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Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes: Predators @ Oilers G9

The Edmonton Oilers have won eight of their first nine games of a season once, in 1985-1986. They won their first five games, then lost game six before winning the next three. They could match that tonight with a victory over the Nashville Predators.

— It is odd to think the Oilers have a chance to have the best 10-game start in franchise history this week. No Oilers team has ever won nine of its first 10 games. Of course, Edmonton has to win tonight, before that is a possibility on Kevin Lowe’s jersey retirement night on Friday, but it illustrates just how good they’ve been through eight games.

—It is rare to have this good of a start and I hope Oilersnation is enjoying it. Edmonton didn’t play great against Seattle on Monday, but skated away with a 5-2 win. They only had six shots on goal halfway through the game, but led 3-1. Good to be lucky, lucky to be good was a fitting adage for the first 30 minutes. What Monday showed is that in an 82-game season, not every game will be great, but good teams find ways to win.

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— Edmonton played its best defensive game of the season Saturday in Vancouver. The Canucks had very few quality chances, but then on Monday the Oilers needed Mikko Koskinen to bail them out. Repeatedly. You need that from your goalie now and again, and Koskinen has been solid this season. He isn’t going to play great every game, almost no player can, but he’s been very good for the majority of his appearances thus far.

— Nashville defeated the Flames 3-2 in OT last night in Calgary and the Oilers will face backup Connor Ingram after Jusse Saros started last night. Ingram has made one start this season, but he was great allowing only two goals on 35 shots in the win over Minnesota on October 24th.

— The Jaden Schwartz goal is a great example of where both partners need to make better decisions. I do think Schwartz can get credit for making a great play. We can’t overlook that, but also Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard could have made that rush more difficult for him.

This is the first angle of the goal.

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Allowing Schwartz to gain so much speed through the neutral zone put both defenders in a bad spot. Had they met him at the redline it might have improved their chances. They both did get on the ice 10 seconds before the goal, so the line change might have played a role in them being so far back. But allowing him to have so much speed put them in a tough spot, and Nurse then had to try to accelerate backwards quickly when Schwartz came up on him and it is very difficult to slow a guy down then. It is why coaches and players talk about gap control so often.

Now look at it from behind the net.

Bouchard’s error is he played outside the dot, and opened a line inside, rather than push Schwartz to the outside. That is not what you want as the D-man on that side of the ice. It gives Schwartz a free lane to the more dangerous part of the ice. Then Bouchard allows him through without even trying to impede him with his stick. Both defenders will want to play that better in the future.

—The great part about winning is that coaches can show that video as a learning experience in a win, rather than one that cost you the game. Bouchard and Nurse will both want to make a better play. It is also important to note every D-man gets beat like that a few times each year. But for two to get beat on the same play made the play look worse. It was Bouchard’s first below average game of the season, and for a rookie that is impressive. I know he isn’t technically a rookie, but that was only his 29th NHL game. If Bouchard only has one below average game out of every eight, the Oilers, and fans, should be thrilled. He has played very well this season, but had a tough night on Monday. He will bounce back, because he came to the rink on Tuesday annoyed with his performance according to Dave Tippett.

— Sometimes you aren’t as sharp as you need,” said Tippett. “For instance, Bouch has been really good for us, and that was his down game. He recognized that this morning, understands it, puts it behind him and moves on. We had some players who weren’t as sharp as they normally are. It is an 82-game schedule, there will be games where you aren’t at your best, and you have to find ways to win those games and we did.”

— Kyle Turris has been more impactful in his eight games this season than at any point last year. And there is one reason why. “It was really nice to get a full, normal summer of training,” said Turris. “It was a huge help. I gained some muscle, weight and explosiveness. Right off the bat that gave me some confidence and the physical ability I didn’t have last year. And it gave me energy and explosiveness. I can do more on the ice this year.”

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I think some undervalue how important off-season training is to the on-ice success of players. It doesn’t guarantee you play well, but if players are unable to train how they want, or as often as they want, then there is a much greater chance they will struggle.

— The Predators have won four in a row, defeating the Wild, Sharks, Islanders and Flames. They are winning with sound defence, allowing only seven goals in those games after starting the season 1-4. Nashville has allowed 2.67 goals/game while the Oilers are 12th in the NHL at 2.63. Edmonton is tied for second in goals scored/game at 4.13, (I don’t include SO goals) while the Preds are 17th at 2.78.

— Here is a look at the offence and defence of the Predators and Oilers courtesy of SportLogiq.

Defensively the Oilers have protected the net much better. They’ve allowed the sixth fewest inner slot shots, and are fourth in rebound chances against. It is an area that hasn’t been talked about much, but Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith have really helped in front of the net. They often have good positioning and we don’t see them losing battles for rebounds.

Nashville is top-10 in six offensive categories, despite being 17th in actual goals. They generate a lot of shots from the slot and inner slot. We should keep a close eye on the battle between the Oilers defending the slot and Nashville generating shots from the slot.

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