadiens @ Oilers: Big Guns Ready to Fire?

It is not very often, if ever, you can say the Edmonton Oilers need more from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The two Hart trophy, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay winners are usually the spark plugs who ignite the Oilers’ engine, but they’ve yet to get going offensively against the Montreal Canadiens this season.

They haven’t played poorly, as Draisaitl leads the team with 15 shots in five games, while McDavid has 11, but neither has a goal and they only have one assist combined at even strength. They aren’t the only forwards struggling, as Jujhar Khaira (1) and Devon Shore (2) are the only forwards with goals in the season series, but given how dominant McDavid and Draisaitl are, it is rare to see them go both 0-2-2 through five games.

— I won’t be surprised if they break out — and in fact will be tossing down a $20 spot that they score tonight — but their lack of production in five consecutive games against one team is such an anomaly it is worth discussing. In the past four seasons, only three teams have managed to hold McDavid to under a point/game pace. He has four points in six games v. Buffalo, six points in eight games v. Chicago and five points in nine games against St.Louis.

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Draisaitl also had four points against the Sabres, but he had 12 against Chicago and eight in nine games v. the Blues. For both of them to have only two points in five games against the same team is very rare. And while most nights they carry the Oilers, if Edmonton wants to go deep in the playoffs their two big guns will be leading them. The others will need to chip in, but no team wins without its stars leading the way.

— The Oilers top players have not only failed to produce, they’ve been outscored badly at 5×5 to the tune of 10-4. Draisaitl, McDavid, Darnell Nurse and Jesse Puljujarvi are -5, while Tyson Barrie and Ethan Bear are -4. The entire team needs to be better, but it is difficult to win when your top guys are being outscored regularly. It is an outlier, but one they need to change.

— Between 2018-2020, Draisaitl (4-9-13 in six games) and McDavid (3-8-11 in six games) averaged two points/game against Montreal. The Habs couldn’t slow them down, but they’ve managed to so far this season. Edmonton plays Montreal four times in the next 24 days, and while a first round playoff matchup seems unlikely right now, the Oilers, and specifically their two superstars, will want to revert back to how the past three seasons went. A breakout game for one, or both, would not be a surprise tonight.

Mike Smith picked up his 42nd career shutout on Saturday in Winnipeg. Of the 31 goalies who have started at least 20 games this season, Smith is tied for sixth with a .922sv% and he is ninth with a 2.36 GAA. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make. The Oilers had lengthy discussions with Jacob Markstrom during the off-season, and made him a few offers, but Markstrom went with the Flames’ offer (six years at $6m) and signed on October 9th. The Oilers signed Mike Smith the following day for one year with a $1.5m base and $500K in potential bonuses. He’s been incredible for Edmonton.

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— Even more impressive for me is that Smith has done this without seeing his wife and four boys hardly at all this year.  “I’ve only seen them twice this season,” replied Smith when I asked about not having his kids around the dressing room this season. “You have four beautiful kids who hug you after games regardless of how you play, and it is tough not having them around. My wife has done an incredible job to keep the house in order. I miss them everyday.”

It doesn’t matter how much money you make in the NHL, it can’t buy time. Many people in different walks of life have to be away from their kids for work, and it sucks. As a father I have a lot of empathy for Smith and his kids. It isn’t ideal, but the fact he is playing this well despite not having the joys of seeing his wife and kids earns a lot of respect from me.

Carey Price still hasn’t been able to find consistency in his game this season. In 24 starts he is 12-7-5 with a .900sv% and 2.67 GAA.
In his first eight starts he went 4-2-2 with a .896Sv% and 2.84 GAA. He averaged 27.6 shots against/game.
In his next eight starts he went 4-3-2 with a .916Sv% and 2.34 GAA. He faced an average of 28.2 shots/game.
In his last eight starts he has gone 4-3-1 with a .888Sv% and 2.84 GAA while facing 25.6 shots/game.

He’s had 11 starts with a Sv% of .920 or higher, then one of .917 and . 913. The other 11 have ranged between .778-.870 and one at .897. So in 45.8% of his starts he has a .897Sv% or lower. However, his two best starts (Sv% wise) have come against Edmonton. He shut them out in a relatively easy 17-save performance on March 30th, and stopped 34 of 35 shots (.971sv%) on January 16th and in his third start posted a .913sv%. Jake Allen is 1-1 against the Oilers and has stopped 55 of 59 shots (.932sv%). In case you are wondering, Smith has a sub .900Sv% in 27% of his starts (six of 22).

— Price lost 4-0 to Ottawa on Saturday. He allowed three goals on 14 shots. He wasn’t tested very often, and I could see them starting Price tonight. The Canadiens play the Oilers again Wednesday and then three games in Calgary on Friday, Saturday and next Monday. I assume they want Price starting two of those games so if you play Allen tonight, then Price has to play three games in six days, assuming he’d play Edmonton Wednesday. It would make more sense, rest wise, to play Price tonight, Friday and next Monday.

— The Oilers recalled Ryan McLeod from Bakersfield yesterday and he will only have to miss the next two games before his quarantine is over. If he can practice next Sunday I think there is a good chance you will see him in the lineup against the Winnipeg Jets. Expect him to start at centre. The Oilers are hopeful he can provide more offence than they are getting from Gaetan Haas.

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— It was interesting to see how hard Paul Maurice worked to get Adam Lowry out against McDavid and Draisaitl on Saturday. McDavid had feasted on Schiefele, and Wheeler, in the first six meetings, so Maurice wanted the Lowry matchup a lot. They did a decent job containing them, until a great shift in the third when cycling by McDavid and Draisaitl led to Puljujarvi’s 10th goal of the season. But the Jets didn’t generate much offensively. I believe playing their third game in four nights was a factor, but will Maurice try to hard match again next Monday, or will he give Schiefele the opportunity to challenge himself against the Oilers best players?

— The Kahun-Haas-Yamamoto line had a solid game in Winnipeg. It was the best game I’ve seen from Kahun in awhile, while Haas and Yamamoto were equally good. Their most common matchup was the Schiefele line and they really controlled the play with a 85.1CF% and 100% at FF%, SF%, SCF% and XGF%. They didn’t allow one shot on goal. It was impressive and they will need to be effective again tonight

— Joakim Nygard got another shot on Saturday and he took advantage. He didn’t look as hesitant as he had in earlier games. His coach told him to not play safe and he listened. He, along with Shore and Kassian used their speed and were effective. Look for Dave Tippett to try and find lines with an identity. When RNH returns and he or Draisaitl plays centre, and McLeod draws in, Shore likely goes back to the wing with Khaira and Archibald. That trio was solid, but it means we could see Nygard, Kassian and McLeod as a line. All three can skate and are good forecheckers. I believe Tippett wants the Oilers to become a better forechecking team, especially heading into the playoffs.

— A win tonight and the Oilers will be one point back of Winnipeg and five back of Toronto with a game in hand on both teams. Home ice advantage still matters, even without fans, and the final 13 games are very meaningful. These two games against Montreal will be a good test to see if Edmonton can improve their forecheck against a very good 5×5 team.

— Today on the DFO Rundown podcast we spoke with Chris Beaudry. He was an assistant coach with the Humboldt Broncos. He wasn’t on the bus, but arrived on the scene a few minutes after the crash. He opened up about healing his mental health. If you, or someone you love is battling mental health challenges right now I recommend listening. It will help you. Chris’ words were raw, honest and very empowering. You can listen here.

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