Thankfully for the Oilers, the stench of last night’s 4-0 loss to Vegas won’t linger very long as the Oilers host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight. Edmonton played the role of a bakery last night handing out turnovers left and right. It was a dreadful puck-management performance and they need much better focus tonight.
The Oilers allowed way too many odd-man rushes and quality shots from the slot last night.
Vegas had 16 shots from the shot and eight scoring chances off the rush, courtesy of Sportlogiq. The Oilers defencemen, specifically @Darnell Nurse, @Tyson Barrie and @Evan Bouchard, had really rough nights.
— Bouchard had two giveaways in the first 12 seconds of the game, which we should have seen as foreshadowing for the rest of the night. Nurse had six shot attempts and six were blocked. The most egregious was when the Oilers led to Vegas’ third goal. Alex Pietrangelo got a stick in the lane (Nurse needs to get that shot through or release it quicker), and the puck ricocheted out to centre where Barrie couldn’t decide what to do with the puck, ultimately turned it over and it led to Pietrangelo scoring off the rush. Those three defenders need to be much better tonight in all facets of their game tonight.
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— I pointed out in Game Notes yesterday how Vegas was the second best team generating scoring chances off the rush and the Oilers were 31st in allowing scoring chances off the rush, and Edmonton played right into Vegas’ hands. On the first goal, Bouchard pinched down, and Jesse Puljujarvi initially made the right play and covered at the blue line, but then Vegas made a cross-ice pass in their own zone and Puljujarvi vacated his defensive zone spot to chase the cross-ice pass and that left the middle of the ice wide open. Shea Theodore found Brett Howden and he went in on a partial breakaway to score.
— Edmonton needs better awareness in the neutral zone. If Puljujarvi holds his position then Theodore has no option up the middle. That is just one example from a horrific night of decision making by the Oilers. Their focus needs to be much higher tonight.
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— Chicago isn’t as dangerous as Vegas off the rush, but they are 15th in the NHL and if Edmonton plays with similar looseness it will be another long night.
Chicago ranks in the bottom third of the league in shots on goal, shots from the slot and inner slot shots, but they are 14th in quality chances.
— Defensively Chicago allows the second most offensive zone time in the NHL, however, they are comfortable allowing teams time in the offensive zone without giving up much. Chicago is 12th in allowing quality chances and allowing inner slot shots. They are susceptible to allowing passes to the slot and shots from the slot and this is the area the Oilers need to exploit tonight.
— The Oilers are eighth in shots from the slot, seventh in inner slot shots and 10th in passes to the slot. They didn’t generate very much last night at all. How many rebound saves did @Laurent Brossoit have to make?
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— Chicago enters tonight losers of three games in a row, all at home, where they were outscored 14-5. Chicago has improved since they fired Jeremy Colliton. They still aren’t that good, but they are 15-14-5 in their last 34 games. The Oilers are 15-16-3 in their last 34 so this is far from a gimme game for Edmonton. If they want to get back on track this is a team they need to beat, but their decision making with the puck needs to be much better than we saw last night. I thought that was one of the sloppiest games Edmonton has played all season.
—The Hawks’ special teams haven’t been very good under head coach Derek King. Their PP is 17.5% and their penalty kill is 69.2%. In the same 34-game span the Oilers’ PP is 22% and their PK is 74.5%. Again, not a major advantage.
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— Stuart Skinner will start in goal and I asked Dave Tippett post game if he was considering switching up his defence pairs. “It is a possibility,” he said. The challenge right now is Edmonton doesn’t have a top pair RD. Bouchard is a rookie, and like most rookies, his defensive game is his biggest area of weakness. He’d be better off playing lower in the lineup in more sheltered minutes. But if you move Cody Ceci with Nurse, then that means Barrie or Bouchard play with Duncan Keith.
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Keith has been very solid the past two months. He plays well with Ceci because he doesn’t have to clean up messes created by Ceci very often. When you play with a rookie you have to clean up more messes. Just look at Keith’s numbers in Chicago the past two seasons: He was paired with rookies and his numbers struggled. Not because he was bad, but because he had to do more to cover up more for his partner. Paired with a reliable veteran, Keith is showing he is a solid player, because he mainly has to focus on his game. Next time you read one of JFresh’s charts, ask yourself who the D-man is playing with. Playing with rookies, or defensively weak defenders, often drags down the numbers of the partner. Deeper analysis is better rather than just looking at a picture and believing it is 100% accurate. But I digress.
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— The challenge for Jim Playfair is if he plays Ceci with Nurse, then Keith has to play with Barrie or Bouchard. You’d hope Barrie could play better than he has this season, but until that happens there is a risk that splitting up the second pair will only weaken it. They might have no choice to try it for a few games. I wouldn’t get down on Bouchard. It isn’t his fault he is being asked to play minutes he isn’t ready for. He will have some good nights, but there will be some tough ones as well. That is normal, and if he was able to play regularly in the third pair he’d be much better. It is a good learning opportunity for him, but also a difficult one and the Oilers have to ensure they don’t overburden him with responsibilities down the stretch.
—  A good friend of Oilersnation, Cory, had a fun but challenging interview with the Oilers’ mascot, Hunter.

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