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Monday Musings: One OT Loss to the Avalanche isn’t Cause for Concern for Oilers

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 months ago
Despite the post-game reaction online after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss, the Edmonton Oilers have become a very good defensive team.
The Oilers have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL over their past 10 games, 18. They are tied with Nashville for fewest goals against 5×5 with only 12. For years, the Oilers’ biggest weakness was 5×5 goals against, yet since Kris Knoblauch and Paul Coffey have arrived, the Oilers have found defensive consistency at 5×5.
The Oilers have allowed the fourth-fewest goals against 5×5 in those 54 games with 89. They’ve allowed 1.71 5×5 GA/GP and only Winnipeg, Florida and Seattle are better. In their last 10 games, the Oilers have allowed a league-low 1.66 5×5 GA/GP. Despite that, the reaction by many online after Saturday’s loss suggested the Oilers were terrible defensively and would never be able to defeat Colorado.
Did Evan Bouchard take the wrong angle on the game winning goal? Yes, but in the last 10 games with Bouchard on the ice the Oilers have outscored opponents 16-3 at even strength. Bouchard’s natural instincts don’t begin with being elite defensively. Neither do Cale Makar’s or some other top-end offensive defenceman. However, they make significantly more positive plays than negative. There isn’t much debate that Bouchard could have made a better play on MacKinnon, especially with such little time remaining on the clock, but his overall play in the past 10 games has been very good defensively.
The Oilers have preached being on the right side of the puck in their own zone. Don’t get caught being above the puck, and Bouchard wasn’t. He took the path to be below the puck.
The coaches want players below the puck. Usually that would be the right play, but it wasn’t in this case. The other factor is MacKinnon made a great play to kick the puck up to his stick and in one motion make a perfect backhand pass right on Artturi Lehkonen’s stick. Even though Bouchard didn’t make the best play, MacKinnon still had to make a highly skilled play to beat the Oilers. It will happen when you face elite players.
I will warn you right now: Bouchard will make a play in the playoffs you don’t like. But I’d caution overreacting as though no one does it. Did you know Cale Makar was outscored 9-4 in the Stanley Cup finals at 5×5 v. Tampa Bay? He’s Avalanche’s best defender. Devon Toews was outscored 8-4. MacKinnon was outscored 7-5. When you play against the other team’s best players your odds of getting scored on increase, especially in the playoffs where matchups are often more consistent. Colorado was outscored 13-12 at 5×5 in the series, but they won due to a dominant power play. They were 6-for-16, while Tampa was 2-for-19, but allowed a short-handed goal, so they were only +1 on the PP compared to the Avs going +6. Makar produced seven points in the Cup final, and while he was outscored 9-4 at 5×5, that wasn’t the main story, not should it have been, because he produced the second-most points in the series and scored three goals.
The Oilers’ loss to the Avalanche was nothing more than one regular season loss. It doesn’t mean the Oilers can’t defend. It doesn’t mean they have no chance to beat the Avalanche, if they meet in the third round. It was one game, where the Oilers, despite not playing their best, took the lead with 8:12 remaining. And had the best chance early in overtime to win it, when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was sent in all alone on a breakaway. There will be other losses down the stretch and into the playoffs, but it doesn’t mean the team is crap or junk. Or that individual players are terrible. The hyperbolic reaction to one goal against or one loss is a bit much.
Should Leon Draisaitl have backchecked harder on the goal? Of course. He admitted it after the game. It is a good reminder that every second matters, and even if time is expiring, and you don’t think MacKinnon has time to make a play, you still need to get back. For me, that is a great reminder especially this late in the season. You’d rather than happen on March 16th than May 16th, when it might cost you a playoff series.
I thought that was one of the fastest games we’ve seen this year. The pace was incredible. Stuart Skinner played very well in a key game. The Oilers know they can play better, and based on the past 54 games, I’d expect they will when they meet the Avs again on April 5th in Edmonton and in the regular season finale on April 18th. Although, if neither team has anything to play for, the season finale could be a bit of a snoozer.

HERE AND THERE…

Mar 10, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Corey Perry (90) warms up against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
— Corey Perry became the 125th player in NHL history to score 900 regular season points, when he assisted on Sam Carrick’s first goal as an Oiler. Perry is also currently 59th in playoff scoring with 124 points. If he scores five points in the playoffs he will move into the top-50 all-time and ahead of Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, Yvon Cournoyer, Patrik Elias, Luc Robitaille, Patrick Marleau, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
— Connor McDavid is already 110th in NHL scoring with 956 points in only 632 games. If he maintains his current 1.68 points/game pace he will score 28 more points and finish the season with 984 career points which would move him into 104th. He’ll pass Larry Robinson (958), Kirk Muller (959), Henrik Zetterberg (960), Maurice Richard (966), Shane Doan (972) and Andy Bathgate (973). If he produces 120 points next year he will be in the top-70 scorers all time at the end of his 10th season. I firmly believe he will become the second player to score 2,000 points.
— If the Oilers are within four points of Vancouver at the end of March, then I’d say they have a legit chance of catching them for first place. It won’t be easy, but the Oilers would be four points back with two games in hand and one head-to-head matchup. Edmonton is currently eight points back of the Canucks with three games in hand. Their next two games are both against Buffalo and Montreal. The Oilers host Montreal Tuesday and Buffalo Thursday, while the Canucks host the Sabres tomorrow and Montreal on Thursday.
Their April schedules look like this.
Red is away game, black is home game.
Green is v. a top-10 team and yellow represents a bottom-10 team.
The Oilers have three sets of back-to-back games compared to one for the Canucks. That is where they make up their two games. The odds are low they catch Vancouver, but if Thatcher Demko’s injury lasts the rest of this month, it opens the door a bit more for the Oilers. The Canucks lost 2-1 to Washington on Saturday and it was the Capitals’ fourth game in six nights.
— What a race for first place in the Central, and first in the Western Conference.
The Jets, Avalanche and Stars are tied with 91 points. Winnipeg has a slight advantage with one game in hand on Colorado and two on Dallas, but in the midst of a five-game road trip.
Winnipeg has the toughest remaining schedule with only two games v. bottom-10 teams, while Colorado has four and Dallas has six. All three teams are currently one point back of Vancouver. The Canucks have led the Conference since January 13th.
— One area I think the Oilers can improve on down the stretch is not passing up scoring chances in high danger areas. They had multiple odd man rushes that didn’t result in shots on goal as they passed instead of shooting. It isn’t a massive issue, but I’d rate it a slight concern at times. It is something I’ll be monitoring down the stretch.
This report suggests Vincent Desharnais has a broken finger, but it doesn’t sound serious. **Update. Desharnais is skating at practice. It looked like Stecher took his spot in rotation, but then Desharnais did rotate in. Will update after practice.** Another update… “Desharnais says he feels good and is ready to go.**
The Oilers’ blue line has been incredibly healthy all season. Mattias Ekholm missed the season opener with an injury and missed last Wednesday’s game v. Washington with an illness. Desharnais was a healthy scratch in games two and three earlier this year, but tomorrow will be the first game he misses with an injury. To date their top-six defencemen have missed a total of four games, the fewest in the NHL.
Winnipeg’s blueliners have missed 17 games, Carolina 19, Los Angeles 25 and Detroit 30 to round out the top-five in fewest games missed by top-six defenders.
Unless the Oilers put Desharnais on LTIR, which I doubt, they don’t have enough cap space to recall anyone. They are getting close as they continue to accrue cap space, but don’t have enough room just yet. Troy Stecher could take Desharnais’ spot v. Montreal if he isn’t ready.

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