Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche had a lot going on. Both clubs allowed just one goal in 65 minutes of play, Mikko Koskinen was nearly perfect (as was Darcy Kuemper at the other end), and goals were hard to come by for both clubs. The loss is Edmonton’s first in seven games, they’ll look to get things going again on Tuesday when they head to Minnesota to take on the Wild.
Both clubs had trouble finding twine. Mikko Koskinen turned aside 33 shots to take it to a shootout, while Darcy Kuemper swatted 49 of 50 Oiler shots. That included 11 in overtime alone. It’s a lot of shots. Not a whole lot of goals between two high-octane forward sets.
Jesse Puljujärvi was unable to capitalize on a pass from McDavid in front of a sprawling Darcy Kuemper on Saturday night. Some scribes were happy to chime in about how Puljujärvi is in some sort of a funk because he’s scored exactly one goal in his last dozen games. It’s a fair point, everyone would have liked for Puljujärvi to have buried his fourteenth goal of the year to slide the Oilers up by a goal. It didn’t happen. Never mind how the other right wingers on the Oilers are performing, clearly the one with a 1.175 cap hit on the top line is the one they ought to be going after.
To suggest Puljujärvi is in some sort of a “funk” would lean credence to the viewer watching the game through a radio. It’s true that Puljujärvi had a couple grade A chances not go his way in the Colorado game. Suggesting that his contributions have somehow diminished his efficiency to the top line is a dishonest endeavour at best. (Puljujarvi is shooting a whisker under 9%, which is right at his career average of 9.1%). He didn’t score a big goal, and it’s fair to criticize that fact. What’s irritating is that this is becoming A Thing, like with Ethan Bear and Ales Hemsky. It’s not, and those
The guy helps control the puck, he creates space, and he’s driving play every time he’s on the ice. Other than his trouble finishing, what’s the problem?
Would I like for Puljujärvi to have scored a goal in the Avalanche game? Of course. I would have loved for him to score four goals, it would’ve been great. We’d all love six or seven more goals for JP this season (and I think eventually they come), but let’s all take a giant breath for a second.
- Puljujarvi has already eclipsed his career high in points on a season. He’s got 34 right now, and he’s got an outside chance at 40 this season. Over a healthy 82 game season, we predicted 45 points for the fourth overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Had Puljujärvi not missed a month due to injury, he’d be on pace for 47. Relax.
- Yes, we’d love more goals. Consider: Jesse Puljujärvi is making the top line better. We have proof he did it on the third line. He’s been doing on the first for the entire season. It’s easy to get lost in the “JP doesn’t score” hype if all you’re looking for is goals. Goals are important, it’s true. Setting them up is important too. Helping drive the play when you’re on the ice? That’s important too. It’s not like you’re paying the guy 3.2 million a season to show up for eight minutes a night. Puljujärvi is driving play every time he’s on the ice. Every time.
- Want even more proof that Puljujärvi is earning his keep? Check out his 5 on 5 numbers since Jay Woodcroft has been coach. Eighteen goals have gone in while he’s on the ice. Just two against. Weird how that works, yeah? All these goals going in the net while one player is on the ice consistently. Creating space, everywhere. Someone figure out how to turn this calculator off, it’s smoking.
- There’s a good bet to be made that Puljujärvi will figure it out past his shooting average of 9%. If he does, the price of poker goes way up. If he continues to shoot the puck at 9% and has a ceiling of 17 or 18 goals in a healthy season, you’re still getting one of the best two way players the Oilers have had in years. He’s pulling a cap hit of 1.175MM right now. A smart club would see opportunity to buy some cheap UFA years, betting on future success. Let’s see what the Oilers do.
In short, relax. You’ve got a top line player with a cap hit under 1.2MM playing some spectacular hockey, the puck just isn’t going in the net as fast as you’d like. When Evander Kane scores 16 goals in 34 games and Puljujärvi seemingly isn’t having that kind of success, it’s easy to point and ask why things are happening for him and not for JP the same way if you don’t dig into the data. Goals are a good thing. Setting up goals, also good. Driving play? Great.
One of those things isn’t happening right now for Jesse Puljujärvi maybe as much as we would have hoped, and I think that’ll change. I think there’s a legitimate discussion to be had that we could enter Selke territory in the next couple of years, and folks would be foolish not to see it. Save for finishing, Puljujärvi is doing everything well right now.
If folks can’t see that, are they even watching the games?