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G18 Game Notes: A Bad Matchup — and Goaltending Options

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Photo credit:James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 months ago
Maybe it is fitting the Oilers take on the Hurricanes tonight because they are smack dab in the middle of a storm. The Oilers are teetering on the edge of having their season spin out of control. After a three-game winning streak, the Oilers could give it all back with a loss tonight and sink further away from playoff contention.
— For the second consecutive game, the Oilers blew a 2-0 lead and lost. The Oilers are tied with the Penguins for the most regulation losses when scoring first. Edmonton is 4-6-1, while Pittsburgh is 8-6 when scoring first. The Oilers have scored first in 11 of 17 games, which is very good, but they can’t hold a lead. Their unwillingness to defend the slot, limit scoring chances off the rush, bury their chances when leading and get quality saves continue to plague them. For three games, it looked like they’d solve those problems, but they resurfaced in Tampa and Florida, and after a three-game winning streak, the Oilers are on the verge of another three-game losing streak. They could erase all the good work from those three games in five days if they don’t win tonight.
— Edmonton has only won five of 14 meetings v. the Hurricanes in the McDavid era. They are 2-5 on the road and only won two of their last eight games overall vs. the Canes. It has not been a favourable matchup for the Oilers.
—After a slow start, the Hurricanes are back on track, winning seven of their previous 10 games. They allowed 33 goals in their first seven games, but they’ve tightened up defensively since, surrendering only 21 in their last 10. It would seem unlikely the Oilers will score more than three goals (Canes have allowed more than three once in their last 10), so they will have to be sound defensively if they have any hope of winning.
— The one positive in the loss in Florida was Connor McDavid, who scored twice, and after his first goal, he seemed to find another gear. He was flying the rest of the game, and his speed to accelerate through the neutral zone led to him being awarded a penalty shot, which he shot with confidence. Even the greatest player on the planet can suffer from a lack of confidence. He was much more dangerous after scoring his first goal. The Oilers desperately need him to be at his best.
— It is obvious the first unit PP is struggling. If they don’t score on their first opportunity tonight, I’d start the second unit for the second powerplay. Not so much as a punishment, but because usually, teams start the PK with their best penalty killers. Let the second unit go against them and have the first unit go out against Carolina’s second PK unit. Right now, the PP has become more of a momentum sponge than a momentum builder.
— I’ve watched many NHL games, and I can’t recall seeing a play like we witnessed on Monday in Florida when Philip Broberg stepped on an errant stick and fell which led to the Panthers third goal. On top of not playing well, the Oilers aren’t getting many breaks. Some believe you earn your luck/breaks, and when you play well, those plays happen in your favour. I think there is some merit to that.
— I believe “less is more” can work for many young players. Many things can occur at the same time. Evan Bouchard is the most skilled defender on the Oilers. His offence is as desperately needed as his puck-moving skills. He’s also infuriating to watch at times because he looks so nonchalant in the defensive zone. Ideally, the Oilers would add a top-four RD to play with Ekholm, and Bouchard could play fewer minutes 5×5 and against weaker competition with Brett Kulak. Bouchard is still very young in his development. He’s only played 201 regular season games. Like many players, he struggles with consistency, mainly in the defensive zone. But calls to trade him or bench him make little sense to me. You don’t give up on skill. You work with him, but you might need to realize at this moment, less is more. Maybe try Philip Broberg for a few games with Ekholm and see how it goes.
— I strongly believe the Oilers’ season will hinge on their upcoming five-day break between games. The Oilers play tonight, Friday, Sunday, and next Tuesday and Thursday. After the Thursday game in Winnipeg, they don’t play until the following Wednesday. Friday, December 1st, will likely be a day off, but then Kris Knoblauch will have four days of practice. Those four days will be his opportunity to put his stamp on the team. To drill down and implement how he wants the Oilers to play. Those four days will be crucial to their season. Can he uncover the Caramilk secret that Todd McLellan, Dave Tippett and Jay Woodcroft couldn’t, and find a way to communicate to his players the importance of being consistent defensively — and then find a way to get them actually to do it?
— The Oilers need to remedy their goalie situation. Jeff Jackson and Ken Holland need to make a decision. They can’t wait much longer. Jack Campbell pitched a 30-save shutout last night in Bakersfield. Good for him. He needed a solid performance, but AHL success is very different than NHL success. Calvin Pickard had a .939 SV% and 2.03 GAA in the AHL.
I asked goalie guru Kevin Woodley for a scouting report on a few goalies. First was Jaroslav Halak, who was just released from his PTO with Carolina.
“Jaroslav Halak has produced some really good numbers over the last couple of seasons, even here in Vancouver behind a bad defensive Canucks team the adjusted numbers ended up grading out in the top ten. He was top ten in adjusted save percentage in New York. There is, however, one caveat, and that is it takes him a while to get comfortable behind a new team, not so much a new system. The thing that separates Halak from other goalies, the reason that he has been able to have this success and he’s been able to do it every which way; if you need a guy to go in once every two weeks, he’s done that as a pure backup. If you need a guy for two straight weeks as a starter, he’s done that too. He’s had success in a lot of different places in a lot of different roles. It’s all predicated on his ability to read the game.
“We’ve had him in In Goal Mag to do the video goal breakdown with us, and it’s like mushroom clouds going off as he’s analyzing what is going on in a play. He reads at a really high level. The downside of being that read reliant is that you need to get comfortable with your defensemen. It’s not just where they are supposed to be because of the system, but it is how they play an odd man rush, where are they putting pressure, is it at the blueline, is it deeper into the zone? Those are the things that tend to take a little bit longer for him to get comfortable with.
“And we’ve seen the results in Vancouver, a bit of a slow start. And we’ve seen it with the Rangers. At one point, I think that it was about two thirds of the season, Halak won seven straight starts. He didn’t get to play seven straight games, but even with big chunks of time in between them because Igor Shesterkin was one of the best in the league, he won seven straight starts. But go back to the beginning of the year and it wasn’t nearly as good. The caveat is that for a team like Edmonton who doesn’t have a lot of margins for error because of their start, it may be a little late for him to get up to speed. But ability wise, absolutely he’s a guy who would be an upgrade.”
What about Jake Allen?
“As long as you’re not looking for an every night starter, and they are not, I think he is a good option. His numbers this year, he is a +2.5 adjusted save percentage, which is 15th. And I think the biggest thing you have to look at is and wonder if he can have success with the Oilers, is how is he off of the rush? I am not going to beat that horse for another consecutive week here on your program, but Edmonton continues to be the worst team in the NHL is giving up rush chances and guess what, Jake Allen against the rush is still +2.5 percent. He’s had some success against rush chances.
“When I look at his career numbers, he’s another guy who reads the game really well. I’m not dismissing the goaltenders within this either, you have to be able to read and adjust to the rush. The other night I thought the rush chance that ends up in a deflection goal Stuart (Shinner) was quite a bit back in his crease where I expect him to be. I look at that and that’s the way that he plays, he’s not cutting off that angle on that tip, but then on the rush chance that everyone is screaming about, the big long lateral pass off of the two on one where Bouchard got caught up ice, he is way outside of his crease, clearly reading a shot from the initial threat and he makes it such a hard distance for himself to have to travel to get across, doesn’t get a hard push, it looks terrible, to me that’s where experience and knowing where to read the rush and being a little bit more consistent in your process in how you manage rushes.
“A guy like Jake Allen has more experience and a history of being good, specifically against the rush. Now not all rush chances are created equal, the Oilers have given up some bad ones. But that is one of the things where I would want to drill down below the surface level, even of adjusted numbers and look at specific things; does he handle it well? Traditionally, Jake Allen does.
— How about MacKenzie Blackwood, and is it difficult to evaluate a goaltending when they play on such a bad team?
“It can be. I mean adjusted numbers, they tell us a bit of the story and he’s not bad, he’s right around expected. That’s why (John) Gibson getting through last season anywhere near expected was a modern miracle because I think that bad defensive environments become accumulative for goaltenders right? The plays keep getting through and keep getting through, the defencemen aren’t breaking up the passes they are supposed to break up. You start to cheat, you start to lean, you start to second guess. You don’t have to worry about one or two options on the ice. Every goalie has to keep track of all five guys, but when all five guys might all touch the puck and be in a dangerous spot, it’s that much harder.
“So, this is going to be tougher for him to maintain as the year goes on, but make no mistake, there is an elite talent there. Talking to some people around San Jose who was in town in Vancouver this morning, he has really impressed him. So, if you are the Oilers, yes Jason, my answer is 100% yes. I think that with the right coaching and the right environment this is a guy, the next time we are talking about a best-on-best tournament, he might be the guy for Canada. He has a lot of upside, if he can stay healthy. Question becomes again, kind of like Jaro Halak, if it’s not there right away, you have some work to do, and if you’re the Oilers, can you afford that adjustment period?

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