The great thing about three centers with offensive ability is it’s easier to cover for the big line when nothing rhymes. The Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lines feature wingers who range from unproven to unusual, but things have come together since the trio of centers have stayed in the middle. It sets up a classic ‘chicken versus egg’ argument: Are the Oilers working better because of the centers three, or did the team gather enough wingers/allow prospect growth in order to reach this day? More in a minute.
Great Christmas offer! Includes a free 7-day trial so you can try The Athletic on for size free and see if they enjoy the in-depth, ad-free coverage on the site. If you don’t feel it’s worth the $4.49/month, cancel anytime during trial before getting charged. Offer is here.
- New Lowetide (later today): Should the Oilers trade their 2018 first-round pick?
- New Lowetide: Connor McDavid: The Athletic’s Person of the Year!
- New Lowetide: Anton Slepyshev
- New Jonathan Willis: ‘Mighty Dwight’ Helminen!
- New Tyler Dellow: Why the Oilers are getting run over 4×5
- Lowetide: How much skill is bubbling under for the Oilers?
- Lowetide: Jesse
LONG DECEMBER, YEAR OVER YEAR
- December 2015: 6-2-0, goal differential +1 (12 points)
- December 2016: 3-2-3, goal differential 0 (9 points)
- December 2017: 5-3-0, goal differential +7 (10 points)
Todd McLellan’s current group are performing well enough in December to be compared to his previous Oilers, and that’s a good thing. The NHL is too good a league to go 30 days without bleeding a little (very rare) but there’s still a chance for Edmonton to turn December into a strong recovery month.
AFTER 34, YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers 15-16: 14-18-2, goal differential -19 (30 points)
- Oilers 16-17: 17-12-5, goal differential +8 (39 points)
- Oilers 17-18: 15-17-2, goal differential -8 (32 points)
After 34 this season the current Oilers are beginning to separate (finally!) from the 15-16 group and are going to have a helluva time getting close to last year’s team, now and later. That’s the goal.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM DECEMBER
- On the road to: Calgary (Expected: 0-0-1) (Actual: 1-0-0)
- At home to: Philadelphia (Expected 1-0-0) (Actual: 0-1-0)
- On the road to: Montreal, Toronto, Columbus (Expected 1-2-0) (Actual 2-1-0)
- At home to: Nashville (Expected 0-1-0) (Actual 0-1-0)
- On the road to: Minnesota (Expected 1-0-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- At home to: San Jose, St. Louis, Montreal (Expected 1-1-1) (Actual 1-0-0)
- On the road to: Winnipeg (Expected 0-1-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- At home to: Chicago, Winnipeg (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- Overall expected result: 5-6-2, 12 points in 13 games
- Current results: 5-3-0, 10 points in eight games
The Oilers needed that game, needed to win in regulation. Two more giant games coming up but the team is getting healthy and can overcome mistakes and bad luck (there was some of both last night).
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Klefbom-Benning went 14-13 in 13:19, 2-1 GF. 5-2 in HDSC’s. That’s a good line against a fine team like San Jose. Went 8-10 against Thornton-Pavelski-Lebanc in 7:25, that’s the top SJS line and about half of JT’s minutes with Pavelski. That’s a good night.
- Nurse-Russell were 8-12 together in 12:37, 1-1 GF and 2-1 HDSC’s. High event on the night, Russell gave up the blueline consistently and didn’t find tape with many passes. I saw Nurse better, he was 3-1 Corsi and 2-0 HDSC with Larsson. Went 1-3 in 5:03 against Thornton-Pavelski-Lebanc, were 5-0 against Boedker-O’Regan-Ward.
- Davidson-Larsson were 11-13 in 15:09, 0-0 GF and 4-1 in HDSC’s. That’s a nice third pairing! Not quite true of course, Larsson played more at evens than any other blue. Went 5-8 against Sorensen-Hertl-Lebanc, 2-2 in 5:30 against the Thornton line. Larsson took about one period to earn No. 1 pairing minutes from the coach, wonder if we see Nurse-Larsson in the coming days.
- I think Todd McLellan rolled three pairings against the Thornton line, meaning I don’t think he was matching anyone with his defense. Is that similar to his road warrioring? I think it might be.
- Cam Talbot stopped 18 of 21, .857.
- NaturalStatTrick and NHL.com.
FORWARDS, LAST NIGHT
- Maroon-Nuge-Caggiula were 14-4 in 11:27, 2-1 GF and 7-1 HDSC. Wonderful totals and the line also posted five points on the evening. I don’t think Cammalleri is going to get his job back. Line went 8-2 against Thornton-Pavelski-Lebanc. Great evening, Nuge is a fine player.
- Walker-Letestu-Kassian went 6-6 in 6:15, they dont play much. Letestu’s bat is coming around again, Kassian is effective even when quiet (he wanders at times but he’s fine now) and I don’t know what kind of game Walker is going to bring.
- Khaira-Draisaitl-Strome went 9-12 in 10:52, 1-1 in GF and 2-0 in HD. Five points for the line on the evening, this line contributing is a big item for the Oilers currently. Were 9-1 against Sorensen-Hertl-Lebanc, 1-6 against the Tierney line. Huh.
- Lucic-McDavid-Puljujarvi should and could have scored but it wasn’t their night. Five HD scoring chances (two for each winger) but nothing rhymed. Went 13-16 in 15:01, 1-0 GF and 5-2 in HDSC’s. Jesse is pushing now, coach Todd McLellan needs to keep sending him out there on the top line. The broadcast crew were getting nervous about him last night, important to push through the growing pains.
KEYS TO VICTORY
This isn’t breaking news, but the key additions to this team over the last several weeks (since November 11 and Jesse Puljujarvi’s recall) are:
- Brandon Davidson waiver claim
- Jesse Puljujarvi’s recall and Todd McLellan’s commitment to him
- Moving Leon to center
- Finding enough wingers, including the acquisition of Mike Cammalleri
- Jujhar Khaira’s emergence
Peter Chiarelli made a lot of bets on kids this winter, and it took some time, but the emergence of Jesse Puljujarvi and Jujhar Khaira (who had Khaira as being the one to emerge?) is a very good pair of arrows. The good news is announced smartly in current 5×5/60 scoring numbers:
- Connor McDavid 2.72
- Leon Draisaitl 2.53
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 2.33
- Milan Lucic 2.25
- Jujhar Khaira 2.23
- Jesse Puljujarvi 2.16
- Patrick Maroon 2.00
- Mike Cammalleri 1.86
- Ryan Strome 1.61
- Mark Letestu 1.50
- Zack Kassian 1.45
- Drake Caggiula 1.38
- Nathan Walker 0.00
There’s still time, and we should keep in mind Anton Slepyshev is just a phone call away, but it does appear we have two winners in a battle that once included the likes of Kailer Yamamoto, Chris Kelly and (until surprisingly late) Patrick Russell. I’m always interested in hearing how people see things, what pressure they place on sides of a coin. For instance, are you angry at Todd McLellan for waiting to run three centers, or do you think Jesse Puljujarvi’s time in Bakersfield helped him? Do you believe Jujhar Khaira was there all the time, or do you believe that sitting him, letting him know there were other options, cleared his mind?
Or maybe you feel Peter Chiarelli should have offered cover for all these youngsters and signed/acquired a veteran over the summer? Love to hear your voice on this one.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, TSN1260. A fun group of guests, and your comments are welcome. Scheduled to appear:
- Jonathan Willis, The Athletic. The Helminen piece and Oilers getting closer to roster balance.
- Scott Cullen, TSN. How do you solve a penalty kill that refuses to be solved?
- Guy Flaming, The Pipeline Show. Our annual seeding of the nations for WJC’s.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!