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Oilers must ‘figure out’ even-strength play as struggles persist – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — Dave Tippett takes Leon Draisaitl away from Connor McDavid. Then he puts him back.

Now, with the Pittsburgh Penguins in town for a high-profile, Friday night visit, the Edmonton Oilers head coach has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins up on McDavid’s left side, with Zack Kassian on the right. Draisaitl will centre the second line, with James Neal and Sam Gagner.

The blender is out, and the players know what’s going on here. Everybody does.

“Five-on-five, we’ve got to find a way to produce more,” admits Nugent-Hopkins, who has just six goals and 18 points this season, with only two goals at even strength. “Definitely myself is included in that. I’ve got to find a way to produce. There have been lots of chances here and there, but none have gone in the net.

One look down the Oilers lineup tells the story. Only two players are on the good side of plus-minus: Kris Russell (plus-1) and Zack Kassian (plus-8).

Oscar Klefbom is at minus-18. James Neal is minus-16. McDavid is at even while Draisaitl is at minus-7 — not what you’d expect of the league’s top-two scorers.

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One issue is the defensive play by those two stars. It was McDavid’s man who scored the game-winning goal in St. Louis, a defensive lapse that hurts when your team captain is the one making it.

“That goal was addressed this morning,” Tippett said at his Friday morning availability. “When you just look at that goal, it looks like Connor was late getting back and getting his man. There were a pile of issues before that occurred.

“On the rush read, Draisaitl should have went over instead of Nurse on the wall. When he doesn’t go there, it goes to the back of the net and it would have left Nurse in front of the net. It goes to the back of the net and Bear got beat by O’Reilly behind the net. In the meantime, Draisaitl comes back and swung through the slot and Kassian swung through the other way and McDavid was the last guy, the last-ditch effort to try to get the guy. There were lots of issues before that.”

Outside of defensive lapses, the lack of even strength production tells us two things about this Oilers team. The power play is excellent; but at five-on-five, there isn’t nearly enough juice.

“We cannot expect our power play to win games for us every night,” said Klefbom, fresh off picking up his mom, dad and sister at Edmonton International Airport, where they flew in from Sweden for the holidays. “It’s been winning a lot of games, but I think that’s not the way to success. We need to figure out how to play five-on-five. Especially when you play teams like St. Louis, like Boston and Washington, the five-on-five game has to be there.”

The Oilers have just 66 five-on-five goals, which is tied with the Vancouver Canucks for 21st in the NHL.

If the power play, which leads the league at 30.3 percent, wasn’t so strong, this team would be in trouble. And when the Oilers don’t connect with a man advantage, as was the case against St. Louis, they lost almost every time.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

“I think one of the best ways to play defence is go play in the other team’s end. That’s kind of what we’re trying to build to,” said Sam Gagner, who has moved up and down the lineup but gets very little power play time on the second unit.

That means forwards must get open early for defencemen, so breakout passes can be clean. Then those forwards have to make the right play in the neutral zone so the puck gets into the offensive zone, rather than coming back to your own goaltender on an odd-man rush.

Those neutral zone mistakes cost the Oilers both goals in the 2-1 loss at St. Louis. It was a game of big-boy hockey, where very few mistakes made — but those that were proved costly.

“We need to be a team that drives play into the other team’s end,” Gagner said. “The next step for us is getting to the blue paint and create some second-chance opportunities. It feels like goals come from that.

“Once you get the puck you’ve got to keep it, and go play in the other team’s end.”

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New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job

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The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.

The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.

A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.

Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.

He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.

He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.

The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.

Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.

–Field Level Media

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NHL wants answer on Canada border crossing soon

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The NHL has asked the Canadian government for a decision by June 1 about U.S. teams crossing the border during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ESPN reported Friday.

 

The Canadian teams played only each other during the 2020-21 season in a revamped North Division because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will continue during the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s what happens after that — in the semifinals and finals — that is up in the air.

 

“The conversations are ongoing. We’ve told them we really do need to know by the end of the first round, and that’s around June 1,” Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer, told ESPN. “That’s pretty much the date that we’ve talked to them about, saying we have to know one way or another.”

 

Last season, the playoffs were held in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.

 

Under current rules, American-based teams couldn’t play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would make travel for home-and-away games impossible under the playoff calendar.

 

The NHL and government representatives last talked a week ago, and the Canadian officials submitted a variety of questions for the league’s response.

 

In the interim, Mayer said, the league has discussed the possibility of the Canadian team that advances from the North Division being based in the U.S. for the duration of the postseason. Talks have occurred with officials at NHL arenas where teams didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

 

An NHL source told ESPN this week that the league expects “a positive resolution” to the issue, however.

 

–Field Level Media

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Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.

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As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.

Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.

The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.

Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.

Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.

As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.

“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.

“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”

-Field Level Media

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