The Edmonton Oilers had their legs but not their sharpness in the first, looked all world in the second, and were beaten soundly by a better team in the third. Leafs ran a little luck early and late, and a pick on 97 in overtime. That’s the game summary.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.
- New Lowetide: Scouring the hockey world for a left winger for the Oilers’ skill line
- Lowetide: How the Oilers could benefit at the trade deadline from relaxed quarantine rules
- Lowetide: Every major transaction Ken Holland has made as Oilers GM
- Jonathan Willis: Five questions the Oilers need to answer by the NHL trade deadline
- Lowetide: Carter Savoie’s college season suggests Oilers could have a real goal scoring prospect
- Lowetide: Has Oilers goalie prospect Stuart Skinner turned a corner?
- Lowetide: Where does Zack Kassian fit on the Oilers, now and in the future?
- Lowetide: Oilers’ midseason depth chart informs their needs for trade deadline and beyond
- Jonathan Willis: A position-by-position look at the Oilers after 30 games
- Lowetide: How will Oilers GM Ken Holland make room in the lineup for Evan Bouchard?
- Lowetide: Are the Oilers and Elvis Merzlikins a trade match?
- Lowetide: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dominik Kahun, Dylan Holloway and a perfect storm on the Oilers’ left side
- Lowetide: Why Oilers GM Ken Holland shouldn’t wait for the deadline to make a trade
- Lowetide: Three Oilers prospects form hottest line in the AHL
- Lowetide: Oilers’ top 20 prospects, trade deadline edition
- Lowetide: Why are some Oilers fans hesitant to give Darnell Nurse his due?
- Jonathan Willis: Can Oilers improve enough to beat TML it in May?
- Lowetide: Top trade targets for the Oilers at the 2021 deadline
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers 2021 trade value rankings
- Lowetide: Is this peak Connor McDavid?
OILERS AFTER 35 GAMES
- Oilers in 2015-16: 15-18-2, 32 points; goal differential -15
- Oilers in 2016-17: 18-12-5, 41 points; goal differential +6
- Oilers in 2017-18: 16-17-2, 34 points; goal differential -7
- Oilers in 2018-19: 18-14-3, 39 points; goal differential +1
- Oilers in 2019-20: 18-13-4, 40 points; goal differential -2
- Oilers in 2020-21: 21-13-1, 43 points; goal differential +16
A point on the road is an acceptable result, although the Oilers were up by two goals going into the third and that’s a concern always. The team projects to post 69 points over the full 56-game schedule that’s a playoff team. I expect Edmonton finishes third in the Canadian division. That’s justice.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM MARCH
- At home to: Toronto, Toronto, Calgary (Expected: 1-1-1) (Actual 1-2-0)
- At home to: Ottawa, Ottawa, Ottawa (Expected: 2-1-0) (Actual 3-0-0)
- On the road to: Vancouver, Calgary, Calgary (Expected: 2-1-0) (Actual 1-2-0)
- At home to Winnipeg, Winnipeg (Expected: 1-1-0) (Actual 2-0-0)
On the road to: Montreal, Montreal, Montreal (Expected 2-1-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- On the road to: Toronto, Toronto (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 0-0-1)
- Overall expected result: 7-5-1, 15 points in 13 games
- Current results: 7-4-1, 15 points in 12 games
When I ran the numbers before the month began (game-by-game) and looked at the final totals, I thought this was too aggressive. Sometimes I’ll go back and turn a win into a loss, giving a game back to the field to fit the overall feel of the season.
As it turns out, with one game left in March (that we know of today), the Oilers covered my bet top dead center. This Oilers team has some grit, along with the elite talents and the department of youth.
LINES, LAST NIGHT
- McDavid-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi played 16:46, going 8-5 shots, 2-1 goals, 1-1 HDSC and 16-12 Corsi five on five. I think this trio played well, they were up against Muzzin-Holl and the Mathews line most often. McDavid had two assists, Draisaitl wemt 1-2-3 and Jesse Puljujarvi had a couple of great looks. JP is getting his chances, he needs more of them to cash a goal five on five and you can live with that if his five on five on-ice goal differential (23-19) is a positive. I wouldn’t change this line, even though they have to soon.
- Kahun-Nuge-Yamamoto played 10:58, going 3-8 shots, 0-1 goals, 0-4 HDSC and 5-14 Corsi five on five. This line has to be better, I expect Ken Holland will want to add a LW but that likely won’t happen before the summer. There wasn’t much happening for anyone in this group, beyond going chase mode against the Tavares line and Rielly-Brodie duo. Tippett needs to tweak this line. Yamamoto was the most effective in the group.
- Kahun received a terrific pass from Ethan Bear on the second GA but failed to get it deep. The puck was turned over with everyone going the wrong way. Kris Russell couldn’t contain his man, Ethan Bear was the victim of a fantastic Alex Galchenyuk pass to John Tavares and that’s all she wrote. The goal came with too much time on the clock and it cost Edmonton a point. Kahun has to be better than that if he wants to keep his job.
- Kassian-Haas-Archibald played 9:25, going 2-3 shots and 5-5 Corsi five on five. A low-event line, this was clearly the second-best trio on the evening. Kassian was quite effective, I thought he played well enough to get a look on a skill line, and he did get 1:19 with 97-29. Kassian hammered Tavares like the Leafs No. 91 was the last spike and the cameras were rolling and Pierre Berton was there to write it all down. Haas turned the puck over a couple of times but played well otherwise (including PK). Archibald was credited with nine hits (!!!) meaning he chased all night but in theory wore down the opposition. Also solid on the PK.
- Shore-Khaira-Chiasson played 5:34, going 1-1 shots, 0-1 HDSC and 1-4 Corsi five on five. This was another low-event line, each man making good plays but getting very little done offensively. One play I did notice came when Khaira found the puck along the far boards in his own zone at the end of Edmonton running around for about 25 seconds. He calmed the waters by waiting, allowing the waves back out to sea, and then began the climb north. Effective play at a time when the team needed it.
PAIRINGS AND GOALIE
- Nurse-Barrie played 18:46, going 9-7 shots, 3-0 goals, 2-1 HDSC and 16-14 Corsi five on five. Nurse’s goal was gorgeous, the big man looks terrifying I’m sure to opponents when he’s gained clearance and is storming down the left side like a modern Frank Mahovlich. Nurse, with 11 goals, is tied with Jeff Petry and Aaron Ekblad for the NHL lead among defensemen. He leads the league in even-strength goals (11) by a defenseman. Barrie is second among blue in points (32). His goal might have been prettier than Nurses’ when you consider Leon’s pass to the slot. Nurse had a couple bounce in off of him, I’d tear him a new one but to me he was right place wrong time on both tallies.
- Russell-Bear played 14:31, going 5-7 shots, 0-1 goals, 0-2 HDSC and 10-15 Corsi five on five. Russell had one takeaway and a couple of shot blocks, couldn’t contain on the second goal against but that was a jailbreak disaster brought on by the Kahun mistake. He didn’t handle the puck well at all. Bear was sublime in his passing, even though nothing came of it and Kahun wasted one of them by not getting the puck deep. You know, it’s one thing to say Bear isn’t helping with the offense, but honestly if you go back and look at that game, the headman passes are there. The execution from forwards is the culprit. Bear had a rock solid game.
- Lagesson-Larsson played 13:33, going 1-6 shots, 0-1 goals, 0-3 HDSC and 5-12 Corsi five on five. This pairing had a humbling experience out there in the wild streets of Toronto. Lagesson needs to be quicker in making decisions and better in puck management. I was happy to see the coach use him here, because if you’re going to expose/trade Caleb Jones, better know what you’re getting yourself into with the young Swede. He did not pass the test last night. If the Oilers were all-in this season, Holland might make a move at this spot before the deadline. Larsson was injured (it looked like) on a shot block but didn’t miss a shift. He was not as effective as he has been recently but has been a big reason for Edmonton’s recent success.
- Mike Smith stopped 27 of 31, .871 but was far better than the numbers show on the night. I think you can point the finger on the first goal against (badly misjudged a fly ball), but after that it was either point blank or severe luck. Is now 11-3-1 with a .918SP on the year.
Last night after the game, I saw lots of takes that had plenty of finality to them. “Lagesson can’t play” was followed by “Kahun stinks!” and “Nuge is a nightmare at five on five” and so on.
For me, the Oilers looked eager but the timing was off coming out of the gate. The stars were splendid in the second period, scoring wonderful goals on stunning setups.
The first goal against was a fluke but you need the goalie to stop that puck. The second goal was the key to the loss, Kahun can’t ponder there, puck had to be gone right away. Blame Russell, Bear and Smith all you want on that play, the skill shown by the Leafs there was fantastic.
Third goal bad bounce, winning goal fluke. Coach is mad because he remembers the first period and guesses (correctly in my opinion) the Oilers had the jump but not the execution and could have been out in front after one.
For me, each of these games is like a chapter in several books. In the book of William Lagesson, now 15 chapters (or games) in, with his five on five goal differential (8-6) running counter to all of his possession indicators in the discipline. He is 0-4 in his last four games, and the club may be ready to either slide Caleb Jones in or make a trade (not likely).
The Dominik Kahun story is 29 chapters in, and the young veteran is under the gun. Based on his brief career to this point, he should have delivered 4.4 five on five goals after 29 games (he has five). He is 13-16 five on five goal differential while he’s on the ice this season, not great but nothing close to a disaster.
In my opinion, the Lagesson audition is worthwhile because it’s informing the coach about what he has in this player. The Kahun bet isn’t close to a failure, in fact I’d suggest bringing him back for at least another year is a good idea.
The Nuge scoring five on five issue is the one area that was discussed last night that has real merit. Without McDavid or Draisaitl, Nuge isn’t as effective. Here, using the line tool at Natural Stat Trick, let me run the numbers with each of the big three solo (all numbers five on five percentage):
- Draisaitl solo: 358 minutes, 46.29 Corsi, 46.84 Shots, 60.00 Goals (15-10)
- Nuge solo: 100 minutes, 45.14 Corsi, 42.86 Shots, 42.86 Goals (3-4)
- McDavid solo: 75 minutes, 47.62 Corsi, 52.86 Shots, 37.50 Goals (3-5)
What to make of this? Well I’m not an expert but understand why Tippett thought running Draisaitl solo was a fine idea. The expected goals (McDavid 52, Nuge 48, Leon 45.8) further confuse. My takeaway is that Nuge at $6.5 times five is too much by plenty, but that’s going to be a very unpopular take. Possibly impossible for Holland to avoid that contract. Honestly.
I didn’t want this morning to pass by without mentioning the two assists from last night. McDavid’s pass to Leon is worthy of a Zapruder breakdown (“back and to the right”) and I’m still convinced it was impossible. Leon’s pass drives home just how talented this big man is with the puck on his stick.
Special players. Giants roam in our town.