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After some questionable decisions in the off-season, notably trading assets to acquire a 38-year-old Duncan Keith and sticking with the two goaltenders who were outplayed in back-to-back early post-season exits, the Edmonton Oilers started their season 9-1-0, sitting second in the NHL on November 8. The team was finally looking like a top Stanley Cup contender.
It wasn’t long until the club started to falter. After a middling performance in its next stretch of games, Edmonton plummeted down the order when December rolled around, winning just two of 15 games between December 3 and January 20. They had fallen to 22nd in the NHL, only up on the Seattle Kraken in the Pacific Division.
Since the loss at the end of that skid — a 6-0 defeat on home ice at the hands of the Florida Panthers — they’ve strung three narrow wins together over their Canadian divisional rivals and most recently the Nashville Predators. Feeling much better about their game, they’ve travelled to Montreal looking to knock off the Canadiens for win number four and get back into the playoff race.
Tale of the Tape
|45.4% (29th)||Scoring-chances-for %||50.1% (18th)|
|2.21 (31st)||Goals per game||3.21 (11th)|
|3.79 (32nd)||Goals against per game||3.33 (22nd)|
|13.7% (31st)||PP%||28.8% (2nd)|
|72.6% (30th)||PK%||77.8% (20th)|
|5-2-2||H2H Record (20-21)||4-4-1|
Mikko Koskinen was in net for all six goals versus the Panthers in that loss, and that seems to have inspired him to play at a higher level. He has earned all three of the wins on the current streak, finishing no worse than a save percentage of .926. That’s a mark he didn’t achieve once during that nearly two-month-long slump when he was singled out by head coach Dave Tippett for the team’s woes.
Edmonton also averaged just 2.33 goals per game during that period, so there was more at play than just not stopping pucks. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were scoring slightly below a point-per-game rate, and the Oilers’ V2 engine can’t keep pace below those superstars’ peak performance. Not surprisingly, they have five points each during this run, and were responsible for the three winning goals.
It’s bad news for the Canadiens that the duo has shifted up a gear because Montreal has been having serious issues keeping the opponent’s best players off the scoreboard. Even versus the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, in one of the few games they’ve played well enough to earn a win this season, they couldn’t slow down Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras, who had points on four of the five goals their team scored.
Where the Canadiens did look outmatched in an otherwise solid performance last game was on the penalty kill, which looked very confused about how to defend and simply collapsed in close to goaltender Cayden Primeau. The result was plenty of space for Anaheim to zip passes around the zone, and a couple of goals through screens set up by the defending team.
The resurgence of the penalty kill was one of the few bright spots for the Habs following the return of Tyler Toffoli to the formation, and the strategy was shifted to a more effective, aggressive approach later in the game following two goals against in the first period. They will need to get on that same page again with the league’s second-best man advantage in town, led by the NHL’s top two power-play point-producers.