After 41 games, the Oilers sit with 37 points and are (last I looked) still in the Pac-7 playoff race. That is far better than figuring out the 30 best 17-year-olds in the Northern Hemisphere at the hockey. The star of the game was Cam Talbot, who was brilliant, calm and in the zone. Some of these Peter Chiarelli bets appear to be turning the corner. The story is only halfway home.
HICKORY WIND, YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers in October 2014: 4-5-1
- Oilers in October 2015: 4-8-0
- Oilers in November 2014: 2-9-3
- Oilers in November 2015: 4-7-2
- Oilers in December 2014: 2-8-4
- Oilers in December 2015: 7-6-1
- Oilers in January 2015: 5-7-1
- Oilers in January 2016: 2-0-0
- Oilers after 41 in 2014-15: 9-23-9, 27 points (-54 GD)
- Oilers after 41 in 2015-16: 17-21-3, 37 points (-21 GD)
Last night’s game represents progress to my eye, the Hurricanes are a disciplined and well coached team and they play a strong possession game. Edmonton spent long periods without the puck in their own zone, but there were actually few times when they lost their man outright—I was impressed with Edmonton’s attention to detail, it seemed better, more mature. In those moments when the defense could not contain, Cam Talbot was there to calm the storm.
DEFENSE LAST NIGHT
- Justin Schultz is getting better with his passing. I have noticed it two games in a row now, he is hitting the tape with more consistency—and leading his man with some open ice. He does not do it all the time, or even often—but it is improved. Seriously. For me, the last two games have been the most encouraging all year.
- Darnell Nurse is fun to watch. Hammered Skinner senseless down low in the first period, and several times during the game he curtailed a sortie urge and re-set by starting the play over again. A nice progression from a young player, this Nurse-Schultz combination is very mobile and they had some of the few successful headman passes on the night. Darnell is still too much the rambler, but that will take time to iron out.
- Andrej Sekera is a warm blanket on a cool January night. He passed and he shoveled and he hit and he blocked and he ran picks and he scored. I love his game.
- Brandon Davidson’s possession numbers are caving, but that slide has an explanation. He is playing big minutes with Sekera and a lot of their work begins without the puck. When everyone is healthy, could they run Nurse—Davidson behind Klefbom—Sekera? The lefty police will no doubt park signs on the backs of pickups on Kingsway, but it is worth a conversation.
- Brad Hunt had an interesting night to my eye. He has a little of the M-A Bergeron in him, good recovery even if he is beaten (Hunt did take a penalty but it was a tricky play to my eye, bouncing puck bounced just right). Five shots, he doesn’t seem to be hammering them currently, maybe trying to aim? Don’t know. This pairing cannot stand. Man.
- Eric Gryba had a difficult evening, although he can help with the cycle. The Hurricanes are not long on talent, but their forwards are big and have nine arms. The big man could tie up opponents, but needed help to secure possession in many cases. He can defend, but like Fayne is not a help in the Ozone. Starting him there (with Hunt) is pure protection, McLellan needs a better third pairing—in fact, he needs Nurse—Davidson as the third pairing.
CENTERS, LAST NIGHT
- Leon Draisaitl was the most dangerous man on the ice last night to my eye. When he gets that big transport out on the highway, the crowd swells in anticipation. He is an absolute load, piled on top of another load. Leon led the team with three individual high-danger scoring chances.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was less dangerous but had some moments, skated miles and ended up with an assist in a 1-0 game. Todd McLellan seems to be matching his line up against the tougher opponents at home, good results for the line despite not winning the possession battle. He remains the best ‘place and chase’ forward on the team.
- Mark Letestu had a good night in the defensive zone, I really like his ability to find the puck, gather it up and get it going in a good direction. Effective player, it takes time to appreciate what he brings but it is there.
- Anton Lander was noticeable in a good way on special teams, but he was in chase mode all night on the 5×5. Edmonton needs offense from him. His big PP chance came on a clear shot from the point that he just failed to tip. He has had a pained expression most of the season, tempted to call him Grimace.
- I always mention Matt Hendricks as a winger, but he was 9-2 in the circle last night.
WINGERS, LAST NIGHT
- Teddy Purcell is a very imaginative player. Great passer, but he also uses the best club available (made a couple of chip passes that were effective as well as strong long passes) for each sortie and I think he could easily have had a couple of points on a button-down evening. His anticipation is very good, bet McLellan loves him.
- Taylor Hall was fire as always, he had some nice looks and some dangerous moments. I think he was too unselfish in some cases (a drop back pass to Eric Gryba has to be a bad option no matter the situation) but he also skated miles in the name of defense. He is doing things without the puck we didn’t see a year ago.
- Jordan Eberle had some good chances (one point blank chance Ward caught up high) and had the puck on a string. This line has been doing good things lately.
- Benoit Pouliot seems to be returning to normal, his injury issue robbed him of some of the heavy play he provides for the line. Very good passer, I think that gets overlooked sometimes.
- Matt Hendricks and Lauri Korpikoski had a tougher than average evening because that Nestrasil guy is really strong on the puck. Drove the defenders mad, too. I don’t really know him, but he is going to be around a long time if he plays like this every night. As mentioned, Hendricks was important to the team in the faceoff circle. Korpikoski had one nifty offensive play where he faked pass and drove to the net. Surprised everyone in the house.
- Khaira and Klinkhammer were part of the Lander line and it wasn’t good. If Iiro Pakarinen is close to ready, we might see him slide in on Friday night.
Cam Talbot had a splendid game, not only stopping everything but looking good doing it. There were dangerous chances, too—War-On-Ice had Carolina with 14 high-danger scoring chances at the 5×5 (Edmonton with only 7). Talbot’s EV save percentage is up to .910 (Nilsson .918) and overall he is .910 (ranks No. 24) among starters with 15 or more trips to the starting gate. I like both goalies in the Edmonton net, Talbot is beginning to look like the player Peter Chiarelli thought he was getting at the draft.
- G Cam Talbot—22GP, 2.76 .910, looking strong in the last 10 games.
- G Anders Nilsson—22GP, 2.91 .908, had some big games early.
- G Eetu Laurikainen—Back in NA, he was money in Europe.
- D Andrej Sekera—40GP, 5-10-15 and a splendid addition to the porous blue.
- D Eric Gryba—36GP, 0-4-4 satisfies the need for a big man on the blue.
- D Griffin Reinhart—12GP, 0-0-0 and toiling in the minors (probably until the deadline).
- C Connor McDavid—13GP, 5-7-12, he’s getting closer.
- C Mark Letestu—41GP, 5-6-11, useful as a utility player, won the 3C job from Lander.
- L Lauri Korpikoski—33GP, 6-4-10, surprising offense, erratic checker.
Miles to go, and of course we don’t give credit for McDavid (the people of the city of Florida get that), but if Talbot can move that .910 up in the second half, Sekera can stay healthy and deliver as he has, and Letestu can come in handy, then last summer will have had some meaning.
Nilsson was also a solid bet, I wonder if they sign both goalies with an eye to keeping LB in the minors one more year. Interesting dynamic, a good NHL team probably wants great depth and since Brossoit has one more year of waiver ineligibility, perhaps it is an option worth contemplating.
— Paul Almeida (@AzorcanGlobal) January 5, 2016
Lagesson has been solid-to-excellent all tournament long, and speaks to that crazy oncoming defensive depth Edmonton will have for the coming years. Much of the top 20 list was blue, I wonder if we see some of that depth sent away at the deadline or near the draft.
"It was a chess match." Coach McLellan
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) January 5, 2016
I was at the game last night, so have not had a chance to read comments past this blog and a few things on twitter. Seems to me there are a few posts that don’t recognize the Hurricanes as being a good team. Hey, sometimes and eastern conference team is poor, but to my eye this Carolina group is well coached, tight as Archie Bell’s Drells, and no fun to play against. I would call their style stifling, and they played a good road game last night. The Oil kept rear gunner Faulk off the PP scoresheet and that Talbot fellow was splendid. This was not a Rembrandt, but it was two points. There is much to be praised this morning, beginning in goal, and Sekera, the Leon and Nuge lines, too. Hendricks. This team is injured in very important places and they have major holes on the active roster. Won. Let’s give some credit.