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The Good, the D and the bottom 6!

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NHL: Player Headshots 2021
I haven’t seen him on the scoresheet so I wanted to see what he looked like.
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the 8 game reviews. Normally, the first 8 game review isn’t that pressing because we play 82 games. However, this is the equivalent of roughly 12 games. For a reminder, I wrote this article with my predictions before the season began. It was a mixed bag. I was definitely right about one thing (our D is bad) and I was definitely dead wrong about something else (our bottom 6 is fixed).

First 8 games, 3 wins and 5 losses for 6 points.

The Good!

Welcome to being a regular Top 6 NHL player Kailer Yamamoto! Any fears of ‘sophomore slump’ are so far non existent. He’s consistently been one of our 4 best forwards and has been outstanding.

Connor McDavid is currently leading the NHL in scoring with 12 points. His two way play has been good and he is routinely tilting the ice.

Leon Draisaitl is currently tied for third in league scoring with 11 points. He has been outstanding.

RNH is also having a very solid start with 7 points in 8 games.

Darnell Nurse is also having a very strong start. I know people don’t like him or cheer against him but he’s been our best D by a country mile so far. He leads the D in points with 6 (2nd place is 2 points), +/-. TOI, assists, (by over 3 minutes), GP, Even strength points, Powerplay points, shots and he plays in all situations. I was concerned about him having to take on more but, so far, he has delivered.

The North Division is fantastic. We have hockey in the height of wave 2 in the Pandemic every night. Oil play 3 or 4 times a week! The NHL has pulled it off so far (for the most part). There is a joke going around that if you look at your teams schedule and don’t see any easy games coming up then your team is the easy game for someone else.

We are very close to a playoff spot! As of this writing we are 4th in the North and in a playoff spot. By Points Percentage we are 5th. It has not been a great start but we are close and a turnaround could easily keep us in a playoff hunt. If we can get the PP clicking, improve the PK and get a few guys rolling we might be able to stay in contention and rise up in the North.

That’s it for the good. There is definitely some and I still do think we finish top 4.

I want to mention Koskinen and JP here.

I know most have JP as good and are thrilled he’s in the Top 6 now. I am too and think he has played well but 2 points in 8 games is not very good. Especially considering he has been given PP time and Connor time. My big observation is that he’s a bigger Kailer with very little finishing ability. He seems to be great at getting to the puck, creating havoc, getting to the blue paint and tilting the ice. All that is exceptional. However, he also is third on the team in shots with 25 shots and a 0 percent shooting percentage. I honestly can’t remember many 10 bell saves or absolutely great shots from him out of those 25. Maybe if he scores one the floodgates will open but, to me, he is an ice tilting, high volume shooting, big bodied, long stick and super fast player but not an elite point producer. He is by far our best option in the Top 6 and I hope it works out for him.

I don’t blame Koskinen for any of this. I thnk he has played fine. Not too many stinkers. He is playing every second of every game so far. He has a very bad D in front of him. He has a very bad bottom 6 in front of him. However, I can’t put him in the good either because I can’t think of one game he’s stolen for us and it’d be nice if he could steal 1 or 2 every so often.

The Bad

Our D is in bad shape. Before the season began I was very concerned that we did nothing to address the loss of our best Dman on the Left Side. I was concerned Nurse would not be able to move up. I pointed out that going from the Bottom 6 to the Top 4 is very challenging and Caleb Jones might not be able to handle it. The only person I wasn’t concerned about was Larsson as the number 4 in the top 4.

Well, Nurse has stepped up and done great. Larsson is no longer in the top 4 (does lead all D with 2 goals though, he only scored 1 last year) and did not handle it at all. Jones did, indeed, not handle the Top 4 well at all and has been a healthy scratch a lot. Bear has struggled as well and also been healthy scratched. To add to the madness, Slater Koekoek has been in the top 4 and a healthy scratch. Kris Russel has been a healthy scratch and in the Top 4 as well.

One thing I was told repeatedly was that the addition of Tyson Barrie on the right side will help alleviate the loss of Klefbom on the top pair and left side. I was quite skeptical of how a third pair, power play specialist on the right side would help stop the bleeding from Klefbom’s absence (top pair, 24 a night, played in all situations, anchor on the best Powerplay in decades). I was repeatedly informed that Barrie is not a power play specialist, that he is elite and he is not a bottom pairer. Well, 8 games into the season and Barrie has not helped that powerplay at all, is not doing well at 5 on 5 and has 2 points to go along with a minus 4. To my eyes, he hasn’t helped the PP or the 5 on 5. I do agree that he is not a powerplay specialist at least. Currently, he’s a guy blocking Evan Bouchard. His last game saw him with 14 minutes (last amongst D) and with no PP time. If he’s not contributing offence and on the PP then he’s not contributing in a positive way. He might be the next healthy scratch to be honest. I’m all for it if it means we finally see Evan Bouchard. Should also be pointed out Nurse had to play 29 minutes in his last game, 9 more minutes than the next guy (Larsson). There is a serious problem on D. All the healthy scratches and ‘blender work’ are not helping at all. Most our D seem very 1 dimensional. They can block shots and collapse well OR they can make passes and skate well. However, we don’t have many that can do both well.

I feel it’s worth repeating why it is so hard to go from bottom pair to Top 4 here. Picture you are on the bottom pair and playing the Oil. You would be spending 10 to 14 minutes playing our bottom 6 for the most part. That’s a nice gig, pretty easy to look good. Now imagine you get promoted to Top 4 against us. Now you’re playing 14 to 20 minutes a night against the Drai line or the Connor line. See the difference?

The reality is that we are in trouble when Nurse and Bear sit down. This is fine for McD/RNH/Kass/JP but Drai and company seem to have a different pair of D to play with every game. This can’t help them at all and must be VERY frustrating. 4 years later and Kris Russel is still in the Top 4 most nights.

Honorable mention goes to Dominik Kahun as well. I’m not saying he’s been outright bad but he’s getting a great opportunity and has 1 point in 8 games. I was expecting around 3 to 4 points every 8 games. He’s certainly had chances but he’s also not burrying them.

The UGLY

We lost our third string goalie to waivers and have replaced him with a career AHLer (with good stats) who isn’t even here yet. We signed an aging (and rapidly decling Mike Smith) only to have him injured to start the season. This his resulted in Koskinen getting all the starts without a solid 1B option. It’s awful and I don’t see a solution coming. Our best case scenario is that 39 year old Smith comes back from injury and starts splitting starts with Koskinen and both improve.

The thing I got REALLY wrong in my season preview was our bottom 6. I mean, I thought our bottom 6 was fixed and was praising Holland’s efforts! I was positive we had at least 9 good options for those 6 spots. I can’t stress this enough. I was dead wrong. Our bottom 6 is atrocious. Might be the worst bottom 6 in the NHL. I don’t know how a collection of players like Kassian, JP, Ennis, Turris, Archibald, Haas, Benson, McLeod, Khaira, Russel, Chiasson, Neal and Nygard cannot produce 6 good players in the bottom 6 but here we are. I personally think it’s time to bring in some young fast guys and at least try to tilt the ice the other way.

Our PP went from 1st in the league to 19th. I don’t know why our PK went from 2nd overall to 20th. I knew going in our issues were 5 on 5 but we were carried by special teams last year. Now we’re not carried by our special teams and our 5 on 5 still sucks!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Kassian has 8 points since signing that contract 26 games ago in January.

I do have to throw some shade at Holland here. I’ve been relatively happy with him and higher on him than most. However, here are some Holland moves that are really killing us right now:

Kassian is now 30 and has 3 more years after this one

Russel got another year and has been a healthy scratch

Khaira was signed for 2 years and has been waived

Chiasson was another 2 year extension and he’s barely playing

Mike Smith was signed and has yet to play a game

Turris for 2 years is looking like our next buyout

Chia did us no favors but Holland’s hands are all over this roster.

Last but not least is Dave Tippet. A lot of jokes in gameday threads about how he is trying to get fired. How he should be sent to the taxi squad. I joked that he went from a Jack Adams contender to a Jack Ass! My point, he’s made some puzzling decisions. I’m honestly wondering if he is trying to send Holland a message about the roster in front of him. Are we back to a passive aggressive game between GM and Coach? I’m a big Tippet fan but this season (and the playin) have left a bad taste in my mouth!

Moving forward. What we need for success.

  1. Drai, RNH, McD and Kailer need to keep being awesome. JP and Kahun need to chip in 3 or 4 points in the next 8 games.
  2. Kassian needs to keep tilting the ice in the bottom 6. He’s had great chances and has looked great. He has as many points in his 2 games in the bottom 6 as his 6 games in the Top 6. Really, ANYONE in the bottom 6 making a positive difference would be welcome.
  3. Turris needs to find a pulse. He’s better than this.
  4. Smith needs to recover AND not suck
  5. Bear is improving and getting there. The rest of the D needs some stability.
  6. Fix the PP (putting Nurse there did work, I’d still prefer Bouchard)
  7. Barrie needs to improve a LOT. He plays 20 minutes a night and is not doing well. Needs 4 points in next 8 games to earn his keep.
  8. PK needs to improve
  9. Time to trot out some young guns and risk a little - McLeod in bottom 6, Benson in bottom 6, Jones not in pressbox, Bouchard as number 7