Oilers Ice Chips: Nurse moved to top defensive pairing
EDMONTON, Alberta - The Edmonton Oilers host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, with the two high-powered teams struggling for consistency early in the season.
The Oilers came into the season boasting last season's NHL scoring leader, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl, who finished eighth in the points race.
Yet, in seven of the 10 games the Oilers have played this season, they have scored two goals or fewer. Their total of 22 goals scored is the lowest in the NHL. There are already three teams in the NHL that have double - or more - the amount of goals Edmonton has scored.
The issue isn't the big guns. Draisaitl has produced when he has been healthy - seven points in six games. McDavid has 11 points in 10 games. But they play on the same line, so their production doesn't get spread through the lineup.
After a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, Edmonton head coach Todd McLellan fumed that not enough of the Oilers were playing to their capabilities, and that the time to say "well, it's early" is over. A 10th of the season is gone, and the Oilers (3-6-1) have dug themselves a hole in the Pacific Division standings.
As a result, McDavid and Draisaitl were placed on separate power-play units in an effort to try and spread out their offensive talents.
"It's done often, but it isn't done with three or four players, it's usually done with one," McLellan said of the switch. "A lot of the times you have structure in place, you don't want to dismantle it completely. But we've gone to an extreme right now. Yet, we feel we're far enough into it that the players understand turns and breakouts and that kind of stuff."
The Oilers' power play is currently running at a poor 12.1 per cent clip. Their penalty kill is second to last in the league at 70.3 per cent.
Pittsburgh (7-5-1) also juggled its lines in practice Tuesday after a blowout loss, 7-1 to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday.
The Penguins also shuffled their goaltending corps. They called up Tristan Jarry from their AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, to back up starter Matt Murray. They sent goalie Casey DeSmith the other way. If Jarry plays against the Oilers, it would be special for the young netminder, as he played junior hockey for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
"With how many years that I was here there are so many friends that I've kept close with, that's a big thing for me and I love it here," Jarry, who has one career NHL game under his belt, told the Penguins' website.
If Jarry does see the ice, he would be the fourth goaltender the Penguins have used this season as they desperately search for someone who can spell Murray.
The Penguins have a decent record, but they endured an up-and-down October. In addition to the shellacking in Winnipeg, they were routed 10-1 by the Blackhawks earlier in the month.
"We've got a lot of hockey in front of us, we've got a lot of hockey to play," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "And the reality is, we've played some pretty good hockey this year, and we've played some pretty ordinary hockey."
Defencemen Matt Hunwick and Justin Schultz were skating back in Pittsburgh, and they won't play in Edmonton due to concussions. The goal is to get them ready for later in the Penguins' current road trip.
On Tuesday, the Oilers placed defenceman Ryan Stanton on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif. Stanton played one preseason game, hurt his knee and was placed on injured reserve. He came off IR, so the Oilers had to make the move.