Key Observations Heading Into Game 13 Between the Oilers and Penguins


By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

It’s November 6th, 2015, a date that many hockey fans circled on their calendar when the NHL schedule was first released. It was supposed to be the first ever match up between the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby. Unfortunately, that may have to wait until the 2016-1 7 NHL season now that McDavid will be out for months due to a broken left clavicle he suffered in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. It’s obviously a huge blow for Edmonton, who saw McDavid record five goals and seven assists in his first thirteen NHL games. It’s also a big loss for the league in general as McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel were labeled as one of the best duos to come into the league since Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

Getting away from the McDavid story, the Penguins (8-4) have won five straight games and are 8-2 in their last ten games, making them the NHL’s hottest team coming into the game tonight. Pittsburgh is coming off a nice 3-2 win over the Canucks in Vancouver on Wednesday night. The Penguins got goals from David Perron, Crosby and Eric Fehr while Marc-Andre Fleury made 18 saves for his seventh victory of the season, which is tied for the most among NHL goaltenders. The game was big for many Penguins players as Perron finally got his first goal of the season on a nice deflection. Perron had been getting some good looks all season, but had yet to find the net until Wednesday. Hopefully, that will give the former Oiler some confidence. Crosby took a beautiful pass from Phil Kessel in front of the net and scored his second goal of the season. The power play goal should give Crosby a boost, who has gone pointless in many games for Pittsburgh games this season. Crosby only has six points in twelve games this season, but it’s only a matter of time before he starts to show up in the NHL’s top scorers. And Fehr…wow, what can I say about the guy? I absolutely loved the signing by Jim Rutherford in the offseason because the Penguins haven’t had a player like him in their bottom-six since..maybe Jordan Staal? As we have seen the past couple games, Fehr is a legitimate threat to score a shorthanded goal just like Staal was. In fact, Fehr made history on Wednesday night by becoming the first player in NHL history to score a shorthanded goal in his first two games with a franchise. Fehr provides size, leadership and a ton of skill and only costs $2 million per season for the next three years. Many teams were scared to give Fehr a multi-year contract because of his elbow surgery, but props to Rutherford to stepping up to the plate and believing in him. Fehr’s presence on the fourth line at even strength has been felt as well. Fehr and Matt Cullen have looked good together on that line and it looks the Penguins are finally pushing for more offense on their fourth line with more skilled players.

Although the Oilers will not have McDavid in their lineup tonight, they still have plenty of young talent such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse. All of those players are former first-round picks and expected to produce this season with Edmonton. Hall has been fantastic this season, registering 6 goals and 10 assists in 13 games. His 16 points is the fourth-most in the league at the moment. Nugent-Hopkins ranks third among Edmonton players in points with 11 (5 goals and 6 assists) behind only Hall and McDavid. Yakupov, the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft held in Pittsburgh, has had a much better start to this season than his first three with 2 goals and 8 assists. The Oilers have expected much more than what they’ve gotten from Yakupov the past three seasons, who recorded a career-high 33 points last season. Fortunately for the two parties, it looks like Yakupov is on pace for over 60 points this year if he keeps up the good work. One of the key players to watch on Edmonton is Draisaitl, who is only 20 years old and should get more opportunities with McDavid out. The German forward has notched 3 goals and 4 assists in only 3 games this season, which is very impressive for a player his age. The third overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft is the logical choice to take McDavid’s spot. Eberle will make his season debut tonight after suffering an injury in the preseason.

In addition to adding McDavid in the offseason, Edmonton’s new GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McLellan added skill and experience  in players like Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu, Eric Gryba, Cam Talbot and Griffin Reinhart. Sekera and Talbot were arguably the biggest additions besides McDavid. Sekera has been skating on the Oilers’ first defensive pairing while Talbot was named the starting goaltender after being traded from the New York Rangers. Talbot went 21-9-4 last season filling in for Henrik Lundqvist when he went down with an injury, which is how Talbot got noticed. The Oilers needed a new starting goaltender and got him when they traded three draft-picks for Talbot. In 10 games this season, Talbot has a 3-6 record, 2.88 goals-against average and .897 save-percentage. Since Talbot has struggled, the Oilers will start Anders Nilsson tonight after Nilsson got the victory against the Flyers on Tuesday. He is 2-2 with a .903 save-percentage in 4 games this season.

Since the Penguins play a game in Calgary tomorrow, Pittsburgh will start Jeff Zatkoff in goal tonight and Fleury tomorrow night. Tonight will be Zatkoff’s second start this season. He made 50 saves in the Penguins’ recent win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Despite the loss of McDavid, tonight’s game should be fun to watch with all of the talent on the ice. It will be interesting to see how the Oilers respond to all of the negativity in Edmonton right now. They have enough offensive talent without McDavid to stay in the race, but as always with the Oilers, the team defense is the big question mark. The Oilers actually have some good young defensemen now, but they’re inexperienced, which will make life tough on Talbot. Pittsburgh is starting to score 3-4 goals per game now, so this will be a good test for this young Oilers team.

Projected Lineups: