Milan Lucic

Edmonton Oilers
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Oilers headed toward another collapse without major change

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Take a quick glance at the NHL standings and it is easy to conclude that the Edmonton Oilers have put themselves in a pretty good position.

They are just two points out of first place in the Pacific Division, and after a disastrous meltdown in 2018-19 it would seem first-year coach Dave Tippett and new general manager Ken Holland have made some significant strides this year.  But the current standings are only a history of what has already happened. They tell us nothing about what will happen — or is likely to happen — in the future.

When you dig a little deeper than just the win-loss record it becomes really hard to be optimistic about the direction this season could take. And before you argue that the record is all that matters and the team is playing better, keep in mind they are only one point better after 34 games than they were a year ago (40 points this year vs. 39 points a year ago).

All of the same flaws that have plagued the Oilers still exist today, and without some sort of a major change they could be headed toward the same fate as last year’s team.

It’s Still McDavid and Draisaitl or bust offensively

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two of the best offensive players in the league, and when they are on the ice together they are the best duo the league has seen in decades. But the second the Oilers take them off the ice the team’s lack of depth is exposed and they are unable to compete. It’s been a problem for two years and is somehow even worse this season.

Just consider…

  • When one of McDavid or Draisaitl is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Oilers have a plus-5 goal differential. Not great, but at least on the positive side. At this time a year ago it was plus-11.
  • When both of them are on the ice their goal differential is a plus-6. At this time a year ago it was plus-10.
  • When neither is on the ice their goal differential is minus-17. At this time a year ago it was only minus-7.
  • When neither player is on the ice the Oilers are averaging just 1.46 goals per 60 minutes. That is a drop from the same point a year ago when they were averaging 1.65 goals. Last year’s number was awful. This year’s is worse.

They attempted to address the scoring depth issue by adding James Neal from Calgary. While he has been better than Milan Lucic offensively, he has cooled off considerably after a white-hot start that seemed to be the beginning of a bounce-back year.

He has just six goals in his past 26 games, while almost all of his production this year has been power play dependent (when he is with McDavid and/or Draisaitl). During 5-on-5 play his overall play has become a hot mess. Once you get beyond McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins there is not another forward on the roster that is capable of driving a line on their own.

They still can not stop anybody

When it comes to goals against the Oilers have shown marginal improvement this season. Probably not enough to matter (still 18th in goals against per game), and it’s not the type of improvement they should be relying on to continue because it is entirely dependent on goaltending.

Almost all of that improvement is the result of Mikko Koskinen playing better than expected over the first month of the season in net and masking the team’s many defensive flaws.

When it comes to shot attempts against, scoring chances against, and their ability to control the puck the Oilers remain one of the league’s worst teams. They are still lacking impact players on the blue line, and if their goaltending is not flawless (and it often isn’t) they do not have much of a chance to win.

Mike Smith is in the middle of his second straight sub-par season, while Koskinen has already started to show some signs of regression over his past few starts. If the goaltending doesn’t hold up things could quickly derail.

It’s all starting to catch up them already

The lack of forward depth. The lack of a true No. 1 (or even No. 2) NHL defenseman. The mediocre goaltending.

All of it.

Since starting the season by winning seven of their first eight games, the Oilers have gone 11-11-4 in the 26 games that have followed, including a 2-5-1 mark in their most recent seven-game stretch. While they remain in second place in the Pacific, they are still only four points ahead of the first non-playoff team (a Vancouver team that has two games in hand). On top of that, their upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier as the next seven games are against Toronto, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary. If they can not successfully navigate through that stretch it is going to leave them in a tough spot where they might be in danger of wasting another fast start to the season.

What that change might be is hard to determine. It’s still a matter of talent and not having enough of it. There is only so much a coach can do with no forward depth and no top defenders. And there is only so much a GM can do to make changes when there are so few assets to trade.

In the end, it all goes back to the mess the previous front office left behind and is a reminder as to how much work Ken Holland still has to do in fixing it.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Aho shines again, Fleury’s big return, Red Wings lose 12th in a row

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. Aho followed up his five-point effort against Minnesota over the weekend by scoring a pair of goals in the Hurricanes’ 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night. After recording just one point in his first six games, Aho has been dominant for the Hurricanes and is now up to 28 points in his past 25 games. His assist numbers are still down a little bit this season, but he is now on pace for 48 goals this season. That number would shatter his career high.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. Fleury made his return to the Golden Knights’ lineup on Tuesday night after being away from the team due to a personal matter. He was outstanding in the Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, turning aside 28 of the 29 shots he faced. It was his first start since Nov. 23 and he missed a shutout by only 27 seconds. This game quickly turned into a rout as the Blackhawks’ already undermanned defense lost Calvin de Haan during the game (it sounds like a significant injury according to coach Jeremy Colliton), but it still had to be a positive sign for the Golden Knights to see Fleury step right back into the lineup and play the way he did. He is also now just three wins away from tying Curtis Joseph for sixth on the NHL’s all-time wins list.

3. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs did not play their best game on Tuesday, but they still picked up a much-needed win in Vancouver thanks in large part to huge games Tavares and starting goalie Frederik Andersen. Tavares finished the game with two goals and an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win. They have won two games in a row and are now 6-3-0 under new coach Sheldon Keefe. Tavares’ performance on Tuesday snapped what had been a three-game scoreless streak.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • There is no stopping Milan Lucic right now! After scoring zero goals in his first 27 games this season he has now scored three goals in the past four games. That includes his latest goal in the Flames 5-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday night. Zac Rinaldo also scored two goals in the win for Calgary. The Flames have now won six games in a row.
  • Ben Bishop stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Dallas Stars to record his first shutout of the season, giving new coach Rick Bowness his first win behind the Stars’ bench.
  • Nick Bonino scored his 12th goal of the season in the Nashville Predators’ 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.
  • Jonathan Quick played what might have been his best game of the season as he helped the Los Angeles Kings to a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers.
  • The Minnesota Wild picked up another point, but lost in a shootout to the Anaheim Ducks. The big story out of that game for the Wild is the injury to Eric Staal after he was injured in a collision with a linesman. Read all about it here.

Red Wings losing streak reaches 12 games

Times are tough in Hockeytown right now as the Red Wings’ losing streak reached the 12-game mark on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The past 10 games are all regulation losses, while the team has been outscored by a 53-23 margin during the streak. The Red Wings also have a minus-62 goal differential for the season in just 32 games. That is the worst goal differential for any team through 32 games since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators — an expansion team that went on to win just 10 out of 84 games — and the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks, a second-year franchise that won just 11 out of 74 games. The Red Wing are 7-22-3 this season.

Highlights of the Night

Shea Weber is playing some incredible hockey for the Montreal Canadiens right now, and this goal in Pittsburgh late in the second period was a massive momentum swing.

Patrik Laine made this goal look easy. It almost certainly was not as easy as it looked. But wow did he make it look easy.

Jack Eichel extended his current point streak to 14 consecutive games by scoring the game-winning goal (then adding an empty-net goal later in the game) against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night. It was a beautiful play made possible by a baffling defensive breakdown by the Blues. Read more about the Sabres’ win here.

Blooper of the Night

It was a tough night for the Oilers on the blooper front. First, not only did starting goalie Mikko Koskinen get fooled by Dougie Hamilton on a goal from the center red line (read about that one here), but Connor McDavid had this happen to him on a penalty shot attempt.

 

Factoids

  • After posting back-to-back shutouts Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry set a franchise record for longest shutout streak. [NHL PR]
  • Auston Matthews scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday. Alex Ovechkin is the only active player that hit that mark faster than him. [NHL PR]
  • The Jets scored two goals in 11 seconds on Tuesday night, the third-fastest sequence in franchise history and the fastest since the team moved to Winnipeg. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Pietrangelo scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday, joining Al MacInnis as the only Blues defenders to score 100 goals for the team. [NHL PR]
  • Weber’s highlight reel goal was his 10th of the season, making it the 11th time in his career he has hit that number. That is most among active defenders. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Florida Panthers 1
Montreal Canadiens 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Buffalo Sabres 5, St. Louis Blues 2
Nashville Predators 3, San Jose Sharks 1
Anaheim Ducks 3, Minnesota Wild 2 (SO)
Winnipeg Jets 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Dallas Stars 2, New Jersey Devils 0
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Edmonton Oilers 3
Calgary Flames 5, Arizona Coyotes 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Vancouver Canucks 1
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Chicago Blackhawks 1
Los Angeles Kings 3, New York Rangers 1

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Our Line Starts podcast: Lucic suspension; Blues soldier on without Tarasenko

Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to Milan Lucic defending the sucker punch that got him suspended. The Blues keep winning without Vladimir Tarasenko; are they built to contend for another Cup? Plus, an interview with Mathew Barzal of the Islanders, who talks about the influence of Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz, the challenge of having two home arenas, and his detailed recollection of Josh Bailey‘s OT goal against the Penguins last year. The guys also take a surprise call from a mysterious Dominik Hasek impersonator.

0:00-2:00 Intros
2:00-7:40 Milan Lucic defends his sucker punch
7:40-13:20 Blues winning without Tarasenko
13:20-16:45 The guys reveal their favorite goals of all-time
17:00-25:35 Michael Farber interviews Mathew Barzal
25:35-31:55 Reaction to the Isles’ 10-game winning streak
31:55-end Mystery phone call from “The Dominator”

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Flames’ Lucic suspended two games for roughing Sherwood

Sportsnet
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Milan Lucic has been suspended two games for his punch on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Kole Sherwood Saturday night.

The Calgary Flames forward took exception to Sherwood’s extra poke at the puck — which earned him a minor — as goaltender David Rittich covered it for a faceoff. As Lucic approached Sherwood he threw a punch and then a big scrum went down behind the net. Sherwood did go through concussion protocol but returned to the game.

Lucic was given a double-minor for roughing, and not long after the game ended 3-0 in the Flames’ favor the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced there would be a Sunday hearing.

Here’s the NHL’s reasoning for the two-game ban, which sees Lucic’s recent history come into play:

Lucic will begin his suspension Sunday night and will be eligible to return Thursday against the Devils. He will also lose out on $64,516.12 in salary, which will be donated to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

UPDATE: Flames GM Brad Treliving responds to the two-game suspension:

“I have the utmost respect for George Parros and the Department of Player Safety. They do a great job. But on this one, we vehemently disagree. I saw a player who poked, jabbed, whacked, speared, whatever you want to call it, the goaltender. I think 31 teams around the league, if you do that to anybody, there is going to be a reaction. We support our player 100%. We want our players to support each other, back each other up, and we felt that’s what Milan was doing in this case.”

MORE: Lucic delivers another questionable ‘sucker punch’

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Milan Lucic delivers another questionable ‘sucker punch’

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At this rate, Milan Lucic might finish the 2019-20 season with more questionable punches than goals.

Much has been made about James Neal making Lucic look bad by comparison, but it’s increasingly clear that Lucic seems to think of himself as an enforcer for the Calgary Flames, as much as anything else. He had zero goals and three assists through 15 games this season heading into Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and his biggest impact might be of the more literal variety.

Blue Jackets rookie Kole Sherwood made what seemed like a pretty innocuous jab for a rebound attempt at Flames goalie David Rittich, and that prompted Lucic to catch him mostly unaware with a very questionable punch.

Was it a sucker punch? Some might say no, but it certainly seemed ugly.

Curiously, Lucic was whistled with a roughing double-minor for the play, rather than something more substantial like a major penalty or misconduct. The NHL tends to let a lot of “after the whistle” things go, so it remains to be seen if anything comes of this, but you have to wonder if the league is comfortable with plays like these.

For what it’s worth, this exchange seemed worse than Lucic’s other borderline one-sided “fight,” although one could question his actions against Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov from the two teams’ season-opener in October, too:

Should Lucic face supplemental discipline, or was that double-minor sufficient? It definitely helps Lucic’s cause that Sherwood was able to return to the game, which is just the third NHL contest of his career.

UPDATE:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.