With no time to mull over whatever the fuck that was last night in Vancouver, the Hawks stay in Western Canada and head to its northern reaches in Edmonton, where they find an Oilers squad in a similar situation to themselves, with their season still stuck in second gear as well.
There were big things expected of the Oilers this year, coming off their first playoff birth in 10 years on the back of an MVP season from their messiah Connor McDavid. The Oilers currently have the West’s second worst record after Vancouver’s win last night, and that’s after a recent resurgence that saw them win 4 straight games in regulation before the Christmas break before losing to Winnipeg on Wednesday night. But as has been discussed at length, there just simply isn’t a lot here past RUN CMD and Draisaitl, and that’s even with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finally providing some manner of secondary scoring six years after being a one of the Oilers’ several hundred first overall picks. McJesus has dragged anthropomorphic outhouse Milan Lucic into competence into nearly a point a game player, but past that, there’s not a lot here, and it’s not a particularly fast outfit aside from McDavid and Draisaitl. Jesse Puljujarvi has been opposite Lucic on McDavid’s right, and has actually been productive since being slotted there, so the Oilers may have actually found something in yet another first round lottery pick.
Further down the lineup however is where the problem start to emerge. Draisaitl and RNH have been excellent, but their wingers flat out blow, unless Patrick Maroon does anything for anybody, which he doesn’t (and he will now have two goals this evening). Peter Chiarelli traded metrics darling Jussi Jokinen for the remains of Mike Cammalleri, who can still shoot but can’t really move (and really couldn’t ever move), and he’s now on the fourth line here, which makes all kinds of sense. But all told, this group still has the fourth best possession rate in the league and has been at or near the top the entire season, but it’s been mostly on the backs of their centers who have nothing but stone-handed dipshits to pass to.
Further complicating matters is that the Oilers really, really missed Andrej Sekera prior to his recent return from injury, which is not a good place to be in. Sekera is a fine #3-4 defenseman and can play any type of game asked of him, but he should not have to be the linchpin that holds an entire unit together. The Oilers are still waiting on Darnell Nurse to become Black Pronger, and this publication has minced no words about our collective belief that he could become just that. It appears that he’s finally rounding the corner, as he’s taking the top assignments while Kris Russell pulls his meatbag act and gets perforated with pucks. Adam Larsson now finds himself on the Oilers’ third pairing, which means they definitely came out on the better end of trading Taylor Hall for him straight up.
In net it will be Cam Talbot, because of course it’s going to be. Talbot started out the year quite rough, throwing a .904 in October and a .902 in November, but has found a bit of a groove of late with a .924 this month in December. Overall Talbot’s numbers still leave a bit to be desired, but a deeper dig shows that he’s not that far off his pace at even strength this year, holding a .920 at evens as opposed to his .927 last year. The big problem has been shorthanded, where he dropped from .874 to .824, and the results have led to the Oilers having the league’s dead last PK at a putrid 73.7%.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, were there not a game tonight, there would likely have been a bag skate today after what transpired in the back half of last night’s effort in Vancouver. All that can really be said is that it’s going to get late pretty early on this grouping if they can’t find a way to finish more of the chances they’ve been getting themselves, because Anton Forsberg and JEFF GLASS aren’t bailing out anyone with Corey Crawford hurt. With no morning skate today, the lineups could look like literally anything tonight to start, and then after about 3 shifts, so this ought to be a fun night of Q’s Blender in action.
These teams are thousandths of a percentage point away from one another near the top of the league in their share of attempts for at even strength, but the results just simply haven’t been there for either. With the Oilers’ best forwards being three-deep at center, and the Hawks’ center position in flux, this could end up being a long evening, particularly if Talbot is locked in. Tonight certainly has all the earmarks of the Hawks seemingly annual pecker-slapping they receive in Edmonton, where Toews gets his doors blown off by either McDavid or Draisaitl. It will take a drastic turnaround from last night to avoid that. Let’s go Hawks.
Game #37 Preview