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Game Notes Oilers @ Sharks: Build Momentum

Jason Gregor
9 months ago
Winning does many things. It gives teams, and individuals, confidence. It instantly changes the mood around a team, and often quiets the noise.
— The main difference leading to the win was Mike Smith’s play in goal. Edmonton allowed 38 shots on goal, the most since Calgary had 47 on January 22nd. Edmonton won both games, but to say the Oilers were great defensively on Friday would be inaccurate. Smith was stellar in the first period stopping all 19 shots and was the main reason the Oilers were able to score first for only the 13th time this season. Quality goaltending is a must if you want to win and Smith provided it.
— Dave Tippett opted to start Smith back-to-back in what turned out to be Tippett’s final two games as a head coach. Many claimed Tippett was too loyal to Smith, but the decision to go with Smith against Chicago actually helped Jay Woodcroft. Smith spoke after the loss on Wednesday about how much better he felt, timing-wise, getting to play two games in a row. He wasn’t fatigued, and knocking off the rust gave Wooodcroft the solid goaltending he needed to pick up his first win as an NHL head coach. Smith might not have been as sharp early on if he didn’t play Wednesday. Tippett said he started Smith because they needed him to get in a rhythm and he was right.
— With no practice time it was difficult for Woodcroft to implement many changes, but according to @Zach Hyman, Woodcroft and Manson did have one main focus.
“I think Woody (Woodcroft) and Mans (Manson) came in to highlight a few things and one of the key things was tracking through the middle, tracking through the neutral zone, and helping prevent rushes,”  said Hyman. “I thought our D did a great job standing and protecting the blue line. I think it’s a big difference when you’re standing, protecting the blue line and you make them go through you. Once an offensive player gets the blue line, a guy like Barzal or any of those skill guys, they try to cut to the middle and it makes it difficult on D. I think that one point, if you’re looking from the outside might not see it, but we really focused on that from the outset.”
The Islanders finished with six scoring chances off the rush. The Oilers’ previous 15 games read like this in scoring chances off the rush: 12, 8, 7, 12, 10, 8, 7, 12, 8, 9, 11, 8, 7, 8 and 5. Friday’s game against the Islanders was their lowest total since Toronto had five on December 14th. They averaged 8.8 against in their previous 15 games.
— On top of a few scoring chances off the rush, did it lead to fewer odd-man rushes? The Islanders had six. In the 14 games between Toronto and the Islanders the odd-man rushes were: 6, 5, 5, 10, 8, 8, 8, 7, 13, 1, 6, 7, 4 and 11. Toronto had five. So progress there as well. Edmonton averaged 6.9 odd-man rushes against in their previous 15 games.
— How about shots from the slot? The Islanders had 20. The previous 15 games were as follows: 22, 16, 17, 17, 12, 18, 13, 23, 16, 13, 19, 18, 9, 18 and 13. They averaged 16.2 over the past 15 games.
— One game is much too small of a sample size to make any sweeping or accurate assessments, but they did seem to be better in the neutral zone. The defensemen were able to stand up more, because the gap between them and the forwards was smaller. The back pressure from the forwards was more consistent.
— Winning also quieted those who wanted @Stuart Skinner to start. He will play tonight or tomorrow, but Smith is their best option today to be a starter. I’d start Smith tonight, and go with Skinner in LA tomorrow. That allows Smith to have played Friday, have two days off, play tonight, two days off and then play Thursday v. Anaheim. But I would understand if Woodcroft goes with Skinner, as this is the Sharks’ first game in two weeks and they could be a bit rusty.
— Dave Manson played @Cody Ceci and @Darnell Nurse each 26 minutes and Tyson Barrie skated 18. @Evan Bouchard played just over 13 minutes, while @William Lagesson, @Philip Broberg and Markus Niemelainen each played 11 minutes rotating in the second and third pair left defence slots. Up front @Tyler Benson and @Ryan McLeod each played seven minutes and there were only 11 forwards dressed. Woodcroft, like Tippett, will rely on his veterans more. You don’t win consistently in the NHL with rookies. I’m curious how often he runs 11-7, but Woodcroft was an NHL assistant for years. He knows how tough the league is for rookies and young players.
— The one change he made was reducing the minutes of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. They played 20:25 and 20:35. Granted, the Oilers only had two power plays and never trailed, so I’m sure we will see games where they are around 23-24 minutes, but Woodcroft just spread the minutes out more across his top nine. Like Tippett, the fourth line didn’t see a lot of ice time. Again, it was only one game, but it is something to monitor. Eight forwards played over 15 minutes. Will that be the norm?
— As I mentioned earlier this is the Sharks’ first game since they lost 3-2 in overtime in Tampa Bay on February 1st. The Sharks didn’t have as many games to reschedule so they had last week off. Two weeks off with no games is an eternity in the NHL, and I won’t be surprised if the Sharks show some rust. The one caveat is this is Evander Kane’s first game back in San Jose since his contract was terminated. Kane and some of the Sharks leaders didn’t see eye-to-eye in the end. There should be a bit more animosity tonight than we usually see between a Sharks/Oilers regular season game.
— I expect Kane to be fired up. He’s an emotional guy. He has fought NHL heavyweights so he won’t be intimidated by the possibility of a fight, although I’d be surprised if any of the Sharks veterans decided to drop the mitts. The Sharks have toughness in Jeffrey Viel, Jonah Gadjovich and Jacob Middleton if anyone feels the need for a tilt. There hasn’t been much nastiness in any Oilers games this season, but even a heightened physical affair or some extra chirping would stand out. Carolina and Dallas (4) are the only teams with fewer fights than the Oilers (5). The Sharks are tied with Seattle for the seventh most fighting majors with 17.
— This is the first of four meeting between the Oilers and Sharks. Edmonton is 10-3 v. the Pacific while San Jose is 3-3. The Sharks sit three points back of the Oilers with 20 of their final 36 games against Pacific division foes. If the Sharks are going to stay in the playoff chase they need to play well within the division.

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