The Oilers are three points behind Dallas for the second wildcard spot and four points back of Vegas for third in the Pacific Division. They do not want to risk falling further behind so early in March and need a win tonight v. Washington who won 5-4 in Calgary last night. Edmonton needs to take advantage of a team that could be slightly fatigued.
— Last month the Oilers defeated the Capitals 5-3 in Washington. The Caps had won 4-3 the night before in Pittsburgh. Edmonton stormed out to a 3-0 lead, allowed the Caps to tie it, before scoring two third period goals to get the win. Tonight is the ninth game in which the Oilers play an opponent that played the night before. Edmonton went 6-2 in the first eight games. They’ve taken advantage of being the more rested team and need to do it again tonight.
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— Alex Ovechkin scored twice last night and is tied with Jaromir Jagr for third on the all-time goal list with 766. Jagr also scored his 766th goal in Calgary, as a member of the Flames. It came in his 1,718th game. Ovechkin played his 1,253rd game last night. He will pass Jagr, possibly tonight, and he needs 36 goals to pass Gordie Howe for second all time, and 129 goals to pass Wayne Gretzky.
— The Great Eight has 13 goals and 23 points in 19 career games against the Oilers. He has six goals and 13 points in his 10 games in Edmonton.
— The Oilers have outscored teams 27-20 under Jay Woodcroft at 5×5, but the reason they’ve only won seven of 13 games is that their special teams have not been good. They’ve allowed 13 power play goals on 48 kills (72.9%) and their power play is only 8-for-45 (17.8%). They’ve also allowed two shorthanded goals, so the net PP is 13.3%. Ouch. Here is an in-depth look at the Oilers’ special teams struggles.
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—  Much of yesterday’s practice was focused on special teams. The power play needs some fine tuning. The Oilers are forcing passes and teams have sensed they aren’t as confident as they were in the past and they are pressuring the Oilers, especially when the puck is on the right wall or at the top. Edmonton needs to adjust and I suspect they will. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have enough skill to make the PP effective. But they need to outwork the penalty kill. Too often lately the Oilers have been lackadaisical with their effort and execution. After a full practice and some video sessions on the PP, I expect it to be more efficient tonight. That doesn’t guarantee they will score, but I’d gladly bet they get more than three shots in eight minutes of PP time.
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— @Evan Bouchard draws back in the lineup tonight and Markus Niemelainen comes out. Niemelainen was reassigned to Bakersfield. His wife is close to giving birth and that played a factor in his reassignment, but his minutes played have dropped recently as well. In his past four games he skated 8:44, 8:52, 10:34 and 10:39. In those same four games William Lagesson skated 13:10, 12:59, 16:09 and 10:59, while Philip Broberg logged 7:12, 6:23, 14:23 and 22:34.
— The first two games the Oilers played seven D-men and Broberg and Niemelainen didn’t play much, but v. Montreal when Evan Bouchard went down Broberg moved to the right side and played well, and in Calgary Broberg played mainly with Duncan Keith and looked good. Niemelainen has been very physical, and that stands out on a team that isn’t overly physical, but his puck play still needs to improve. I could see him staying down in Bakersfield and playing big minutes for a few games. I’m not sold he will be recalled once his child is born. We’ll see.
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Zack Kassian and Josh Archibald could be available Saturday v. Tampa Bay. The Oilers could use some more speed in their bottom six. The injuries to Kassian, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have lowered the overall team speed of the forward group.
— As expected the TOI for McDavid and Draisaitl is similar under Jay Woodcroft as it was Dave Tippett. The first few games under Woodcroft the minutes were down, but the Oilers had the lead in those games. I do think the injuries to Puljujarvi and RNH have played a factor as well as Draisaitl logged 24 minutes in Calgary. So far, he’s being used more on the PK under Woodcroft.
— The Oilers have scored first in five of 13 games with Woodcroft. That is an improvement after they scored first in 12 of their first 44 games, but it still isn’t good enough. Edmonton ranks 25th in scoring first (38.4% of their games) since February 11th. They are still playing from behind too often. They are on pace to score first in 24 games, which would tie them with the dreadful 2017 Colorado Avalanche (who were 22-56-4) for second fewest games scoring first (In an 80+ GP schedule). Only the 1975 Washington Capitals were worse. They scored first in 20 of their 80 games. They also finished the season 8-67-5.
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The ’75 Caps and ’17 Avs were dreadful teams. The Oilers being in contention to challenge them for scoring-first ineptitude, despite having a much better overall record, is not a good look. The Oilers have made this season much harder than it should have been. Between their inability to score first and their special teams falling off a cliff the past 36 games, it is somewhat remarkable they are still in the playoff mix.
— If the Oilers could just be average at scoring first and in combined special teams percentage over their final 25 games their odds of making the post season will be quite good. They can’t continue to play catch up. They are 5-0 when scoring first, but 2-5-1 when they allow the first goal since Woodcroft took over. They are a perfect 17-0 on the season when scoring first and 13-23-4 when they don’t. They had a .403 points% when allowing the first goal under Tippett and have a .312 points% with Woodcroft.
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— It isn’t easy to score first, but Edmonton isn’t close to other playoff contending teams. The Oilers have scored first in only 29.8% of their games (17 of 57). They aren’t close to other playoff contending teams.
LA has scored first in 26 of 58 (44.8%).
Vancouver is at 27 of 57 (47.4%).
Tampa Bay is 27 of 56 (48,2%).
NYR is 28 of 57 (49.1%).
Pittsburgh is 29 of 58 (50%).
Minnesota is 28 of 55 (50.9%).
St. Louis is 29 of 56 (51.7%).
Toronto is 31 of 57 (54.3%).
Dallas and Nashville are 32 of 56 (57.1%).
Anaheim is 34 of 59 (57.6%).
Boston is 33 of 57 (57.8%).
Florida is 34 of 59 (59.6%).
Colorado and Vegas are 36 of 58 (62.1%).
Carolina is 35 of 56 (62.5%).
Washington is 37 of 58 (63.7%)
Calgary is 36 of 56 (64.2%).
— The Capitals lead the NHL by scoring first in 37 games, but they are only 19th in W% when scoring first (.649). They are 24-9-4. While it isn’t a must, scoring first tonight would make life much easier for Edmonton. Edmonton is only 18th in W% when allowing the first goal (13-23-4).
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