HOW TO WATCH
Game Time: 7:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Copper and Blue
More Changes Afoot
In an effort to spark any sort of offense from his lineup, Willie Desjardins is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, essentially. Sure, this ship is going all the way down, but it’s actually sort of refreshing to see him at least try something different.
One of the biggest criticisms of Desjardins’ tenure so far has been his over-reliance on fourth-line players—see his promotion at various times of Kyle Clifford and Nate Thompson—while relegating skill players to bit parts on the team. Look no further than the perplexing usage of Ilya Kovalchuk on this one. Since scoring in an emphatic performance in his first game back from injury, Kovalchuk has continued to bounce around the lineup.
Tonight, though, it looks like he’ll get another spin on the top line, playing alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Kovalchuk spent a few games there at the beginning of the season while Brown was injured but slowly worked his way down and out of the top six as the season progressed. Desjardsins started trying a new look on the top line during the last game, replacing Alex Iafallo with Austin Wagner at times. Iafallo’s been a good complementing player to Brown and Kopitar and very rarely has gotten bumped out of his position there.
If Kovalchuk truly gets top line minutes and, more importantly, doesn’t get demoted the second he gets scored on or makes a risky play, it could help increase his production. We’ve just got to trust—wild, I know—that Desjardins isn’t going to have him playing with Thompson and Clifford by the end of the game.
Hello, Carl Hagelin! He’s set to be activated from Injured Reserve and should play tonight. There haven’t been any moves yet to reassign players to Ontario, but they may have to move someone to stay compliant with the cap, so keep an eye out for that.
Right now, it looks like Matt Luff is the healthy scratch tonight, so without looking at any cap hit numbers, it’s possible that he’s your candidate for reassignment. Luff has certainly been one of the more exciting young players to watch in this otherwise meh season, but he hasn’t been producing as of late. If he does go back to Ontario, look for it to be a chance to take on top line minutes again to help build his confidence and consistency.
The Oilers are, unsurprisingly, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and then everyone else. They’re getting very little contribution from players who aren’t those two, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and as they try to transition to the defensive structures favored by Ken Hitchcock, they’re seeing their scoring chances, particularly at even strength, start to dry up.
Oilers in their last 10 games at 5v5.
Goals For%: 44.90% (26th overall)
Corsi For%: 44.40 (29th)
Fenwick For%: 42.16 (31st)!
Scoring Chances For%: 44.89 (28th)
Even McDavid’s on ice numbers have taken a hit.
— Sunil Agnihotri (@sunilagni) January 5, 2019
For a pre-game deep dive, Sunil Agnihotri of Copper and Blue took a look at the Oilers and their generation (and prevention) of scoring chances. Bad news for Edmonton: their creation of scoring chances is taking a nosedive as the season progresses. They’re struggling in possession, and when they do have the puck, they’re not doing much with it.
Now, that sounds like a familiar problem for Kings fans—”what do we do with this black rubber thing” is the general state of the 2018-19 Los Angeles Kings. But if you’re an Oilers-watcher, it’s especially concerning because it’s a persistent downward trend that’s pointing at, well, wasting another year of the career of one of the greatest players on earth.
The Oilers ended a six-game losing streak on Wednesday with a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes. Two of the goals came from McDavid. One was from Draisaitl, with an assist to McDavid.
The Oilers, folks.