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10 Big Questions that need answering about Stanley Cup aspirations of the Edmonton Oilers – Edmonton Journal

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Edmonton’s recent three games on the road, with two games against Toronto and one against Montreal, saw the Oilers get three points.

That’s not bad at all when facing two of top teams in the Canadian.

Even better, though, is that the trip should help the Edmonton Oilers answer some major questions about this year’s team heading into the April 12 NHL trading deadline.

Clearly, all is not well.

Despite getting the three points in three games, when it came to Grade A chances Edmonton had just 15 while the opposition had 42.

Something is amiss, not right, not clicking, not working out just now.

With Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse in their hockey-playing prime, this team should compete for the Stanley Cup each year. It doesn’t have a great opportunity to win this year, but it’s got a chance.

Edmonton has the 11th best winning percentage in the NHL. That’s good but not great.

Is there anything that can help this team turn the corner and become great in time for the 2021 playoffs?

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Let’s dig into 10 huge questions around the team:

1. Does Edmonton have the goaltending to make it out of the North Division in the 2021 playoffs?Yes. This was the biggest question mark heading into the season. So far, the answer is affirmative. Mike Smith has a .919 save percentage, the 15th best in the NHL this year, but the second best in the Canadian, behind only Jake Allen of Montreal at .920.

Connor Hellebucyk of Winnipeg is at .918. Thatcher Demko of Vancouver at .917, Carey Price at .906, Jacob Markstrom and Mikko Koskinen at .902.

A team will likely need two good goalies to go far into the playoffs, but if Smith stays healthy and keeps us this level of play, Edmonton’s goaltending is a decent bet to be solid as any other North Division team’s netminding in the playoffs. In case of injury, the Oilers have now added veteran goalie Alex Stalock.

2. Do Edmonton have solid depth forwards? 75/25. The depth forwards aren’t killing it but are hanging in there. In the past Edmonton was something of a one-line team. This year things have been somewhat better with Gaetan Haas, Josh Archibald, Jujhar Khaira, Tyler Ennis, Devon Shore and Alex Chiasson all providing useful two-way play on a fairly consistent basis.

Kyle Turris has struggled — his -11 goals plus-minus is no mirage — but others have generally stepped up and delivered at least adequate performances, in particular on defence. If there’s a centre who can win faceoffs, kill penalties and play shut down defence in the defensive slot, it might be worth it for Oilers to trade for such a player, but Haas and Khaira have played well enough that this isn’t any kind of top priority for Oilers GM Ken Holland.

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3. Does Edmonton have a No. 1 d-man?Yes. Darnell Nurse had some tough moments against Toronto and Montreal in his own zone. The weight of carrying Edmonton’s defence, as well as iffy defensive partner Tyson Barrie, looks like it might be catching up to him. But there is no doubt that Nurse has stepped us as a real No. 1 d-man this year. He’s handling the puck better, moving it more smartly and confidently in all zones. It might be time to put Ethan Bear back at his side, though, as Barrie’s defensive game has gone missing the last few games.

4. Does Edmonton have a solid Top 4 defence? 75/25. Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson are strong two-way NHL d-men against tough competition. Ethan Bear was one last year, and he’s again playing with more confidence and sharpness. Barrie is a fantastic passer of the puck, but his defence isn’t great. William Lagesson started out strong, but has faded both in terms of moving the puck, which was never his strength, and defending in his own zone, which was. To change up things, the Oilers can try Bear with Nurse again, and one of Kris Russell (who is playing some of his best hockey as an Oiler) or Caleb Jones with Larsson. There are enough internal options here that the Oilers should not have to trade for a Top 4 d-man at the deadline.

5. Does Edmonton have enough options on the current roster to answer all the questions on defence? Yes. Edmonton had decent options for the Top 4 but many solid options for the bottom pairing, including Lagesson, Jones, Barrie, Evan Bouchard and Theodor Lennstrom. There’s no shortage of NHL quality depth defenders on the roster.

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6. Have we found strong linemates for Connor McDavid? No. If not, is there an internal solution? 25/75. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have done well together this year, though we saw can happen to the Oilers in the last two games if Draisaitl and McDavid are paired up and the opposition successfully checks them. To win in the playoffs, they will each need to centre their own line.

We already know that a line of Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can excel, but who to play with McDavid if Oilers coach Dave Tippett were to again go that route? The one player who hasn’t been tried there is Domink Kahun, who has had OK results playing with Draisaitl. Kahun and McDavid have played just 15 even strength minutes together this year, whereas Kahun has played 297 even strength minutes with Draisaitl, with the Oilers scoring 13 goals and giving up 10 goals. Why not give Kahun a whirl with McDavid and either Jesse Puljujarvi, Zack Kassian or maybe even Yamamoto (moving Puljujarvi to the Draisaitl line)?  Kahun is a smart, clever and decent two-way player. Maybe he’s got the hockey IQ to fit in with McDavid. One thing for sure: Tippett will never know this unless he gives it a try. And if he gives it a try this week and it works, Edmonton may not be forced to give up major assets in a trade for a Top 6 winger at the deadline.

7. Are the Oilers a strong enough two-way team at even strength to win in the playoffs? 25/75. Edmonton has given up 296 Grade A chances at even strength this year but created 310. They’ve scored 90 even strength goals and given up just 81, and rank 14th in Goals For percentage at 52.6. That is good. These are signs of growth.

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The problem? Toronto ranks 4th overall at 57.4 per cent, Montreal ranks sixth at 56.7 per cent and Winnipeg ranks 11th at 53.8 per cent. Edmonton is closing in on the best even strength teams, but still lags a bit. This is where better lines and defensive pairings will help. And it’s why it’s necessary for Tippett to keep tinkering.

All that said, it’s worth noting that the Oilers are trending in the right direction here. Last season they gave up 173 and scored just 160 even strength goals, a 48 GF%, 25th overall in the NHL. Edmonton did this on 616 Grade A chances for at even strength, 643 Grade As against in 2019-20.

8. Can the Oilers kill off penalties well enough to advance? 50/50. Edmonton’s PK isn’t great but there isn’t a great PK in the Canadian. Edmonton ranks 19th overall in the NHL on the PK with a 77.6 clearance rate. The best playoff bound team in the Canadian is Winnipeg at 78.4 per cent, 17th in the NHL, just a wee bit better than Edmonton. Toronto ranks 20th at 77.3 and Montreal ranks 21st, 77.1.

In other words, no team has a clear advantage here, and the team that can step up its PK efficiency can gain an edge in the playoffs. Edmonton badly misses Riley Sheahan on the PK this year, but perhaps RNH, Khaira, Haas and Archibald can get in sync and start shutting down the opposition more effectively.

9. Is the power play going to get it done in the playoffs? Yes. Edmonton has the sixth best power play in the NHL with a 25.9 success rate, but it’s just behind Toronto at 26.0 per cent and Winnipeg, 26.2. Montreal ranks 14th overall at 22.7. In other words, all the playoff teams in the Canadian will have strong-to-outstanding power plays. Which one will get hot at the right time in the playoffs? I would not bet against McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH and Barrie.

10. Does the team have to add at the trading deadline in order to win in the playoffs? 75/25. Unless Kahun steps up at McDavid’s side, and with Dylan Holloway out for six weeks with injury and with Tyler Benson still inexplicably down on the farm, it looks like Edmonton should be in the market for a veteran Top 6 winger for April 12. It should be noted that this winger does not have to be any kind of all-star. The most important things are that he can a) take and make a pass b) defend smartly, including in the defensive slot and c) has a high hockey IQ. It’s worth noting that Kahun likely has all these attributes, which is why I’m keen to see him get a few games with McDavid. And if Kahun is with McDavid, that means RNH and play with Draisaitl, a combination we know works well at even strength.

P.S. As for McDavid’s $5,000 fine from the NHL, it was warranted for his elbow at Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi. If it was the other way around, we’d certainly be calling for the NHL to take action against Kotkaniemi. At the same time, given the mauling that McDavid takes, and the NHL permits, I was glad to see the player snap and take his own self-preservation into his own hands. If the NHL won’t stand up for McDavid, he’ll have to do it himself, even if that means crossing a line now and then.

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Buffalo News columnist Mike Harrington @ByMHarrington
Oilers fans need to understand that just because Connor McDavid takes an unnecessary beating at times, it doesn’t give him license to commit a dangerous foul. Enough already. The two aren’t connected. Good lord.

Oilers blogger Jason Adams @AdamsOnHockey
Drew Doughty, elbow to the face of Connor McDavid

– targets the head
– head is principal point of contact
– it’s in retaliation to a crosscheck

No penalty, no fine. 🐸☕️

Montreal hockey analyst Marc Dumont @MarcPDumont @ScoutingTheRefs
Here’s my take, with as little bias as possible considering my employer:

I don’t care that it was McDavid. I just want all headshots, including the ones on McDavid, to be suspension-worthy. No more excuses, no more justification on dirty hits. Just call them. ALL OF THEM.

Oilers Now Bob Stauffer @Bob_Stauffer
IMO the NHL does not protect their stars the way the NBA and NFL does.
So star players, like Connor McDavid, have to “create” their own space. And McDavid’s elbow last night pales in comparison to a Howe of the 60’s, Messier of the 80’s or Bure on Churla in the 90’s.

Sports lawyer Eric Macramalla @EricOnSportsLaw
If Tom Wilson delivered that same hit on McDavid, he would be playing hockey in Siberia right about now….McDavid should have been suspended for this hit. Instead, he was fined $5000. This is precisely the type of hit that the NHL needs to eradicate from the game. We know these hits can cause irreparable brain damage.

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Toronto commentator Sid Seixeiro @Sid_Seixeiro
Connor McDavid’s had to deal with officials not protecting him for years. If he wants to throw an elbow now and again I’m fine with it.

Chicago hockey columnist Mark Lazerus @MarkLazerus
Connor McDavid makes $14 million this season. A $5,000 fine is the equivalent of a $17.86 fine to someone making $50,000.

This HAS to be renegotiated in the CBA. It’s nonsense.

Edmonton Journal hockey writer Derek Van Diest @DerekVanDiest
There’s nothing much here. The main point of contact was on Kotkaniemi’s arm and then he sells it when McDavid’s elbow come up and grazes his face. The fine is appropriate, but there isn’t anything suspendible here IMO.

PJ Stock @PJStock28
I know a lot of u are trying your best to defend Connor McDavid for this hit and say that he doesn’t deserve a suspension…If anyone else does this to him you’re all screaming murder. Late. Retaliation. Intent. Hit to head. Someone explain why his elbow is that high?

At the Cult

LEAVINS: Some sad and sorry game grades for Oilers vs Habs

STAPLES: Mike Smith helps steal a win out of Toronto

McCURDY: Struggling Kyle Turris gets a push

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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