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GDB 40.0: Team Defence Leading the Way

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
It took 3,438 games for the Edmonton Oilers to win 10 consecutive games. That might seem like a lot, but Detroit has played 6,768 games without a 10-game heater. Ten-game winning streaks are difficult to achieve, although the shootout has made it a bit easier, and now the Oilers want to ride this wave as long as they can. Based on how well they have been playing for two months, they go into every game confident they can win, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they finish the month going 5-1 or maybe even 6-0.
This isn’t just a 10-game heater. The Oilers have been playing excellent hockey for the past 52 days. They are 18-3 over that stretch with an outstanding .857P%. Winnipeg (.750) and Vancouver (.729) are the closest. The Oilers have scored the most goals (3.95/game) and allowed the second-fewest (2.14/game). Both their PP (28.6%) and their PK (87.9%) are fourth best. Stuart Skinner has the most wins (14), is fourth in Sv% (.930) and third in GAA at 1.87.
The most impressive aspect for me is how solid defensively they’ve been. They aren’t cheating for offence. They aren’t gifting multiple odd-man rushes, or chances off the rush. They’ve won five games during this 10-game heater when they only scored three (3x) or two (2x) goals. They aren’t relying on their offence or their power play to win them games. They are doing exactly what Mattias Ekholm said they needed to do, during his season-ending press conference last season.  They are now comfortable defending for 20-30 seconds and comfortable playing with a one-goal lead.
“Whenever you have the full commitment it helps,” said Darnell Nurse. “Shutting down the rush, I think we were getting dinged up a lot off the rush early at the beginning of the season. Our sort outs weren’t good enough. We have been better in that department, and a lot of it comes down to having five men back and defending up the middle.”
The players have wanted to be good defensively for years, and they’ve had stretches of success, but never for this long. Why is it so hard to get that commitment?
“At the end of the day, playing defence isn’t the thing that gets the most accolades or your face in the newspaper or on talk shows,” said Nurse. “When guys are scoring and feeling good offensively, sometimes you carry more weight of that away from the rink. It has more pull, but with defence, as soon as you commit to it, you start to see the results. A lot of the time from defending well, and having good structure, it creates that offence for us. It is just one of those things where you have to play through the system, play through the success to really believe in it. I think our group has grasped that to this point, but there is a lot of hockey left and we have to make sure this two month stretch continues on.”
Seeing and feeling the success should enable the Oilers to continue to play well. I don’t expect them to win 18 of their next 21 games, but there shouldn’t be a massive drop-off defensively. The good news for the Oilers is they haven’t relied on their power play to win games. They’ve scored five PP goals on 28 chances (17.8%) during the 10-game winning streak which ranks 20th overall. However, their PP was best in the league in the 11 games prior (37.8%), so it’s not like it is an area of concern. It is 28.6% in their last 21 games.
The Oilers have simply proven they can win without a red-hot power play, and the odds are their PP will heat up again, as it has for the past five years.
2020: 59 goals on 200 opportunities for 29.5%. Averaged 2.82 PPO/game.
2021: 48 goals on 174 chances for 27.6%. Averaged 3.11 PPO/game.
2022: 61 goals on 235 chances for 26%. Averaged 2.87 PPO/game.
2023: 89 goals on 275 chances for 32.4%, while getting 3.35 PPO/game.
2024: 32 goals on 127 chances for 25.2%. Averaging 3.26 PPO/game.
Their PP won’t remain at 17.8% much longer. They are still generating many good chances, but they simply haven’t buried as many of their chances recently.

LINEUPS…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid – Hyman
Kane – Draisaitl – Foegele
Janmark – McLeod– Ryan
Erne – Hamblin – Brown
Nurse – Ceci
Ekholm – Bouchard
Kulak – Desharnais
Skinner
Sam Gagner is still banged up and unable to play. Evander Kane hasn’t been as productive recently, as he battles through a nagging issue, but any suggestion of trading him, or him being a bad contract, is incredibly inaccurate. Kane still has six goals in his last 20 games and has 14 on the season. He’s on pace for 30 goals while battling a nagging injury. He leads the Oilers in hits with 120 and has 68 more than the next-highest forward, Adam Erne, who has 52. Kane has 16 goals in 27 playoff games and 52 goals in 122 games with the Oilers.  Jesse Puljujarvi (who, for reasons I don’t truly understand, has come in comparison to Kane recently) scored 51 goals in 317 games with Edmonton. My goodness, any attempt to compare the two is unfair to both players. They are not remotely the same.
The Oilers are winning, and winning a lot, yet because Kane isn’t killing it, he’s suddenly a bad contract or tradeable. Stop the online insanity.

Maple Leafs

Holmberg – Matthews – Marner
Knies – Tavares – Nylander
Bertuzzi – Domi – Jarnkrok
McMann – Kampf – Gregor
Rielly – Brodie
Benoit – McCabe
Giordano – Liljegren
Jones
The Maple Leafs blew leads in consecutive losses to Colorado and Detroit this past weekend. They will be looking to bounce back, but they do give up a lot of chances. The Oilers would like to bury a few more of their chances tonight. Kris Knoblauch mentioned this morning they could have had more goals on the road trip.
Auston Matthews leads the NHL with 33 goals and is on pace to reach 60 for the second time in his career. He’s very dangerous in tight, and the Oilers will need to limit his chances. Head coach Sheldon Keefe changed his lines for the third consecutive game, as he is looking for some consistency.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The atmosphere will be electric as Maple Leafs and Oilers fans try to drown each other out with cheers. It leads to an exciting game that the Oilers win 4-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid extends his point streak to 11 games. It is the 11th time in his career he’s had a streak of at least 11 games.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Noah Gregor scores his first goal of 2024.

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