Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Off the Top of My Head: Coach Paul Coffey, Evan Bouchard’s heater, and Stuart Skinner’s net
2 months ago
Complaining about what players aren’t instead of celebrating what they are must be part of being a fan because it’s been going on for as long as I remember. I think of one example of that whenever the camera pans past assistant coach Paul Coffey on the bench with the Edmonton Oilers these days.
Despite four Stanley Cup rings and 1,531 points, I remember Coffey, a three-time Norris Trophy recipient, being criticized for his defensive play, or lack of same. Despite his three seasons of 100-or-more points with the Oilers, including a 48-goal campaign in 1985-86, we heard about his defensive deficiencies, about what was wrong with the way he played the position.
Coffey wasn’t from the traditional, old school of playing defence. Like Bobby Orr before him, Coffey’s idea of defending was based on making sure that the puck was at the other end of the rink rather than in his own zone. He was happy to take it there. With that silky smooth stride, why not? Coffey was no Larry Robinson, or even Charlie Huddy, who covered for No. 7 while he was up the ice, in his own end, but so what? Still, the moaners moaned, the groaners groaned. Not their style.
Which brings me to Evan Bouchard, who extended his points streak to a career-best 10 games with two goals and an assist in a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild Friday. Bouchard has 4-11-15 in that stretch. He joins Coffey as the only defenceman in franchise history with a point-streak in double-digits, plus he moved into a tie for third place in scoring among defencemen with 7-20-27 as the Oilers won their sixth straight game.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Dec 8, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by defensemen Evan Bouchard (2) during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Obviously, Bouchard doesn’t belong in the same sentence as Coffey in terms of his accomplishments, and a comparison isn’t my intent, but he is a polarizing player. Bouchard has won over some critics with improved play under Coffey, but not all. There’s still as much noise about him being too soft, mistake-prone and indifferent defensively as about his ability to run the power play (he’s got 3-10-13) and produce points with that wicked shot of his. I’ve been guilty of focusing on the negatives at times myself.
There’s no question Bouchard, 24, has too often been guilty of lapses and giveaways. He at times looks almost indifferent in closing on puck carriers and making life miserable in front of the net. There’s room for improvement to be sure, and with just 208 games in the books, there’s time, but it’s unlikely he’s ever going to be Big Bad Dad in his own end. What he might become is an 80-point defenceman. How many of those are there?
“I think when you have a threat from up top, it kind of opens up the seams for the guys,” Bouchard said of adding dimensions to a power play that boasts Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. “If they give up a little too much room in the seam, they’re going to make that pass. It definitely helps.”
As for his points streak being extended during the team’s winning streak, that’s no coincidence, according to Bouchard: “I think it’s more so when the team’s doing well, then the individuals do well. I think that’s the case right now.”
As an aside, at the scoring clip Bouchard is on after 24 games, he’ll become the only Oilers’ defenceman other than Coffey to surpass 80 points in a single season. Coffey holds the top six spots with 138, 126, 121, 96, 89 and 67. Risto Siltanen is next with 63 followed by Huddy (57) and Chris Pronger (56).
Going into this afternoon’s game against the New Jersey Devils, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had four assists against Minnesota, is sitting at 5-18-23 through 24 games. By comparison, RNH had 25 points after 24 games last season on the way to a career-high 104 points. Don’t see him matching that, but a good start so far.
McDavid is vaulting up the scoring ranks toward another Art Ross Trophy with 3-15-18 in his last six games. McDavid has 9-25-34 in the 22 games he’s played. Going into games Saturday, McDavid was 10 points back of scoring leader Nikita Kucherov (17-27-44) of Tampa Bay.
AND . . .
Stuart Skinner looks locked in with a 6-0-0 streak on the go with a 1.82 GAA and .932 save percentage during this stretch. With days off between every game, he could play all six in this homestand, if need be. The most obvious break would be on Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
I don’t see Jack Campbell getting a look there ahead of Calvin Pickard. Campbell has been up and down in his AHL stint with Bakersfield. He was in the net for a 6-4 win over the Ontario Reign Friday but gave up four goals on 24 shots. Campbell is sitting with a 3.37 GAA and .887 save percentage with the Condors.
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