Game Notes Oilers @ Red Wings: Keep Climbing
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor9 months ago
On December 31st the Oilers sat in 9th place in the Western Conference with a .553 point%. The players and fans were frustrated and concerned, but fast-forward to February 7th and suddenly the Oilers are poised to make a run to win the Pacific Division, and even push for first place in the Western Conference.
— On New Year’s Eve the Oilers ranked 4th in goals/game at 3.58, 19th in goals against/game at 3.32, 26th on the penalty kill at 73% and 1st on the power play at 32.1%. They’d been outscored 80-75 at 5×5. Their power play was keeping them in the race. However, since the calendar turned to 2023, all facets of their game have been solid.
— They are 8-2-2 in 2023 (5th best point%) and have outscored teams 35-22 at 5×5. They are 1st in GF/GP at 4.25, 9th in GA/GP at 2.92, 2nd on the PP at 31.6% and 17th on the PK at 82.1%. I asked Leon Draisaitl what changed.
— “The attention to detail and our confidence with the puck,” said Draisaitl. “We are making better plays with the puck which leads to a lot less time in our zone, which leads to less goals against and it is all hanging on a rope together. We are playing really good hockey, and the break maybe didn’t come at the best time for us, but we are excited to get back at it.” Draisaitl politely said they’ve cut down the major giveaways, which is true, but their overall puck management has been better.
— The coaching staff’s decision to dress 11 forwards and 7 D-men has also helped. It has jump-started the secondary scoring. Every forward has a goal in the New Year, and Dave Manson has deployed his D pairs a bit differently. Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci are seeing a heavy dose of elite competition, while Tyson Barrie and Brett Kulak are the second pair and Philip Broberg, Evan Bouchard and Vincent Desharnais have been sheltered. The three young players have excelled in protected minutes, which is how it should be. Let them gain confidence by not having to face elite competition too often. It has worked. Bruce McCurdy had a good break down here.
— It is valid to be concerned about the Oilers’ ability to pick up where they left off. They haven’t played a game in 10 days, but head coach Jay Woodcroft is confident his group will be ready to go tonight. “We came out of the last break (Christmas) pretty well and that mindset came from our captain (Connor McDavid),” said Woodcroft. “He laid it out there that this was an area he wanted to see improvement in, which is the way this team plays coming out of breaks. I take that as a challenge and a big challenge, and I thought we responded well coming out of the Christmas break and we want to make sure we do it again.”
It was another sign of the maturation of McDavid. His on-ice effort has always been there, but he is challenging his team (in positive ways) to be better. He wants to be better, and good teams don’t come out of breaks slowly. I expect the Oilers to be focused and playing with the same attention to detail that put them in the race for first place in the Pacific before this break.
— It helps that the Oilers’ first five games out of the break are against Detroit, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Montreal and Detroit. They currently sit 24th, 23rd, 22nd, 26th and 24th. There are no guaranteed wins in the NHL, but going 4-1, 4-0-1 or even 5-0-0 is very plausible based on how the Oilers are playing. Among these five teams Philadelphia and Ottawa are playing the best recently, but the Red Wings have also improved defensively.
— Detroit allowed four or more goals in 23 of their first 42 games. They’ve allowed, 2, 3, 2, 2, 3, and 2 in their last six games, but they’ve lost three of them. They don’t score very much. They have scored 4+ goals in 14 of their 48 games. The Oilers are 15-0 when scoring five goals and are 24-1 when they score four. Detroit is 11-17-4 v. the 21 teams in a battle for a playoff spot. They are 9-2-4 v. the other 10 teams out of the playoff race.
— Tyson Barrie was the heel the Oilers needed at practice yesterday. He delivered a few hits and trips which generated some hoots and hollers in drills. “You know what, sometimes you got to get into guys. I took a couple of penalties today, but it’s all for a good laugh,” smiled Barrie. “We are going to be playing for real tomorrow, so it is nice to get some contact and get into guys a little bit. Obviously, you try to keep it light and have some laughs with it.”
It wasn’t malicious, but his plays did increase the pace and intensity of the drills somewhat.
— After hosting game seven v. Los Angeles in the first round last spring, the Oilers are well aware of the importance of home ice advantage. It is a big motivator entering their final 32 games. “You want to have that edge,” said Barrie. “Like you mention v. LA it was a hard-fought series early, and coming home for game seven we had a lot of confidence (after winning game six) and the fans were insane. That is a tough environment to come into for another team. We want home ice. Our home crowd in the playoffs can be a huge advantage. I hope we can give them more to cheer for down the stretch, so the building gets even louder.”
Edmonton hasn’t been great at home this regular season going 13-11-3, but they did go 5-0-2 in January and if that continues over their final 14 home games, I expect the decibel level will rise accordingly.
— McDavid is on pace for 150 points, and reaching that mark seems less unrealistic, but we shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it is. He would be only the 6th player in NHL history to score 150 in a season. Wayne Gretzky did it nine times (seven with Edmonton), Mario Lemieux did it four times, while Phil Esposito, Bernie Nicholls and Steve Yzerman did it once.
If McDavid reaches 140 points, he’d be the 10th player joining the aforementioned five along with Jaromir Jagr (149), Pat Lafontaine (148), Mike Bossy (148) and Adam Oates (140). McDavid is having a season for the ages, and considering historically he scores more points in March and April, his quest for 150 seems more plausible with every game played.
— McDavid has points in 29 of his last 30 games. He had a 17-game streak snapped on December 31st, and now he has points in the past 12 games. He has points in 45 of 50 games played this season. In a full 82-game season the fewest times he was held off the scoresheet was 12 in 2019. He finished with 116 points. He is on pace to be held pointless in only eight games, which would put him with Gretzky and Lemieux as the only players to be pointless in fewer than 10 games in a season (excluding shortened seasons).
— The crazy part about McDavid’s season is he only has 14 assists 5×5. He is currently tied for 81st in the NHL. He is 4th on the Oilers behind Zach Hyman (25), Draisaitl (18) and Darnell Nurse (15). He is 2nd in the NHL in 5×5 goals with 21, but he is due to breakout with some 5×5 apples. His 5×5 assist totals from 2017-2022 were 42, 41, 40, 29, 37 (56GP) and 36. It is crazy to think he could score 150 points and have an “off year” with 5×5 assists.
The fact he is producing this well, despite the low assist totals tells me that chasing 150 for the next few seasons is very realistic. Enjoy the ride.
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