When: 9:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh viewing area, Sportsnet in Canada, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Oilers have lost five of their last six games (1-4-1) including last time out against the Blues on Wednesday by the score of 2-1. After such a great start, they’ve definitely been plummeting back to earth. (After they left Pittsburgh on Nov 2, they were 10-4-1, since then the record is just 9-10-3).
Pens path ahead: This is the first game of a back-to-back with a trip to Vancouver looming tomorrow night. Then the Pens are on Christmas break until next Friday the 27th.
Season Series: The Oil were already in Pittsburgh, winning 2-1 in overtime back on November 2nd. Leon Draisaitl scored the GWG. You might remember that as the game where Brian Dumoulin scored a short-handed goal. And Mike Smith stopped 51 out of 52 shots. Not sure which is more unbelievable in 2019 but those were two things that both happened. This will be the last PIT/EDM game of the season.
Recent History: Even with this season’s OT loss, the Pens are 10-0-3 in the last 13 games against Edmonton.
SBN Team Counterpart: It’s Copper n Blue for the Edmonton perspective.
Tale of the Tape
—Edmonton’s special teams have been...special. Perhaps surprisingly their PK is among the league-leaders, and they test that group a fair bit too being shorthanded 114 times so far in 2019-20 (by contrast, the Pens are one of the league’s best at only being shorthanded 89 times).
—And then not so surprisingly, the Oilers have a great power play. Their 34 total PPG are tied for most in the NHL. It’s exactly who you would think is doing the damage with 26 PPP for McDavid (which is a huge percentage of the 34 total points). As usual, Draisaitl isn’t far behind with 24 PPP. James Neal has 10 PPG, but none in the last 11 games and only 2 PPG in the last 23 games.
Player Stats at a Glance
—McDavid’s 59 points currently lead the NHL. Obviously enough with 58 points, Draisaitl is right behind him in second place. Next closest is Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon with 53. After going from 100 to 108 to 116 points in the last three seasons, McDavid is on a 131-point full season pace for this year, which is just absurd. (Crosby’s best season is 120 points back in 06-07).
—As mentioned above, Mike Smith stopped 51/52 vs the Pens (.981 save%). Other then that game he has just a .886 save% on the year in his 17 other games. It was Mikko Koskinen who played last game, and played well (42/44) despite picking up the loss to STL. So we’ll see who they pick, but either way it will be a goalie who played well last start (Koskinen) or one who totally stoned the Pens last month (Smith), so neither seems like a favorable choice.
—Unlike most of the team, Kassian has done well to create goals with McDavid.
—After starting red hot, old friend Real Deal James Neal has slowed down incredibly with just 5 goals in his last 23 games. When he entered the game in Pittsburgh in early November, it was 11 goals in the first 14 games.
Trouble brewing for the Oil
As our buddy Adam Gretz wrote earlier this week over on NHL on NBC.
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.
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.
And that’s only the half of it as defensively they’re a mess. The whole thing, of course, is worth a read. It’s not a pretty picture for Edmonton this season, save #97 and #29.
Possible Lines (based on Wednesday game)
Joakim Nygard - Connor McDavid - Zack Kassian
James Neal - Leon Draisaitl - Sam Gagner
Jujhar Khaira - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Alex Chiasson
Riley Sheahan - Gaetan Haas - Josh Archibald
Oscar Klefbom / Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse / Ethan Bear
Kris Russell / Caleb Jones
Expected scratches: Patrick Russell, Markus Granland, Brandon Manning
Injured reserve: Matthew Benning, Kyle Brodziak
—Bear has to be one of the more under-rated, or under-appreciated players in the league. He’s somewhat quietly developed into a pretty good young defenseman.
And now for the Pens..
Potential Lines (based on Thursday practice)
Jake Guentzel - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Dominik Kahun- Jared McCann - Zach Aston-Reese
Alex Galchenyuk - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Dominik Simon - Joseph Blandisi - Sam Lafferty
Jack Johnson/ Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Juuso Riikola / Chad Ruhwedel
Expected scratches: Justin Schultz (lower body injury)
Injured Reserve: Sidney Crosby (core muscle surgery), Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), Patric Hornqvist (lower body injury), Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery)
—Another injury on defense necessitates yet another defensive alignment, which will mean three different pairs from last game....But (whispers) at least no one has gotten sick in like three whole days..