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Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers @ Canadiens: Finish Strong

The Edmonton Oilers will finish in second place in the North Division. Connor McDavid has already reached 100 points. The final three games won’t impact team positioning, or a major milestone, but these two games against Montreal are a great opportunity to play playoff hockey. The Canadiens are playing for a playoff spot. They need one win, or an OT/SO loss to secure a date with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They should be desperate, and unlike the previous four games against the depleted Vancouver Canucks, the next two games should resemble playoff hockey.

— The Oilers could create a lot of angst for Habs fans by winning both games this week. The Calgary Flames would have to win four in a row against Vancouver to catch Montreal, which would be difficult, but an Oilers sweep (in regulation) will give Calgary a chance.

— I don’t expect McDavid to slow down. He has 31 points in his previous 11 games. He is determined to have a long playoff run and I don’t see him letting up. Look at his previous 11 games:
1-3-4 v. VAN
0-3-3 v. VAN
0-2-2 @ VAN
2-2-4 @ VAN
1-2-3 v. CGY
0-0-0 v. CGY
0-3-3 @ WPG
3-1-4 @ WPG
1-2-3 v. MTL
1-2-3 v. MTL
0-2-2 @ WGP

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Eight games with at least three points including two against the Canadiens. I expect he wants to stay just as hot heading to the playoffs.

— Montreal is banged up. Carey Price won’t play in either game against the Oilers this week, but head coach Dominique Ducharme said he is hopeful Price will be ready for the playoffs. He said the same about Brendan Gallagher. Shea Weber is also out tonight and just returned to skating with a right-handed stick. He has a wrist injury and a return this week seemed unlikely as well. Philip Danault is out with a concussion and won’t play this week. And Jonathon Drouin is away on personal leave. So five starters for the Habs are out this week.

— It will be interesting to see which lines Ducharme matches up against McDavid with Danault out. Nick Suzuki and wingers Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson likely get the assignment. That is a tough ask for Suzuki. And Jesperi Kotkaniemi then has to face Leon Draisaitl. Both are big mismatches in favour of Edmonton.

Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Dominik Kahun need to wake up offensively at 5×5. In the past 11 games with McDavid torching the league, Yamamoto (0-1-1), Nugent-Hopkins (0-2-2) and Kahun (1-1-2) have produced very little at even strength. When you are playing with the top two scorers in the NHL, you need to produce at even strength, and those three haven’t recently. That needs to change for the playoffs.

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Ryan McLeod needs to get more involved. He has three shots in eight games and only three hits. Dave Tippett mentioned last week how McLeod needs to stop being so respectful and dishing to his linemates rather than shooting. That is normal for many young players. I remember Shawn Horcoff telling Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall he won’t get mad when they shoot the puck. They were high picks and kept deferring to their veteran centre in preseason games. I assume James Neal and Alex Chiasson will say the same for McLeod. That line created some good chances on Saturday night, with McLeod missing a breakaway, but as the Oilers head to the playoffs McLeod needs to be more involved physically and shooting the puck. McDavid has 12 hits to McLeod’s three, to illustrate how much more involved he needs to be physically when playing in the bottom six.

— McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will finish 1-2 in league scoring for the second consecutive season. No teammates have done that since Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in 1975. Orr and Esposito finished 1-2 in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1975. In 1973 Esposito finished first, Bobby Clarke second and Orr finished third.

— The last time a team had the two leading scorers and top-scoring defenceman was the 1985 Oilers. Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri finished 1-2 in league scoring, while Paul Coffey finished fifth overall and led all D-men. Tyson Barrie has 46 points, one point behind Adam Fox. Fox and the New York Rangers’ season is over. He has more goals than Fox, so he will finish ahead of him if they are tied in points. John Carlson has 44 points with one game remaining, while Cale Makar has 43 points with three games to play. With the Oilers top-six wingers, excluding Jesse Puljujarvi, struggling to score and produce points at even strength, Barrie and Darnell Nurse’s offensive production has been very important and is likely a reason Tippett has kept them as a pair and played them with McDavid or Draisaitl’s line.

The 1974 Boston Bruins had the league’s top-four scorers. Esposito (145), Orr (122), Ken Hodge (105) and Wayne Cashman (89), so they also had the league’s top scoring forwards and defenceman.

— Oilers analyst Bob Stauffer tweeted out a unique opportunity for Draisaitl. Draisaitl could become only the second player in NHL history to lead the league in +/- and PP goals in the same season. Draisaitl is +30 and has 14 PP goals. Nurse is second in the league at +29 while TJ Oshie and Joe Pavelski are second with 13 powerplay goals. Wayne Gretzky is the only player to lead in both categories in the same season. In 1984 he was +78 and had 20 PP goals. It was the only year Gretzky led the league in PP goals and was the only season he had 20 PP goals.

Kris Russell and Zack Kassian will not play this week. The playoffs for the North division will start on either the 18th or 19th, I’m told, and it isn’t clear if either player will be ready then. Both are skating in Edmonton right now according to Tippett. He hinted it depends when they start for the playoffs, but will one day make that much of a difference? They could use Kassian’s size and speed in the postseason for sure. I thought he was starting to play better prior to his injury. Russell doesn’t move the puck as well as Jones, but he is better on the PK and in defensive zone battles. I think his playing will depend on how well Jones plays this week. If he continues to play well, then Tippett doesn’t need to rush Russell back in.

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Mikko Koskinen starts tonight. It is the right call to play him over Alex Stalock. And I guarantee he has a better outing than last game. #CaptainObvious

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