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G66 Game Notes: Oilers have Struggled at Rogers Place vs. the Montreal Canadiens

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Photo credit:Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
30 days ago
Defeating the Montreal Canadiens in Edmonton has never been easy for the Oilers. Well, except for the first time Les Canadiens visited Edmonton.
— Edmonton crushed Montreal in their inaugural game in Edmonton. They hammered the Habs 9-1 on January 28th, 1981. Wayne Gretzky had five points, while Jari Kurri scored 3-1-4 and Blair MacDonald had 1-3-4. It was the Oilers’ second season in the NHL, and they entered the game in 18th place in the 21-team league with a record of 14-25-8. The Canadiens were in sixth place and had allowed the second fewest goals against. Yet, the underdog Oilers crushed them. It foreshadowed their first-round upset later that spring when the 14th-seed Oilers swept the third-seed Canadiens three games to none in the opening round.
— Since that January evening, the Oilers had a home record of 22-19 v. the Canadiens up until Connor McDavid was drafted. Since McDavid and Leon Draisaitl became running mates in the fall of 2015, the Oilers are 6-5 at home v. the Canadiens. The Habs haven’t been very competitive overall since 2015-16. They rank 28th in P% over those nine seasons, yet when they come to Edmonton, they play well.
The Oilers have only won two of their last six home games vs. Montreal, and during that time, they have the sixth-best record in the NHL, while the Canadiens are 28th. In the Canadiens’ other 111 road games, they are 33-59-17. They have won 30.2% of their road games in other cities but 66.7% in Edmonton — a statistical oddity.
— The Canadiens have won 12 of 33 road games (36.3%) this season and have a record of 12-14-7. The Oilers are 21-8-3 at home (65.6 W%), after starting the season 1-4-1 on home ice. They are 20-4-2 at home since Kris Knoblauch took over. Only Colorado (22-4) has a better home record in that time. Edmonton has become a dominant force on home ice, but they need to watch out for the pesky Canadiens.
The Canadiens will be without head coach Martin St. Louis tonight. He is away from the team attending to a personal family issue. The Canadiens are 6-2-1 on the road v. Western conference teams. They’ve won games in Dallas, Nashville and Winnipeg. They are a young team, with lots of inexperienced defenders, but they find ways to be competitive on the road.
— Their top line of Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Juraj Slafkovsky remind me a bit of the Oilers’ young line from 2012-2014 with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. They are young and skilled, but don’t have much of a supporting cast. Alex Newhook is the fourth-highest scoring forward on the roster with 10-12-22. Veterans Brendan Gallagher (11-9-20) and Josh Anderson (8-10-18) have had very disappointing seasons.
— The Oilers are 17-2-1 v. the worst 11 teams in the NHL. They are a perfect 9-0 on home ice and won those games by combined scores of 40-12. Any suggestion they play down to their opposition is misguided.
— Over the past 20 games, Kris Knoblauch has spread out the ice time of his players. Evan Bouchard is the only player over 22 minutes/game. McDavid (21:40), Nurse (21:39), Ekholm (20:58), Draisaitl (20:32), Ceci (19:46), Hyman (19:29) and Nugent-Hopkins (19:02) are all slightly lower than their season average, except McDavid is who is basically the same. He is using his depth players more, but also monitoring the ice time of the players I expect he will use more in the playoffs.
— Yesterday after practice Knoblauch admitted he hadn’t decided who would start in goal. Stuart Skinner and Calvin Pickard will split the next four games. One will start tonight, the other will play Thursday vs. Buffalo and then they will split the back-to-back in Toronto and Ottawa. I expect Skinner will start in Toronto and Pickard in Ottawa. I asked Skinner if there is any benefit of going tonight or Thursday and he said no. With two days off between each of their past two games, he says there is no rest benefit. Pickard did spend more time in the “starter’s net” yesterday in practice, but not by a lot.
Since Knoblauch took over, Stuart Skinner is tied with Alexander Georgiev for the most wins with 28. Skinner is tied for fourth in Sv% at .917 and he is 6th in GAA at 2.36. Kevin Woodley looked a bit deeper at Skinner’s numbers since the coaching change.
“Since the coaching change, he is top-five in goals saved above expected,” said Woodley. “He’s 11th in expected sv%. Every goalie has strength and weaknesses, and the one area of weakness for Skinner is goals off the rush. However, if you play in the zone, he is one of the best in the NHL.”
Any suggestion that Skinner doesn’t steal games or make big saves at key times is debunked by Woodley’s goals saved above expected.

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