If a role player scores twice in a game, your team wins. Pretty much guaranteed. A checker who can post offense tilts the game in your favor. I learned this from Eddie Westfall, a super penalty killer and two-way winger for the Stanley Bruins 1970 and 1972. Westfall (and Derek Sanderson) were the designated checkers, but they got into the offensive fun a lot, too. Mark Letestu brings an unusual set of skills—checker, faceoff man, penalty killer and power-play monster. Huh. Either way, it works. After that? Who cares. Letestu is on pace for 17-17-34 this year. Eddie Westfall would be proud. HDSCs: 7-8.
ARE WE THERE YET? YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers in October 2015: 4-8-0, goal differential -7
- Oilers in October 2016: 7-2-0, goal differential +10
- Oilers in November 2015: 4-7-2, goal differential -6
- Oilers in November 2016: 5-8-2 goal differential -3
- Oilers in December 2015: 7-6-1, goal differential -9
- Oilers in December 2016: 3-1-3, goal differential +2
- Oilers after 31, 2015: 14-15-2, goal differential -9
- Oilers after 31, 2016: 15-11-5, goal differential +9
Edmonton’s goal differential year over year remains strong, but the won-loss records have tightened up. The big slide began right now, one year ago. Edmonton would go 1-6-1 over the rest of December, and 17-28-6 to end the year—to finish 31-43-8 over 82 games. Can they do better? We hope. And pray.
We agreed 15 points in 15 December games was a reasonable line in the sand (or I did, keeping with the 82 points projected in the RE). Through seven games the Oilers have accumulated nine points. This is going to be an interesting run to Christmas, with Columbus and Tampa Bay on the schedule this week.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Stats via NHL.com, NaturalStatTrick and HockeyStats.ca.
- Klefbom—Larsson had a terrific time. They went 20-12 in 15:19 together, Oscar went 1-1 in 46 seconds with Benning, Larsson going 1-2 in a couple of minutes with Sekera. Oscar scored and had five shots, all in the first period. Went 8-5 in 5:27 against Little, 6-5 in 5:48 against Scheifele. That is plenty of playing time against quality, and the numbers are good.
- Simpson—Benning sawed things off a little better than even. Benning made a horrible back pass on the first GA, I bet McLellan is delighted to have a teachable moment for the rookie—that young man is bona fide. They went 8-6 in about 10 minutes together, Benning went 4-6 in 3:01 with Russell. Simpson was 1-1 in two minutes against Little, while he played just 2:31 against Scheifele (0-2). Benning’s numbers were 3-7 in 4:31 (Little) and 1-2 in 3:40 (Scheifele). Each man had two shots, Simpson blocked two shots, one a fairly dangerous try to my eye.
- Sekera—Russell were not effective in possession, playing 14:03 together and going just 5-12. Lordy. Went 3-10 in 8:43 against Scheifele, 2-3 in 5:34 against Little. I am sure G’s numbers show the reasoning, but me and my Corsi would run the Swedes more. They did better against both key centers than Sekera—Russell.
- Cam Talbot played well last night, he is at .916SP for the year. Average is .912 in 2016-17 (according to hockey-reference), so he is providing above average goaling.
FORWARDS, LAST NIGHT
- Lucic—McDavid—Caggiula added Mark Letestu and dropped the rookie for about five minutes. McDavid and Lucic got assists on the PP, Letestu scored twice. McDavid went 3-10 against Scheifele and seemed to fall weird once (Laine hit). Blake Wheeler looked to really hurt himself in the third period while McDavid was in the area. Weird game for 97, this is as quiet as I have seen him. Long season, I bet he needs a breather (which will come later in the week).
- Kassian—Letestu—Slepyshev didn’t actually play a ton together (4:40) and went 4-5. Letestu moved up to the McDavid line for a time, Kassian spent a couple of minutes with Pouliot and Leon. The 4line is kind of becoming a Borg assimilation ship with various parts that can be applied to the actual lines. This is not a crazy idea, but I do think Slepyshev has more to give.
- Maroon—Draisaitl—Pitlick had a good night by the math and the two wingers grabbed assists. Went 2-8 in six minutes against Scheifele, that seems a lot for what should be the third line to my eye. I thought this was the most dangerous line.
- Pouliot—Nuge—Eberle were a little shy in possession and none of the men hit the score sheet. Four shots, Nuge was solid in the faceoff circle and they looked a little closer to scoring. Went 1-3 in 3:49 against Little, 8-7 in 7:49 against Scheifele—that is good work.
We are 31 games into the NHL season, a good time to take a look at how the team is going based on predictions. In my RE wrap, I posted predictions for goals for, goals against, save percentage, as well as the following:
- Final record: 82GP, 38-36-8 84PTS
- Finish: No. 5 in the Pacific Division, No. 10 in the Western Conference, No. 21 overall
- All-Star Team: Connor McDavid
- Traded by deadline: Matt Hendricks, Jonas Gustavsson
Let’s compare those predictions with the actual numbers (on pace) the Oilers have managed so far. Projected number first, my prediction in brackets:
- Final record: Projected 82gp, 40-29-13, 93PTS (82gp, 38-36-8 84PTS)
- Finish: No. No. 3 (5) in the Pacific Division, No. 6 (10) in the Western Conference, No. 13 (21) overall.
- All-Star Team: Connor McDavid, probably Leon Draisaitl (McDavid).
- Goals For: 246 (226)
- Goals Against: 224 (226)
- Save Percentage: .911 (.913)
Edmonton is outperforming my predictions pretty much across the board, with goals against pegged pretty well by the RE. What did I underestimate? Not McDavid, I had his points-per-game at 1.208 and he is at 1.26. Leon Draisaitl? Yes. By quite a bit. Credit to Germany’s best player.
Pretty much all of the Oilers regular forwards have played over 250 minutes on the season now, and we are seeing the 5×5/60 numbers get some real traction. This is the good stuff here, no way to frame this puppy (aside from linemates):
- Connor McDavid 2.93
- Tyler Pitlick 1.97
- Leon Draisaitl 1.92
- Jesse Puljujarvi 1.77
- Patrick Maroon 1.64
- Jordan Eberle 1.53
- Anton Lander 1.47
- Anton Slepyshev 1.45
- Mark Letestu 1.42
- Milan Lucic 1.35
- Benoit Pouliot 1.29
- Zack Kassian 1.22
- Matt Hendricks 0.81
- Drake Caggiula 0.80
I think the Oilers after 31 fall into four 5×5 categories:
- McDavid: McDavid
- Performing Well: Pitlick, Draisaitl, Letestu
- Average: Maroon, Lander, Slepyshev, Kassian
- A Little Shy: Eberle, Hendricks
- Well Shy: Lucic, Pouliot
- Rookies: Puljujarvi, Caggiula
Fair? So, the left wingers on the two top lines are the culprits from here, although your mileage may vary. Lucic has become a power-play option deep in his career and that is sustaining him (the big man is on his way to a 21-37-58 season based on this morning’s numbers). Lucic was 2.04 5×5/60 in Los Angeles last year, we should expect a spike in production from him over the last 50 games.
I think the organization is at a crossroads with Mr. Hendricks. Anton Lander is in the minors and ready to replace him, and last night’s roster is faster and speed is a problem for Todd McLellan this year. For the first time this season, or indeed his Oilers career, I think Edmonton management may be contemplating waiving Hendricks and sending him down if he clears. Why do I think that? The things Hendricks brings are not enough to cover for his lack of speed, and twice on the road trip things went badly for the veteran. Todd McLellan showed some faith in him after the Buffalo Sabres game, keeping him in the lineup. Hendricks was dash one for each and every game of the road trip, and Edmonton lost every one of them. There may be one more life, one more chance, but Matt Hendricks is in a spot of bother in regard to his NHL career this morning. Damned erosion.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, TSN1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Scott Burnside, ESPN. The Pacific Division is tight, can McDavid hold off Crosby for the scoring championship?
- Andy McNamara, TSN4Downs. Crazy NFL weekend.
- Jason Gregor, TSN1260. What do the Oilers do with Hendricks? And how about Letestu?
- Sunil Agnihotri, Copper & Blue/The SuperFan. Are the Oilers a playoff contender, or merely bleeding out more slowly this year?
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!