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G47 Game Notes: Oilers need to avoid a losing streak

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Jason Gregor
17 days ago
The Oilers just accomplished something they’ve never done in franchise history: have a double-digit winning streak, which ended at an amazing 16 games. Tonight, they want to avoid doing something they’ve done all season so far: losing two games (or more) in a row.
— It is odd to write, but the Oilers have yet to lose a game this season without also losing the next one (at least).
They started the season with consecutive loses to Vancouver.
One won game.
Lost four.
Won one.
Lost four.
Won three.
Lost three.
Won eight.
Lost three.
Won 16.
They lost in Vegas, and now need to get back in the win column.
— They couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to avoid a two-game losing streak. The Oilers are 8-1 v. Anaheim over the past three seasons, and they’ve won their previous five meetings. They defeated the Ducks 7-2 and 8-2 this season, with Warren Foegele scoring five points on New Year’s Eve. This is the Ducks’ first game since January 31st, and they might have some rust in the first period.
— However, the Ducks are 3-0-1 in their previous four games with victories over Buffalo, Minnesota and San Jose, while losing to Dallas in overtime. There are no guarantees in the NHL, but the Oilers have been playing quite well for a long time. They are 11-0 in their last 11 games v. teams ranked in the bottom-10 in the NHL.
— The Oilers haven’t lost in Anaheim since February 25th, 2020. They won their last four games by scores of 6-1, 6-2, 3-1 and 7-2 earlier this season.
— Calvin Pickard will start in goal tonight and the Oilers might have three new defence pairs and two new lines. Yesterday in practice Darnell Nurse skated with Vincent Desharnais, Mattias Ekholm with Cody Ceci and Brett Kulak with Evan Bouchard. Up front, Foegele will slot in beside Ryan McLeod and Dylan Holloway, while Corey Perry skates with Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane. The forward changes will for sure be a go for tonight, but yesterday Knoblauch wasn’t fully committed to making all three defence pairing changes.
— I’ve wanted to see Desharnais with Nurse for the past few weeks. Desharnais has taken big strides this season. He’s only played 80 NHL games, but he’s improved significantly. He’s really improved his puckhandling and play-making skills since Paul Coffey arrived. Coffey was very direct to his defenders and told them he wanted them to make plays with the puck. If they didn’t, he’d find guys who would. Desharnais took that to heart, and the results have been very noticeable.
— Desharnais spoke about what Coffey has added to the defence corps. “The biggest thing he brought to our D-core was the confidence to make plays and the confidence of trusting your partner and not just throwing the puck everywhere and trying to clear the zone.”
— In early December, I spoke to Desharnais about Coffey’s challenge to make more plays. The last few lines of Desharnais’ response have come true.
“I think I can make plays, especially in the O zone. I just have to be more confident with it. When I first got here I kind of had the mindset that guys only needed me to produce defensively. I just have to clear the zone, clear the zone and get the puck out. But I’ve been shifting my mindset to making more plays instead of just clearing the zone, making more plays and trying to skate and trying to go on offense. Be the fourth man in instead of just staying back or the odd time being the third guy driving the net. So just small things that I have the speed for. I have the IQ for it, and I just have to keep doing it.
“I think the more I keep getting involved on the offensive zone, the more I can help the team. I know that I have it in me. I just have to keep practicing. I’ve been working a lot after practice with Stewy (Mark Stuart) with puck handling and making plays, making short little plays. I’m such a big guy with a big stick that sometimes it’s not always easy. But I’ve been feeling a difference already. Three more months of doing that after every practice and I think there is going to be something really nice there.”
Against Vegas, Desharnais looked like Cale Makar dangling a guy at the blue line and sliding a subtle, nifty pass to Kane. His confidence with the puck has grown significantly, and it has helped him in all three zones.
— Playing with Nurse, Desharnais would see more time v. top players. He has faced elite players this season in 28% of his shifts and he’s done well in DFF% (dangerous shot attempts and shots for/against ratio) with a 51.6%. It is a small sample size, and it wasn’t when he was paired with Nurse. I think the Oilers are making this change to see what they have in Desharnais. He has made steady improvement since arriving in the NHL, and now he will get the opportunity to show if he can handle tougher minutes. His advantage is his size. There aren’t many 6’7″, 220-pound D-men in the NHL. He moves well for a big man, and he takes up more space than most defenders. If he shows well, it will reduce the need to go out and acquire a Chris Tanev-like defender. And then the Oilers could look at adding a second line RW instead.
— Many general managers have used the line, “If you have time, use it,” in regard to trade decisions. The trade deadline is four weeks from today and I won’t be surprised if they give Desharnais a long look beside Nurse.

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