The Oilers are back in action tonight as they take on the Western Conference leading Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In the two previous meetings between the clubs, the Oilers have won both games and outscored Vegas 11-4.
Those games don’t tell the real story, though.
What’s true is that the Vegas Golden Knights are a pretty good team, and the Oilers aren’t.
The Oilers have played under 0.500 for most of the season, while the Golden Knights have winning records at home and away.
Vegas is 24-7-1 against the West, while the Oilers have won 10 fewer in-conference games.
The only place the Oilers are close to Vegas is in the division record, where they are an astounding 10-5-0 (VGK is 13-1-1, with both losses at the hands of the Oilers).
With 78 points in 56 games, it’s entirely possible that Vegas currently has more points than the Oilers will end up with.
On paper, this game isn’t close.
Keys to the Game
- Score the first goal. The Oilers have allowed a goal on the first shot against 10 times this season, and another 10 goals within the first 6 shots. They haven’t lost all of those games, but they certainly haven’t won many that way. It’s like playing from the blue tees when you should be playing from the whites.
- Stay out of the penalty box. The Oilers aren’t good at killing penalties, and so if they don’t take them, they can’t get scored on.
- Score the first goal. It’s been a good strategy against the Oilers so far this season.
- Force the Oilers to take penalties. Their road PK is markedly better than the home PK, but it’s not great, and is overall only successful 70.9% of the time. That’s abysmal.
Players to Watch
- Always watch Connor McDavid. He’s got this ability to play like a video game cheat code, and that’s pretty remarkable. With a large contingent of Oiler fans down in Vegas for the game, hopefully he can put on a show.
- William Karlsson is having himself a season. So is Jonathan Marchessault. And Alex Tuch. And The Real Deal James Neal.
It’s actually been pretty amazing watching a team of 2nd and 3rd liners play in front of a billion different goaltenders and win 37 games. Who knows. Maybe George McPhee knew what he was doing all along?
Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Ryan Strome
Milan Lucic – Leon Draisaitl – Michael Cammalleri
Anton Slpyshev – Jujhar Khaira – Jesse Puljujarvi
Iiro Pakarinen – Mark Letestu – Zack Kassian
Darnell Nurse – Brandon Davidson
Oscar Klefbom – Kris Russell
Yohann Auvitu – Matt Benning
Reilly Smith – William Karlsson – Jonathan Marchessault
David Perron – Erik Haula – James Neal
Oscar Lindberg – Cody Eakin – Alex Tuch
Tomas Nosek – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Ryan Carpenter
Brayden McNabb – Nate Schmidt
Deryk Engelland – Shea Theodore
Colin Miller – Brad Hunt
Andrej Sekera is on injured reserve.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on injured reserve.
Adam Larsson is out of the lineup indefinitely.
None of these things are good for the team, but yesterday I found myself following an interesting Twitter debate regarding Larsson’s efficacy at defending. Turns out it’s not as good as once hoped. He’s a serviceable defenceman, but on top of taking a number of penalties (13 minors in 41 games so far), he’s not been that great at preventing the puck from getting to the net.
It’s not a knock on Larsson, who is performing more or less the same as he did in New Jersey and is what a number of people thought he was (which is a serviceable 2nd pair defenceman). It’s just been clear over the last little while that the Oilers don’t really miss him in the lineup all that much.
With Sekera out, it’ll be interesting to see where this d-corps goes.