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Game Notes Oilers @ Rangers: Score First

There are certain stats you can manipulate to make your point more valid, but scoring first is not one of them. Teams who score first win more often. In the past five seasons, only five teams have managed to have a points% above 50% — essentially one team per season. It doesn’t matter if you are a good, average or bad team. Score first more often, and your odds of winning increase significantly.

— The Washington Capitals lead the NHL with 48 points. They are 16-4-3 (.760P%) when they score first and they are 4-2-5 (.433P%) when they allow the first goal.

The Winnipeg Jets are 16th in the NHL. They are 11-2-2 (.800P%) when scoring first and they are 5-9-3 (.382P%) when they don’t.

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The Montreal Canadiens sit 31st. They are 5-4-3 (.541P%) when scoring first and they are 2-19-1 (.113P%) when the opposition scores first.

— The Oilers are no exception. In fact, they are the only team in the NHL without a loss when scoring first. They are a perfect 10-0. The problem is they’ve scored first the fewest times of any team in the NHL. They’ve lit the lamp first in only 31.2% of their games. And it has been much worse recently with Edmonton scoring first only four times in its past 23 games, which equates to a horrendous 17.3% of games played.

— How do they fix it? There is one easy answer. They need to play faster. Edmonton doesn’t move the puck quickly enough. I find far too often they just give the puck away with dump ins when no one is chasing or when they have possession in the defensive zone and just flip it up ice. That is one problem. The other is their ability to gift goals. Edmonton can self-destruct as well as any team in the NHL. When they make an error it is a 10-bell error. And often it comes after they play well for five or 10 minutes, but then they make an egregious decision with or without the puck, and suddenly they are behind. Until they figure out how to be more mentally and emotionally ready to play they will find themselves chasing the game. And that is not a recipe for winning.

— The Rangers shut out Tampa Bay yesterday 4-0. They did so without Artemi Panarin who was placed in COVID protocol. He won’t play tonight and neither will starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Well, I assume he won’t play back-to-back after earning his second shutout of the season yesterday. He’s only started on consecutive nights once in his career. So the Oilers likely will see backup Alexandar Georgiev. That is a big break as Shesterkin has been one of the NHL’s best with a .936Sv% in 20 starts and Georgiev has a .902Sv% in 11 starts. When you are struggling as bad as the Oilers, any potential weakness is a good thing. We’ll see if the Oilers can take advantage of it.

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— Edmonton scored six goals on Georgiev in a 6-5 OT win in Edmonton on November 5th. Edmonton trailed 1-0 only 1:53 into that game, and were down 4-1 at the 6:56 mark of the second period before storming back to win. The Rangers have the ffith best record in the NHL since that loss going 15-6-1, so Edmonton can’t expect a repeat miracle comeback. They need to be aggressive from the opening faceoff and take the game to the Rangers, rather than waiting to be down a goal before starting to play.

— I’ve seen many suggesting the Oilers should replace Dave Tippett. I understand why many feel a coaching change is necessary, but will it matter? I think it is a mistake to try and compare the Oilers to Vancouver. The Canucks brought in Bruce Boudreau and the Canucks have played very well since. However, the day he was hired I said he was in a good spot to succeed because the Canuck’s best players weren’t playing well at the time. Now they are, and adding a new coach looks great. But Edmonton’s best players currently sit first and second in league scoring. How much more can they do under a new coach? The Flyers fired their head coach, and promoted assistant coach Mike Yeo and the results haven’t been any different.

— Will a new coach suddenly make the goaltending more consistent? Will he make the bottom six better offensively and defensively? Maybe, but it is far from a certainty. I do think if the Oilers don’t pick up a win tonight or Wednesday in Toronto the heat under Tippett’s seat will intensify. No question about that. The NHL is about winning and the Oilers were expected to be better than the wildcard spot they currently hold. Tippett has to shoulder some blame, but so does management and the players for how they’ve performed so far this season. They need to be better, and scoring first would go a long way to rectifying that.

— A new coach could have a different message, and maybe that is enough to jumpstart the group. However, I sense Ken Holland will be patient. His track record of firing coaches during the season reflects this. He has never fired a coach during the season. He will be patient, but if the recent losing skid continues for a few more weeks, he might have no choice than to make a move. If the players like Tippett, then they need to play better if they want him to stick around. It is easy to blame one person, and look for a scapegoat, but there isn’t one person responsible for the Oilers’ recent play. It is a total team effort. But, the harsh reality is the GM can’t change all the players, and often the coach takes one for the team. I don’t think Holland is seriously thinking about it yet, but with each loss the tension mounts.

— I’d play Warren Foegele or Brendan Perlini in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ spot. Devin Shore doesn’t have the same offensive upside as those two.

— Edmonton has only had four power plays in their past four games. And I don’t think the officials have missed many calls on opposing teams. The Oilers simply haven’t put opposing players in positions to take penalties. The Oilers have been on the perimeter far too often lately. Usually, when you play fast, and move the puck quickly it puts teams in tougher positions to defend and that is when penalties occur. Edmonton can’t just wait for a power play. They need to put the Rangers on the defensive and force them into bad positions.

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— A current goalie analyst shared this about Smith: “He is the hardest working goalie who finds a way to look good when he’s contributing to losses. He made two great saves in overtime against the Devils, but allowed three weak goals. You can’t use the time off as an excuse. He needs to be more consistent.” We’ll see if Smith or Mikko Koskinen (I’d guess Koskinen) gets the start tonight. Whoever it is, he can’t allow a weak goal. The Oilers are simply too fragile to overcome that right now.

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