Tonight the Oilers take on the Coyotes in the Desert. Phoenix is not off to a great start (14th in the West) but they are coming off of a Win and they always seem to play the Oilers hard. Actually, as a team that was 30, 30, 29 in the past 3 years EVERY team seemed to play the Oilers hard. Still, the Oilers are only 2 points up on the Yotes and have been somewhat unpredictable in the early goings of the season.
It’s early in his career but Taylor Hall has 6 points in 6 games against Phoenix. If there was a game for Ryan Smyth to get offensively involved it it should be this one. In 59 games Smitty has 57 points. Doing better than that though is Hemsky. Hemmer has 34 points in only 29 games.
On the other side of the equation is Shane Doan. Doan (who everyone knows should have been drafted by the Oilers) has 54 points in his 57 games against the Oil. Nobody else on the club seems to enjoy putting up points against the Oil with enough regularity to call it a trend. Early in the season Steve Sullivan is making the most of limited minutes. He has 4 goals but averages only 14 minutes of ice time. He is shooting a whopping 40% right now. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is eating up lots of ice time right now. He’s averaging 24:40 after 6 games and has 5 points.
The Oilers have Peckham and Khabibulin on their 23 man roster for reasons not yet explained but I doubt either will start tonight. However there is always the chance that Krueger wants to give Khabi a chance to get in a game against weaker opposition and against his old club. I can only hope that Khabibulin can hold enough water to keep the Oilers close in the games he plays. I have absolutely no faith in him, but his playing is inevitable. Peckham is only going to get to play if injuries come up, and lets pray they do not.
Oilers Keys to the Game
1) Replicate the 1st Period against the Avalanche
The Oilers played a great 1st period against the Avalanche, limiting them to only 3 shots while directing 14 the other way. After that the game started to get away from them. The 2nd was a little more even but the 3rd was out of control. I think it’s fair to say that playing with a lead is foreign to the young Oilers, but they need to figure it out. Dubnyk cant be counted on to turn away 30+ shots.
2) Power Play Dominance
It’s official, the Oilers have the best Power Play in the NHL. As of right now they sit #1, cruising along at 35.7%. That number will go down (but what if it didnt, right?) as the season advances but they have a deadly collection of players to throw out against penalty killers every night. The Oil can come at teams in waves. The Coyotes really must pick their poison against 2 PP units that could be number 1 on most NHL clubs. The good news for Phoenix is that they have a 92.9% PK rate at home. Their Road numbers are gawd awful so the Oilers will be a good test to see whether or not that number is just a desert induced Mirage.
3) Contributions from the Bottom 6
Horcoff continues to do good things on the 1st unit Power Play, but Smyth hasnt been involved putting the puck in the net. As noted above, 94 has had a lot of success against the Coyotes so tonight could be his night to get things going. I look most forward to seeing if the Nordic Line (with Belanger) can pick up where they left off. They showed great Chemistry together last time and really created some mismatches when they were out there. They have elements of Speed and Size with enough scoring ability to at least chip in every once in a while. They were excellent against the Avalanche, I hope it stays that way against the Coyotes.
The puck drops at 7:30PM Mountain time on Sportsnet. Game On!