December 15 – Day 69 – Wait, what did you say about the Oilers?

The Washington Capitals paid back the Pittsburgh Penguins for beating them in the Verizon Center in October by taking a 4-1 victory in Consol Energy Center in last night’s Game of the Day, spoiling Mike Sullivan’s debut.

Third Star of the Game Nicklas Backstrom scored his 10th goal of the season at the 3:53 mark of the first period after being assisted by Second Star T.J. Oshie and Karl Alzner.  The eventual game-winner was fired only 3:11 later when Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle assisted John Carlson to the Caps‘ final goal of the period.  Evgeni Malkin fired the lone goal of the game for the Pens at the 13:59 mark, assisted by Ben Lovejoy and Phil Kessel.  The 2-1 Washington lead held through both intermissions before expanding.

Oshie again found his way onto the stat sheet with his first of two goals in the final period.  He was assisted by Backstrom at the 8:50 mark to give the Caps a two-goal lead.  His second was a five-on-three power play goal, scored at the 19:11 mark after being assisted by Backstrom and Carlson.

First Star Braden Holtby saved 45 of 46 (97.8%) shots to improve his record to 19-4-1, while Marc-Andre Fleury (13-10-2) takes the loss after saving only 30 of 34 (88.2%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands 22-10-5 in favor of the home team, who lead the roadies by 17 points.

Tonight’s schedule is a busy one, with a total of 11 games being played.  Four get their start at 7 p.m. eastern (New Jersey at Buffalo [Bell TV], Florida at the New York Islanders, Edmonton at the New York Rangers and Carolina at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by two more (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS] and San Jose at Montréal [RDS]).  Starting at 8 p.m. eastern are three games involving the Central Division (Calgary at Nashville, Vancouver at Minnesota and St. Louis at Winnipeg), followed half an hour later by the two nightcaps of the evening (Colorado at Chicago [NBCSN] and Columbus at Dallas).

Four of tonight’s games involve division rivals (Carolina at Philadelphia, Tampa Bay at Toronto, St. Louis at Winnipeg and Colorado at Chicago), while another represents the lone matchup between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs: Edmonton at New York.  To commemorate the potential for Edmonton‘s first playoff push since falling in the Stanley Cup Finals to Carolina in 2006, let’s tune into the Oilers visiting the Rangers.

200px-Logo_Edmonton_Oilers.svgNew York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, you read that correctly.  The 14-15-2 Edmonton Oilers are currently qualifying for the playoffs.  Nevermind that three Pacific Division teams are technically tied for second place in the division and Edmonton narrowly leads Vancouver by Regulation+Overtime wins, focus more on the fact that Edmonton only needs Arizona to lose two games for the Oilers to officially move past them in the standings.  The future is bright for the Oil!

But how have they made it to this position?  Did Connor McDavid get healthy and the media not let us know? No, he still has near a month before he sees the ice again, but that has not stopped the squad from winning six games in a row coming into tonight’s matchup, including a 3-2 victory over Boston in the TD Garden last night.

So far this season, Edmonton‘s offense has been little more than average.  They’ve scored 80 goals so far, led by Taylor Hall’s 14 tallies, on 865 shots (led by Hall’s 124).  While the shot total trails the league average, the Oilers have made up for it by scoring on 9.2% of their attempts.

Even the power play has been average, as they’ve scored 18 goals on 95 attempts (six players have two goals, including Hall and McDavid), the same 18.95% the average team has earned.

The defense has been where Edmonton has really struggled this season.  Most teams have given up 79 goals so far this season: Anders Nilsson (10-7-1) and co. have given up a whopping 90.  This hasn’t been all the goaltenders’ fault though, as they’ve faced 913 shots already this season.  Oscar Klefbom has a team-leading 62 blocks, but the rest of the defense needs to do more to prevent opponents from putting so much pressure on their keeper.

Luckily, one of the saving graces of this defense has been their penalty kill.  They’ve given up 18 goals on 91 attempts for a 80.22% kill rate that is, once again, simply on par with the rest of the league.

Also, speaking of keepers and the like, it would be wrong to ignore 3-8-1 Cam Talbot who was such an important part of New York‘s season last year when King Henrik went down.  Unfortunately for him, he has not found the same success in Edmonton and has been again relegated to a backup position.

While it is exciting for the Oil to be in the position they’re in after years of futility, they face a stiff opponent this evening that will surely test their grit, as they head to Madison Square Garden to face the 18-9-4 New York Rangers, who currently own the third-best record in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.  With their eyes on a deep playoff run, even though they’re currently riding a three-game losing skid (including a 5-4 OT loss in Calgary on Saturday), the Blueshirts employ a strong game on both ends of the ice.

Beginning with the offense, we find a team that has scored 89 goals this season (led by Mats Zuccarello’s 13), well exceeding the league average of 79.  I usually say that goals are a symptom of a high quantity of shots, which still holds true with the Rangers‘ 878 total shots (led by Rick Nash’s 88), but I think this is actually an instance of impeccable and opportunistic shooting accuracy, made evident by a whopping 10.1% of shots tickling the twine.

The Blueshirts are an imposing offense when evenly matched, but their power play has been especially strong, as they’ve scored the league average of 18 goals on 12 fewer attempts (21.69%).  While Edmonton‘s penalty kill may be good, it would be in the Oil‘s best interest to avoid going down a man as much as possible.

Of course, we cannot talk about Nash, Zuccarello and the offense without discussing 14-6-3 Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers‘ defense. They’ve given up only 70 goals this season, and saved 959 shots (well exceeding the league average) for a 93.1% save percentage.  But it’s not been just King Henrik, but also the defense, specifically Dan Girardi and his 70 blocks.  Unfortunately for him, one of those blocks cost him a knee, as he is currently dealing with swelling in that spot and listed as day-to-day.

Just like Edmonton, New York is also good on the penalty kill.  They’ve faced 100 penalties already this season, and only allowed 16 goals.  That 84% kill rate exceeds the league average by over 3%.

The Blueshirts and Oil have already met once this season, a 7-5 Edmonton victory last Friday in Rexall Place.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Edmonton‘s Hall (34 points [tied for fourth in the league], +14 [tied for fifth in the league], 20 assists [tied for sixth in the league] and 14 goals [tied for eighth in the league]) and New York‘s Lundqvist (14 wins [tied for fourth in the league], .933 save percentage [tied for fourth in the league], two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league] and 2.14 GAA [ninth in the league]).

The Oilers may be hot and caught the Rangers on a long Canadian road trip last week, but I do not think they will be so fortunate in Madison Square Garden.  I expect the Rangers to easily take care of the Oil, potentially even shut them out, to break this losing skid.