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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes: Oilers @ Golden Knights G5

It is only game five of the season, but tonight is a big game. Vegas has dominated the Pacific Division since they entered the league in 2017/2018. They’ve amassed 372 points in that span, fourth most in the NHL, which is well ahead of Calgary (328), Edmonton (320), San Jose (319), Anaheim (295), Vancouver (287) and Los Angeles (284).

The Golden Knights have been the top dog, and if the Oilers want to win the division they need to be able to defeat Vegas.

— In last night’s post-game press conference, Connor McDavid twice mentioned how much he is looking forward to tonight’s game. The Oilers want to win the division and they want to see how they matchup against Vegas. They might never play a more watered-down Vegas roster than the team they face tonight. Vegas is without Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch. Their depth lines aren’t that good.

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— Dave Tippett split up McDavid and Leon Draisaitl last night, and could do that again tonight. Let’s assume he does. Here are the Oilers career goals by line.

Hyman (89) – McDavid (201) – Puljujarvi (34)
RNH (185) – Draisaitl (201) – Yamamoto (20)
Foegele (36) – Ryan (54) – Kassian (86)
Perlini (46) – Shore (44) – Turris (167)

Turris isn’t the scorer he once was, but Puljujarvi counters that as he is on the upswing.

— Now look at Vegas’ lineup with three of their best forwards.

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Marchessault (131) – Karlsson (115) – Smith (158)
Krebs (0) – Stephenson (38) – Roy (11)
Dadonov (104) – Patrick (30) – Kolesar (3)
Carrier (27) – Leschyshyn (0) – Howden (16)

They have one legit scoring line. Their second-fourth lines have a total of 229 goals with Dadonov proving 104 of them. Devin Shore has more career goals than eight of Vegas’ forwards.

— Vegas has a solid D core with Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Alex Martinez, Brayden McNabb, Nicolas Hague, Zack Whitecloud and Dylan Coghlan, along with Robin Lehner in goal, but tonight’s roster is not close to the dominant Vegas teams of the past. Even with Edmonton playing last night, this is a very winnable game. Vegas head coach Pete Deboer switched his D pairs in practice yesterday and had Hague-Pietrangelo, Theodore-Whitecloud and McNabb-Coghlan. Martinez didn’t practice yesterday and is doubtful for tonight, so even their blueline isn’t at full strength.

— Vegas is dead last in the NHL allowing 34 shots/game at 5×5 and they are 32nd overall allowing 39 shots/game. Edmonton isn’t much better, sitting 31st in shots against/game and 27th in 5×5 SA/GP at 26.7.

— The big difference is the quality of shots against. Edmonton is 12th in goals against  (GA) at 2.50, but they are sixth best in xGA at 2.58 (via sportlogic). Vegas is 28th in GA at 4.00 and 27 in xGA at 3.57. They have struggled defensively and Edmonton needs a relentless attack and pressure a team that is fragile defensively right now.

— Vegas has struggled defending the slot. They are 25th in shot slots (15/game) and 26th in inner slot shots (7.3). And they’ve allowed the most slot passes (19.3/game). That is where the Oilers need to attack tonight. If you are curious about Edmonton’s defending, they are 13th in slot shots, 14th in inner slot shots and 25th in slots passes. They’d like to reduce the latter.

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— Much of Vegas’ defensive struggles start in the offensive zone. They are 22nd in goals (2.33) and 22nd in xG (2.78), while the Oilers are third in goals (4.75) and 16th in xG (3.11).

The Oilers are also ninth in shots for (32.5), fifth in offensive zone possession time (7:29), 9th in chances off the rush, eighth in cycle chances and 11th in rebound chances. The Oilers are around the net much more this year. They are not the perimeter team they were last season.

— The Oilers only have eight sets of back-to-backs this season. Tonight they finish off their first. Here are the rest.
November 11th and 12th in Boston and Buffalo.
November 23rd and 24th in Dallas and Arizona.
December 22nd and 23rd in LA and San Jose.
December 31st and January 1st against the Devils and Islanders. (Both afternoon games).
February 26th and 27th in Florida and Carolina. (Both in the afternoon.)
March 21st and 22nd in Colorado and Dallas.
April 28th and 29th at home to San Jose and Vancouver.

Considering the Oilers have 14 games where they play a team on the backend of a back-to-back, they have a pretty favourable schedule from a fatigue standpoint. Which leads to the question:  Will Dave Tippett start Mikko Koskinen tonight? He faced 28 shots, and eight shots from the slots. He stopped all four from the inner slot. He wasn’t bombarded. He’s only played once BTB under Tippett, and that was the first two games of last year. He lost the first one, but then stopped 38 of 40 the next night against Vancouver.

— I see a legitimate argument to start him, but I also see those who say give Stuart Skinner a game. I think the fact Edmonton doesn’t play again until Wednesday, and they have Saturday and Sunday off the ice for team bonding (golfing and other things) in Vegas, that Tippett could lean to playing Koskinen because he’ll have ample time to recover.

— The Oilers’ PP is 50% now (7 for 14). Meanwhile Vegas’ PP is at 0%. They have only had six PP chances in three games and have yet to score. Their PK is 75%, allowing two goals on eight kills, while the Oilers’ PK is now at 85.7%, with two goals against on 14 kills. Edmonton enters the game with a big advantage on special teams.

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— McDavid leads the NHL in goals (six) and points (11) in only four games.
He scored six goals in 14 games as a rookie.
He needed 19 games to get six goals in 2017.
Took 14 games to reach six goals in 2018. He had a hat trick on opening night.
He scored his sixth goal in game #8 in 2019.
It was 11 games in 2020.
And it was 10 games last season.

He’s off to the best start of his career and with every passing day 150 points looks like a low bar. Ridiculous. Only five players have ever scored 150 points in a season. Only nine players have scored 140 points in a season. You could be watching history unfold. Enjoy the ride.

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