After the Edmonton Oilers went 27 consecutive games without holding their opponents to one or zero goals, they’ve done so in consecutive games under new head coach Jay Woodcroft. The Oilers won in dominating fashion against a San Jose Sharks team that is also trying to climb back into the playoff picture 3-0.
It was also Evander Kane‘s return to San Jose, hearing boos every time he touched the puck. He was impactful in the game, recording four shots and a hit while hanging around the net. His legs are finally starting to come back, as Kane looks faster and more explosive than he has until this point with the Oilers.
The Oilers outshot the Sharks 41-20 and are nearly perfect in the two games with solid defence, tons of effort, and a lot more chances from the younger players on the team. There were many power-play chances at both ends with nothing to show for it from either team. Good news for the Oilers’ penalty kill that has struggled lately, but not so great for the power play that is looking to get back to its former dominance. The team is starting to play a more structured and controlled game defensively, something they really needed to get into good form this season.
Oilers Run 11 Forwards, 7 Defence Again
Don’t fix what isn’t broken. The Oilers stuck to the same lineup that they iced in their previous matchup against the New York Islanders, minus a goaltending change. This may be the new system in Edmonton since it gets all seven defencemen on the active roster playing time every game, and someone who probably should’ve been scratched in more games over this last stretch, Devin Shore, time in the press box.
The way the top three lines and then Tyler Benson and Ryan McLeod are set up, it allows Woodcroft to get many different looks with the young duo who have played very well for him in the past on the Bakersfield Condors. Since a top player is usually on the line with them, it also gets them more ice time per game and not just sitting on the bench waiting for a fourth-line matchup. Sending out a dynamic player also gives them the opportunity to play off of their skill and elevate their game.
Either or both Markus Niemelainen and Philip Broberg‘s time is limited in the NHL for both of their second stints this year, as Duncan Keith isn’t expected to remain out for the entire rest of the season. As he coached and gave both deserved opportunities in the American Hockey League (AHL), both are getting and should continue to get the same in the NHL until one stands out from the other. Then we might see Woodcroft run his lines with 12 forwards once again.
Opportunities for Younger Players
Immediately we’ve seen the impact and the opportunities the young players on the Oilers who have spent time with Woodcroft in the AHL have gotten. The first and best example is what I’ve briefly discussed above, the Oilers going with seven defence in the second consecutive game so that both Niemelainen and Broberg could get in the games.
Their call-ups came at the same time as Woodcroft taking over as interim head coach, so it was no wonder why he would want those two young players over Slater Koekkoek who is a bit older.
Benson is another player who has been getting much more opportunity to play. He was dressed for his second straight game after sitting for seven and is showing more patience, poise, and confidence with the puck in his own end and the offensive zone. He has really picked up the physicality despite a smaller stature. Watch for Benson to remain in the lineup and continue to at least get fourth-line shifts for a good number of the remaining games.
McLeod has also been given a larger role, as he was one of four Oilers’ forwards to log more than three minutes on the penalty kill, a kill that went perfect in four chances. No defender played less than 14 minutes, and Niemelainen, Broberg, and William Lagesson all spent at least 1:30 on the ice while shorthanded. The spreading out of the ice time keeps everyone in the game, gives every player a fair chance to show how they can play, and allows the top defencemen to get a bit more rest and play at a higher level all game.
Stuart Skinner Earns First Career Shutout
Stuart Skinner got the call last night and earned his first career shutout in his 13th start and the first shutout of the season for the Oilers. He only had to make 20 stops, but early on in the game when the Sharks were outshooting the Oilers 6-0, he had to step up and stop some high-danger chances.
As the game went on, the defence tightened up. With the new assistant coach Dave Manson who also came up with Woodcroft from Bakersfield, the high-danger chances and easy lanes to the net are being worked on to be cut down. This gives the goaltenders a better opportunity each night to make the save if they are in a good position.
Skinner has been up and down all year between the AHL and the NHL with Mike Smith getting injured three times and now Mikko Koskinen in COVID protocol. Skinner performed exceptionally well in the minors with the system the Condors have in place, so there’s a better chance more of that carries over the more starts he gets. Technically the Oilers’ third-string goaltender, Woodcroft didn’t have to start Skinner when the team had two days off, but chose him to get an opportunity before he is most-likely sent back down again.
If this is a snippet of how the Oilers are going to perform every night, they will do just fine in the playoff race and for the future. The Oilers’ next game comes Tuesday, Feb. 15 vs. the Los Angeles Kings in the second of a back-to-back make-up game.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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