G70 Game Notes: Darnell Nurse needs to play better for the Oilers to succeed

Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 months ago
The Oilers need more from Darnell Nurse. He’s capable of giving it, but since the calendar turned to 2024, Nurse hasn’t played up to his capabilities often enough.
— Since February 1st, Nurse has been on the ice for too many goals against, especially on the penalty kill.
In the first 45 games up until January 31st, Nurse was on the ice for 12 goals against in 127 minutes on the PK for a rate of 5.66 GA/60. He was excellent on the PK, especially when you consider he usually starts against the opposition’s top power play unit. But since the start of February, Nurse has been on for 16 goals against and an ugly 18.11 GA/60 rate in 53:01 of PK time. He isn’t the sole reason for the PK struggles, but his numbers are the worst among the other D-men on the PK: Vincent Desharnais (15.71/60 in 38 min), Cody Ceci (9.9/60 in 54 min), Mattias Ekholm (5.39/60 in 44 min) and Brett Kulak (2.9/60 in 20 minutes).
— That is the opposite of what we saw in through the first 45 games. Nurse had the lowest GA/60 rate at 5.66/60 in 127 minutes followed by Desharnais (5.9/60 in 91 min), Ekholm (6.29/60 in 95 min), Ceci (6.77/60 in 124 min) and Kulak (7.16/60 in 41 minutes).
— Nurse’s play will have a major impact on the Oilers’ playoff success. He logs a lot of minutes, most of them without Connor McDavid, and when he is at the top of this game, the Oilers win more often. Nurse needs to be a difference maker in both ends of the ice and he has proven he can do it. He needs to be more consistent. And he’s shown he can. I don’t believe it is fair to ask a player to do things they’ve never done, but Nurse has for long stretches of his career shown he can be a difference maker.
— Nurse’s offence has also dropped lately. Specifically, his assist totals. Earlier in the season, Nurse was completing more passes.
Oct-Jan Assts14139935
Oct-Jan A/601.061.040.680.710.30.56
Feb-Mar Assts10103772
Feb-Mar A/601.351.480.430.61.140.38
— Nurse has been a very productive player 5×5 the past few seasons. He will never have huge offensive numbers because he isn’t on the first unit power play, but over the past four seasons he is 19th in EV points and tied with Roman Josi for third most EV goals with 39 among defencemen. He has been a very productive player, but lately his offence and defence have lagged. They need him to get back to how he played earlier this season.
— Nurse isn’t the only one who needs to be better defensively. The Oilers as a team have been quite good defensively. They rank ninth all season in goals against/game at 2.90, and they are fifth since Kris Knoblauch took over at 2.66. However, since February 1st they’ve slipped a bit defensively as they rank 17th at 3.17. Many of the top minute eaters need to reduce their goals against at 5×5.
For those who believe in PDO, they should feel Ceci and Nurse will have an uptick, as their PDO is much lower than other players with similar xGA and GA. The Oilers are coming off a rough weekend. They struggled in Toronto, and in Ottawa — despite dominating much of the game, they made some glaring errors that cost them. Early in March it looked like they were back on track defensively, and their next two games v. Winnipeg and LA will show us if it was simply a weekend blip, or a sign of larger struggles.
— A total of 23 players have scored 50 goals in a season since the 2000s. Only Pavel Bure, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Kovalchuk, Auston Matthews and Steven Stamkos did it twice. Leon Draisaitl has done it three times and Alex Ovechkin has reached the mark nine times.
Zach Hyman and Sam Reinhart became the ninth and 10th players to reach the milestone in the past three seasons. Reinhart did it in his 71st game, while Hyman reached it in his 68th.
— Hyman is on pace for 59 goals, and if he reaches that plateau, he’ll join Ovechkin, Matthews, Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak, Stamkos and Bure as the only players to reach 59 goals in the 2000s. The other player to score 56+ was Jonathon Cheechoo. Hyman is having a remarkable season, and it isn’t simply because he plays with McDavid. Anyone suggesting that hasn’t watched his progression as a player and how hard he works on improving his play/hands around the net. Hyman deserves all the praise he is getting for reaching the 50-goal mark.
— Also on Sunday, McDavid joined Joe Thornton as the only players with 90 assists in a season since 2000. Thornton had 96 in 2006 and 92 in 2007. McDavid has 91 with 13 games remaining. He will become only the fourth player all time to tally 100 assists in a season and will likely become only the third with 105 assists joining Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
— Nikita Kucherov is on pace for 94 assists while Nathan MacKinnon is on pace for 90. Prior to this year only 12 players had done it all time.
Gretzky had 13 seasons with 90+ assists. Mario Lemieux (5x), Thornton, Adam Oates and Bobby Orr did it twice while Doug Gilmour (95), Pat Lafontaine (95), Peter Stastny (93), Ron Francis (92), Paul Coffey (90) and Steve Yzerman (90) did it once.
—  If all three make it, it would be the fourth time the NHL had a season with three players reaching 90 assists.
Oates, Lafontaine and Lemieux did it in 1993.
Gretzky, Lemieux and Yzerman reached it in 1989.
Gretzky, Lemieux and Coffey did it in 1986.
— The Jets and Oilers will both be looking to end losing skids. The Jets have lost three in a row while the Oilers have dropped two straight. Connor Hellebuyck allowed five goals on 21 shots in 28 minutes v. the Islanders before getting pulled. Stuart Skinner allowed five goals on 23 shots in 40 minutes before getting the third period off in Toronto. Both will be looking to rebound tonight after rough outings on Saturday.


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