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GDB 67.0: Oilers look to maintain their defensive success in rematch vs. the Sabres (7pm MT, SNW)

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
22 days ago
The Edmonton Oilers have been the best team in the NHL for 50+ games, yet you often hear phrases beginning with the word “but” when discussing where they rank among top NHL teams. Are the “buts” valid, or more connected to previous playoffs?
Let’s dig in.
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Edmonton has the best record in the NHL since Kris Knoblauch and Paul Coffey took over behind the bench, a span of 53 games. They also have the best GF-GA differential at +62. They are top five in offence, defence and on both special teams. Connor McDavid leads the NHL in points/game, Leon Draisaitl is fifth, and Zach Hyman is tied for second in goals. Evan Bouchard is fifth in goals by defencemen and tied for fourth in points. Stuart Skinner is first in wins, fifth in Sv% and sixth in GAA.
Edmonton has been really good for the past four months. Here is how they rank starting over each of the past few months.
DateRankingP%RecordGFGAPP%PK%
Nov 12th1st0.74538-12-33rd (3.72)5th (2.55)3rd (27.2)5th (83.3)
Dec 10thT-1st0.7530-9-35th (3.55)4th (2.45)7th (25.7)12th (81)
Jan 14thT-2nd0.72218-6-35th (3.56)6th (2.56)3rd (28.6)20th (78.7)
Feb 11th8th0.69411–4-34th (3.78)T-11th (2.89)8th (26.5)26th (75.5)
March 1stT-5th0.7786-1-28th (3.33)2nd (1.78)22nd (18.5)6th (86.4)
Edmonton had a dip in February, mainly on the penalty kill, but they have it back on track in March. The Oilers are 6-1-2 in March, despite their power play being below average. Overall, the PP has been very good for the past four months, but it is an area they’d like to sharpen up over the final month.
Their 5×5 play has been very consistent throughout. They rank third in fewest 5×5 goals against since November 12th, and they are second in March allowing only 1.11 goals against/game at 5×5. Goals against at 5×5 has been their biggest weakness for years, but not anymore. It has become a strength, and that is the main reason why the Oilers should be mentioned when discussing legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Goal differential is often a good indicator of how good or bad a team is. Here is the goal differential of the eight playoff teams in the West since Knoblauch took over:
Edmonton +62.
Winnipeg +54.
Colorado +51.
Dallas +36.
Vancouver +27
Nashville +26
Los Angeles +23
Vegas -11.
And here are the totals since March first.
Winnipeg +16
Edmonton, LA, Colorado and Nashville +14.
Dallas +9
Vancouver +8
Vegas -10
Yet, people still talk as though Vegas is a major threat. Why? Winning the Cup last season is irrelevant to how they are playing now. Vegas is 23rd in the NHL in point% since November 12th. They are 25th in P% since March first, yet I keep reading how they would be a tough matchup in round one. That opinion isn’t based on any recent on-ice results, but more due to the fact they won the Stanley Cup last season, when Adin Hill had the greatest 14-game run of his life. Now that Vegas isn’t playing stellar defence, Hill isn’t running a .932Sv%. He’s back to his career normal of .914Sv%, which is fine, but he, like his team, has struggled in March. Hill has a .877Sv% and 3.70 GAA in March.
Vegas won’t be roadkill, but nothing about their current play suggests they should be feared. Maybe they will find some magic in the final month of the season, and if they win 10 of their final 14 games, then I will understand the respect they get, but they’ve won 10 of their past 22 games, and to do a complete 180 degree turn towards success won’t be easy.
Meanwhile the Oilers have been a competent and consistent defensive team for months. It looks as though they’ve finally rectified their biggest weakness: reducing goals against 5×5. The final 16 games won’t all be great. The condensed schedule will likely lead to a few average or below average performances. I wouldn’t stress too much when one occurs, as long as it doesn’t become a habit. The Oilers have been pretty good under Knoblauch at bouncing back after subpar efforts.

LINEUPS…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid – Hyman
McLeod – Draisaitl – Foegele
Kane – Henrique – Perry
Janmark – Carrick – Brown
Ekholm – Bouchard
Nurse – Stecher
Kulak – Ceci
Skinner
Kris Knobluach continues to tweak his forward lines. He stated he is looking to see which wingers are the best fits to play with Adam Henrique. Corey Perry will skate alongside Henrique and Nugent-Hopkins tonight. Yesterday, Knoblauch said if it was the playoffs Desharnais would be ready to play, but they have the benefit of time now and that is why he won’t play again tonight. Connor Brown draws back in and Derek Ryan comes out.

Sabres

Girgensons – Thompson – Tuch
Greenway – Cozens – Skinner
Benson – Krebs –Peterka
Robinson – Jost – Olofssson
Byram – Dahlin
Power – Jokiharju
Bryson – Clifton
Luukkonen
On paper the Sabres have a lot to like. They have a good group of skilled forwards in Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, Alex Tuch, Jeff Skinner, Payton Krebs along with youngsters JJ Peterka and Zach Benson. Their top-three blueliners of Bowen Byram, Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power should be really good moving forward. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has the highest Sv% and lowest GAA of any starting goalie in the NHL since January first.
The Sabres are 18-13-1 since the beginning of January, which is the 14th best P% in the NHL and eighth best in the East. They’ve played like a playoff contender in 2024, yet they still are a longshot to make the playoffs. Their challenge is to take the next step towards consistency, and that is the most challenging step for any organization trying to get out of the re-build phase and into the contending phase. The theory is much easier than the practical.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Much to my dismay I see another low-scoring game. Oilers avoid being swept by the Sabres this season and pick up a 3-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton only allows one goal at 5×5.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Evander Kane ends his 14-game goalless drought and scores only his third career goal v. Buffalo in his 26th career game.

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