Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
G15 Game Notes: Play Patient and Poised
By Jason Gregor3 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers have scored 19 goals and allowed only five in their four victories this season. They’ve scored 20 goals and allowed 47 in their 10 losses.
It is difficult to win when you don’t score or defend well, but after consecutive 4-1 victories the Oilers are hoping their early-season struggles are behind them.
— That doesn’t mean the Oilers will win every game, but there are signs they shouldn’t be no-shows at both ends of the rink regularly. They’ve played with patience and poise the past two games, and their big guns have shown up offensively. Most expected the latter to occur. The Oilers have too much offensive talent to be a bottom-five offensive team, and while they’ve had stretches of good defensive hockey, it often doesn’t last. Two games won’t change that, but at least they’ve stopped the bleeding. Now they need to continue showing they can be sound defensively.
— It was Kris Knoblauch‘s first practice. He will try to integrate new things over time. There will be no major changes right away, but little things. Knoblauch has mentioned a few times already how he wants them to limit chances off the rush and protect the slot. “We did some things that were checking skill-based, angling and keeping the puck out of the middle of the ice,” said Connor Brown when asked what he noticed in their first practice.
Look for that tonight, especially in the neutral zone. In a recent coaching clinic I was taught the middle of the ice is the highway and outside the dots is the ditch. Teams without the puck want to steer you to the ditch, while many attacking teams want to race down the highway. Look for the Oilers to reduce how often the team is speeding down the highway.
— Knoblauch has mentioned a few times how he wants there to be a fun aspect around the team. They finished practice with a drill that quickly became competitive. It was the bottom six in baby blue v. the top-six in white jerseys. The players lined up across the blueline. Baby blue jerseys at one end, the D-men in the middle and white jerseys spread out at the other end. The nets were placed on the boards in the middle of the circles in one end of the ice. Coach would dump the puck in, and players could score on either end. It was one-on-one, but the D-men were involved as well, and they tried to defend whoever was shooting. There was a lot of cheering, and after it was over, while the players were stretching at centre, there was a loud discussion/conversation over who won. Brown ended up having to skate a lap, as it was determined baby blue only scored twice not three times. It was all in good fun, but the drill was very competitive. When a team is winning the attitude is noticeably more upbeat. Suddenly players want to be at the rink and on the ice.
— Edmonton is 6-2 all-time v. the Kraken since they entered the league in 2021-22. All three previous meetings in Edmonton ended in a 5-2 score. The Oilers won two. The Oilers have scored 4+ goals in all six victories and outscored Seattle 32-14 in those six games and 37-23 overall. The Kraken are a great matchup for the Oilers because they don’t possess a lot of high-end skill. It has been a great matchup for the Oilers thus far, and their top-skilled players need to continue to shine.
— Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each have 15 points in eight and seven games respectively. Both were held pointless during Saturday’s victory in Seattle. Zach Hyman has seven goals in seven games including his natural hat-trick on Saturday. He joined Wayne Gretzky as the only players in franchise history to score a natural hat trick in the first period. Evander Kane has 3-2-5 in three games. Most teams win when their best players are their best players, and in the past two games, Hyman, Draisaitl and McDavid have led the charge offensively.
— Edmonton jumped out to a 4-0 lead on Saturday in Seattle and then didn’t take any risks. It was a mature win. They really controlled the play at 5×5.
They have a very recent blueprint to focus on. No two games are ever the same, but the Oilers have shown, for two games, they can reduce quality chances and when they need a big save, Stuart Skinner has provided it. It isn’t that simple, but it also isn’t that difficult to play with poise. The Oilers are capable of it, but they need to commit to it.
A very unlucky play for a player who can’t escape the injury bug. The way he grabbed his knee when skating to the bench makes me wonder if he broke/cracked/fractured his knee cap. He slammed hard into the boards. Holloway and Mattias Janmark (retroactive to October 26th) have been placed on LTIR. The Oilers recalled Raphael Lavoie, Philip Broberg and Adam Erne. They will have one extra forward and one extra D-man for their upcoming four-game road trip out east. Erne could dress tonight if Brown isn’t cleared to play.
— Brown is close to returning. “I think it was maybe some compensation stuff coming from the knee. said Brown yesterday. “The knee feels great, nothing to do with the integrity of the knee. It was some tightness (groin) and I’ve been working hard to feel as good as I can.” He is 50/50 for tonight, but if he doesn’t get the green light tonight expect him to play Saturday in Tampa Bay.
— The Oilers’ ascent up the Western Conference standings will be slow. They dug themselves a large hole with their 2-9-1 start, but a victory tonight could move them ahead of Nashville and Chicago.
A regulation victory will also put them two points behind Seattle with two games in hand. The road back to playoff contention will be long, and I doubt the Oilers will be looking at the standings regularly. They need to focus on playing well. Some coaches break the season into five or seven game segments. “Win each series” is their motto and I’m curious how Knoblauch will approach it. Seattle is a team the Oilers should beat, and they need to because their upcoming four-game roadie to Tampa, Florida, Carolina and Washington won’t be easy.
— A good start could decide the game tonight. The Oilers have averaged the second-most first period goals in the NHL this season. They have 20 in 14 games. Seattle’s most productive period has also been the first with 18 goals in 16 games, but both teams have been crushed in the second and third periods.
Edmonton was outscored 19-10 in the second and 16-9 in the third. The did outscore the Islanders 3-0 in the third period on Monday and are still -7 in the final frame. Seattle has bested 18-11 in the second period and 24-9 in the third.
Good starts haven’t been a major issue in Edmonton this season, but in second periods they’ve really struggled — which is odd considering they led the league with 128 goals in the middle frame last year and only Boston and Toronto (each +39) had a better GF-GA differential than the Oilers’ +27. This year only San Jose (-16) has a worse GF-GA ranking than the Oilers’ -9. They’ve been exposed off the rush in the middle frame a lot, but the past two games they’ve done a much better job not opening up as much.
That needs to continue, but they also need to find their offensive touch in the middle period.
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