O.K., hands up…everyone who saw a 5-0 start coming?
Yeah, you two jokers in the corner can put yours down already.
The Oilers have roared out of the gate and have banked 10 points that will be precious indeed when it comes to making the playoffs in 2019-20. Remember: Just under 80% of teams that sit in a playoffs spot on American Thanksgiving make the post-season come April. We’re just at Canadian Thanksgiving now. U.S. Turkey day is at approximately the 20-game mark. So, we’re at the quarter pole of the quarter pole, if you will. But since we’re talking bird…
Last year at U.S. Turkey time, Dallas held down the final wild card spot in the West with 24 points. Can the Oilers scrape up 14 points in their next 15 games? Last year at U.S. Thanksgiving Calgary was 1st in the Pacific with 27 points. The Oilers will need just 17 in 15 games to equal that. Barely .500 hockey from here.
Suddenly those 10 points start to loom larger, don’t they?
9. Unsuccessful Oilers PTO hopeful Anton Burdasov has signed a 1-year deal with SKA of the KHL. It’s thought that they and Moscow Dynamo were the 2 biggest bidders for the tall winger. That would allow him another NHL opportunity next Fall if Burdasov is still interested and can get his affairs in order much sooner. He has a goal in 2 games for St. Petersburg so far.
8. Unless one of his goaltenders really falls off, I will be surprised if Dave Tippett leans heavily on one over the other. For one thing, Mikko Koskinen was much better last year with regular rest. He really only hit the wall after Cam Talbot was traded and the back-up brought in (Anthony Stolarz) ended up hurt. And at 37 you must think that Mike Smith will be better with regular rest too. I do.
7. One of Connor McDavid’s precious few weaknesses thus far into his young NHL career has been face-offs. His success rate has been under 43%. But so far this season McDavid is over 54%. And I’m seeing him take more D-zone draws than he did last year. While all players have a fault or two the truly great ones have both the talent and drive to over-come most of them. Small sample but perhaps that’s what we’re seeing here?
6. It is true that the NHL’s leading goal scorer James Neal (7) is sporting a shooting percentage (36.8%) that won’t last (for his entire career he’s 11.9%). But it does suggest that last year’s 5.0% in Calgary was an aberration. Neal is not shooting much more this year (TSA of 3.8/game versus 3.7/game in 2018-19). But he is playing with better players more often (o.k., all the time). Where Neal ends up this season in terms of production remains to be seen. But you have to wonder whether one of the biggest issues he had down South was simply usage.
5. Colby Cave was placed on waivers Saturday as Josh Archibald was activated from the I.R. While not a guarantee, I expect that Cave will pass through unclaimed and report to Bakersfield. While Colby Cave has some attributes that make him a useful player, facts are a guy like Markus Granlund can do more for you: Play all 3 forward positions, kill penalties well, and Granlund had 12 goals in 77 games last year in Vancouver. Cave’s offence is…un-apparent. Granlund had his best game of the season so far Saturday at pivot. It seemed like the change got his feet moving. The switch came at the suggestion of Oilers Assistant Coach Glen Gulutzan.
4. There continues to be some talk that the Oilers may be interested in Julien Gauthier in Carolina. The right-shot winger was the Hurricanes 1st over-all pick in 2016. That’s the same draft as you-know-who. Gauthier scored 27 for AHL Charlotte last season and 2 more in 2 games this year before his call-up. If indeed Edmonton scouts watched Saturday’s ‘Canes game against Columbus they would have seen Gauthier play 4th line minutes (8:25 TOI, and all but a few seconds of it 5×5) and register 0 points, 0 shots and 2 hits. One thing that perhaps may make the player attractive in such a deal though is the fact that Gauthier is waivers exempt. He could go to the AHL without fear of losing him for nothing.
3. I have noticed that at 5-on-5 Jim Playfair has strictly limited Kris Russell to his strong (left-hand) side. But on the PK, Russell has frequently been deployed on the right side (often, but not always) in place of rookies Ethan Bear and Joel Persson. Playing his strong side has helped Russell headman the puck much more effectively so far this season than last. But that is not nearly as important when you are short-handed. Getting it up and out is just fine on the PK, thank you. And this allows the coaches to shelter the kids a bit. Russell played 3:28 short-handed on Saturday. Only Oscar Klefbom logged more minutes 4×5. Whether this lasts past Adam Larsson’s return is a good question. But that is at least 6-weeks away.
2. I believe that we are seeing Leon Draisaitl making a case for being the best 2-way forward in the NHL today. His defensive game has really reached a new level. Draisaitl dominated on Saturday while facing a heavy parade of the Rangers’ best players. By the time the game was over Draisaitl was 2nd over-all in NHL scoring (4-7-11 in 5 games). Yet in 9 and a half minutes of PK work so far this season Draisaitl has allowed 0 goals against and just 7 total scoring chances (just 1 Grade “A”) against while on the ice. And that’s with 100% 4×5 D-Zone starts. I believe some day Draisaitl will contend for the Selke. Will it be this year? Perhaps. But one thing about the Selke…it tends to demand longevity which to no fault of Leon’s…he doesn’t quite have yet.
1.Saturday was Matt Benning’s best game of the season. In fact…maybe his best game as an Oiler. At least that’s what my eyes told me. But when I got some Twitter blow-back that Benning was “hot garbage”, I wondered how much of that bile was merely ABB (Anti-Benning Bias). After all, for all the guff the guy takes Benning has been a plus-player every season that he has been in the league for and on some pretty bad teams. Well…Matt Benning has yet to be on the ice for a single goal against 5 games into the 2019-20 season including Saturday. And he has faced extreme D-zone starts (73.1%) while doing so. Yet he remains the favorite whipping boy of many.
Drill down deeper into Saturday’s Rangers game: Benning played 16:48. During that time he was successful in keeping the play in between the face-off dots and the boards in his own D-zone during practically every play that he was involved in. Yet most of his even strength TOI was with the Riley Sheahan and Markus Granlund lines (the Oilers 3rd and 4th best lines at even strength). So, Benning wasn’t getting a significant “lift” from the Oilers most gifted players at all.
It is true that as a 3rd pairing guy Matt Benning (and any 3rd pairing man in the league for that matter) tends to get a softer parade in terms of quality of competition. Yet against the Ranger’s very best offensive skaters? Matt Benning didn’t allow a single 5×5 chance against in 3:09 versus Artemi Panarin or in 2:31 5×5 versus Mika Zibanejad.
So if that’s “hot garbage” then I’ll have me a steaming pile of it, please. And while you’re at it…spare me the ABB.
Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins
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