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GDB 21.0: Start the Climb (7pm MT, SNW)

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Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
6 months ago
Edmonton begins the second quarter of the season in 13th place. They are six points behind Calgary and Seattle for the second wildcard spot with two games in hand. The climb up the standings won’t be easy and likely not quick. Players and coaches talk about focusing on one game at a time, and in reality it does make sense, however, players are fans of the game, and looking at the standings when you are closer to the bottom than the top can be frustrating or motivating. They need to view it as motivation and hope the climb up the standings continues tonight against Vegas.
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The journey back to a playoff spot won’t be swift, and the standings are a constant reminder of how much more difficult life is after a slow start, but luckily for the Oilers, many other teams in the West have struggled with consistency and moving up the rankings won’t be as challenging as would have been in other years.
Only two of their next 20 games are against teams in the Wildcard race. They host Minnesota on December 8th and are in Anaheim on the 31st. They play 12 games v. Eastern opponents and the other six are against top teams in Vegas, LA and Winnipeg and bottom feeders in San Jose and Chicago (twice). There are only two proverbial four-pointers in the second quarter, which means the Oilers’ focus needs to be solely on continuing to make improvements in their own game.
Leon Draisaitl said there hasn’t been many tactical changes under Kris Knoblauch. “We have stopped with a lot of the big individual errors,” said Draisaitl. “We’ve found our offensive game and overall we’ve found our confidence. I don’t know how much fixing there was needed from a system standpoint. We were always a good team and we weren’t playing with the confidence required to win hockey games. He is definitely putting his fingerprints on it, but there is only so much you can do in the NHL. Every team plays pretty much similar systems, there are only a few systems out there, but he’s done a good job.”
Vegas is one of the best teams at playing a zone defence. They limit scoring chances and play very disciplined as a team. Edmonton will need to play smart, and not let Vegas counter. That is their strength. “They are excellent at fronting the puck,” said Knoblauch. “They are one of the best teams at transitioning the puck and we need to make smart plays.”
Their defence blocks a lot of shots. Brayden McNabb leads the league in blocks, Alex Pietrangelo is 12th and Alec Martinez is 27th, and he’s only played 14 games (he is third in blocks/60). Their defencemen are committed to getting in the shooting lanes, and their team is very good at making plays and getting odd-man rushes off those blocks.
Vegas is #1 in limiting shots from the inner slot. It is difficult to find openings down low, which is why the Oilers have to send more bodies to the net. Vegas is 19th in offensive zone time allowed, but first in inner slots shots. They will let you handle the puck outside, and Edmonton can’t get sucked into staying out there. They need take the puck to the net, and have bodies crashing it in hopes of getting the rebound.
Every player I spoke to today didn’t downplay tonight’s game. Cody Ceci, Evander Kane, Ryan McLeod — all of them admitted the game is more emotional. We all know it is, I just respect when players say it rather than try to trot out the “it is just another game.” It isn’t, and that’s great. We need more games with a little extra intensity and emotion.
Ceci also mentioned a main reason for the PK success lately was a bigger commitment to blocking shots. The PK had 32 shot blocks in the first 13 games and allowed 15 goals on 50 kills (70%). In their past seven games they’ve blocked 25 shots and allowed three goals on 29 kills (89.7%). They’ve actually taken more penalties lately, not ideal, but are much more committed to getting in the shooting lanes.

PRESENTED BY BETWAY

LINEUPS…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid – Hyman
Kane – Draisaitl – Brown
Foegele – McLeod – Ryan
Erne – Hamblin – Janmark
Nurse – Ceci
Ekholm – Bouchard
Kulak – Desharnais
Skinner
Some are wondering why Adam Erne is in the lineup over Sam Gagner. I’d guess it’s because of how Erne has played under Knoblauch. In his five games his on-ice stats are 17-14 in shots, scoring chances 19-14 and goals for are 3-0. His XGF% is 60%. He also can kill penalties and is more physical. He won’t bring the same offensive touch as Gagner, but goal scoring isn’t the concern in Edmonton. Erne and James Hamblin have played quite well since being recalled.
At some point the Oilers need to send Philip Broberg down to Bakersfield so he can play. He has played 10 games this season and a grand total of 105 minutes. It is impossible to evaluate where his game is at in such limited minutes. The Oilers return from Winnipeg late Thursday night. Why not send Broberg to Bakersfield on Friday? He could play Saturday, then next Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday the 12th. He needs to play, and they can recall Cam Dineen next Tuesday before the Oilers return to action against Carolina. Dineen has been their most consistent blueliner this year and with Markus Niemelainen banged up (nothing serious) you can reward Dineen, but more importantly get Broberg some minutes.

Golden Knights

Stephenson – Eichel – Stone
Barbashev – Karlsson – Marchessault
Carrier – Roy – Amadio
Cotter – Howden – Kolesar
Hague – Pietrangelo
McNabb – Korczak
Hutton – Whitecloud
Thompson
Logan Thompson has lost his last four games, but not due to poor play. He lost games allowing two and one goals. Vegas’ offence is struggling right now, having been shutout three times in nine games, and they’ve only scored six goals in their last five. On the season they’ve played 15 games with the combined goals being five or less. Their goalies have allowed two goals or fewer in 14 of 22 starts. And only three times has the opposition scored more than three goals (with a goalie in net). Edmonton’s offence will need to be very good to score four tonight.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have found their mojo lately and pick up a 4-2 win (with an empty netter).
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid picks up his eighth multi-point game of the season and third consecutive.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers only take two minor penalties. They are second-most penalized team in the NHL with 3.95 time shorthanded/game.

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