Two games on Wednesday’s NHL board and in this preview we’ll look at an interconference matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s not exactly breaking news that the Oilers are a downright maddening team. They have the best hockey player on the planet in Connor McDavid but are at serious risk of missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Entering tonight’s game, Edmonton is #13 in the fifteen team Western Conference. Even more inexplicable–they’re only two points up on the last place co-holders Anaheim and Los Angeles. It boggles the mind how a team with this much talent can win only six of their last 22 games going 6-14-2.
This question has dominated the sports discussion in Edmonton for the past two years and patience of both fans and management are wearing thin. That’s why both head coach Todd McLellan and GM Peter Chiarelli have been fired so far this season. McLellan was quickly replaced with Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock who has more NHL coaching wins than everyone not named Scotty Bowman or Joel Quenneville. So far Chiarelli’s vacancy hasn’t been filled permanently but former assistant GM Keith Gretzky is doing the job on an interim basis. Spoiler alert–Keith’s brother used to be a pretty fair NHL player.
No one is doubting Hitchcock’s credentials as a NHL bona fide but to date there’s been nothing approximating a turnaround in the Oilers’ fortunes. The team went on a 8-3 run immediately after he was hired but has returned to their bumbling ways with little change in site. Edmonton does have a decent power play ranked #9 in the NHL (22.8%). That’s really the only silver lining in their statistical dark cloud. You’d think that Connor McDavid and five other guys picked at random out of the Edmonton phone book could at least put up solid offensive numbers. Guess again–the Oilers somehow have just 2.84 goals per game ranking 23rd in the league. They’ve been awful in their own end of the ice with the #27 goals against average in the NHL (3.35) and the worst penalty kill in hockey.
The Oilers’ struggles can’t be pinned on McDavid–he’s third in the league in points with 81. That’s one back of Chicago’s Patrick Kane and 7 back of Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov. He’s #7 in goals scored (31) right behind teammate Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl would likely be a better fit as the Oilers’ second line center but he’s on McDavid’s line out of necessity.
Not that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been tearing it up this season. In fact, were the season to end today they would sneak into the playoffs by a single point over ninth place Carolina and two points over 10th place Buffalo. Pittsburgh enters this matchup on a 4-5-1 run and has shown little resemblance to a Stanley Cup contender. There’s reason to think that a turnaround could be forthcoming since the Pens are top ten in scoring, on the power play and on the penalty kill. Their defense could use some work as they rank #19 in goals against per game.
Edmonton catches a break as the Penguins will play this game without suspended Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins have dominated Edmonton in head to head play–they enter on a 19-8-2 run against the Oilers including a 5-0 mark in their last five meetings. At home, Pittsburgh is 10-2-2 against Edmonton. Those are tough numbers to go against but the Penguins look a bit overpriced given their recent form. If the Oilers are going to make a strong effort on this three game road trip it will be here. They haven’t played since Saturday and will be well rested and in desperate need of a good performance. If nothing else, they look like the value play.