The Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens are tied for the NHL lead with 11 goals from their defencemen so far this season. It isn’t a surprise the Canadiens are near the top, as they were fifth last season with 42 goals from their blueline, only three behind league-leading St. Louis. The Oilers were 28th with only 22 goals.
Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom led the team with five, while Shea Weber (15) and Jeff Petry (11) were sixth and 16th respectively in goals by defencemen.
— Since the start of the 2018/2019 season, Weber is tied for fifth in goals with 31, while Petry is tied for eighth with 30. Nurse is tied for 24th with 20 goals. Petry leads the NHL with six so far this season, and Nurse is second with five. Both are on pace to crush their career highs of 11 and 10 respectively.
— However, when you look at even strength goals since 2018/2019, Nurse is much closer. Weber and Petry have 21, tied for eighth, while Nurse’s 19 EV goals have him tied for 13th overall. Nurse leads all NHL defenders with five EV goals this year and Petry is second with four.
— For Oilers fans still frustrated the team traded Jeff Petry at the 2015 trade deadline, without even offering him a contract extension, you have a right to be upset. But Petry should be the poster boy for why you don’t even contemplate trading Nurse. For the past few seasons, many people wanted Nurse traded. He was still developing, similar to Petry when he was moved, and Petry never became a dominant top-pair defenceman until his eighth NHL season, his third full season with the Canadiens. He was 30 years old.
— Nurse just turned 26, and he is a much better overall D-man now than Petry was at 26. Considering how Petry kept improving and developing in his late 20s, as many other D-men do when the games slow down for them, it is fascinating to see how Nurse will look in the coming seasons. Through 15 games this season he and Petry have been two of the top defencemen in the NHL.
—Nurse is sixth in EV TOI/game at 20:09. Petry plays 15:28/game (132nd) at EV. Petry is averaging 3:21/game on the PP (24th), while Nurse is 77th at 1:31 and Petry plays 2:54/game (43rd) on the PK while Nurse has averaged 2:49 (49th). Montreal has five really solid defenders, so Petry doesn’t need to play as much at 5×5. The Habs blueliners’ 5×5 minutes per game are quite even and they’ve been able to run the top-six all season. Victor Mete has only played in two of their 13 games.
Ben Chiarot: 16:59
Shea Weber: 15:49
Jeff Petry: 14:42
Joel Edmundson: 14:35
Alexander Romanov: 14:34
Brett Kulak: 13:17
Compare that to the Oilers: Any player who hasn’t played every game will have their GP in parentheses.
Darnell Nurse: 19:26
Ethan Bear: 17:16 (9GP)
Tyson Barrie: 16:29
Adam Larsson: 14:40
Evan Bouchard: 14:15 (4 GP)
Kris Russell: 14:10 (9 GP)
Caleb Jones: 14:00 (7 GP)
Slater Koekkoek: 11:53 (12 GP)
William Lagesson: 10:56 (6 GP)
The Oilers dressed seven defenders for a few games, and that lowered Lagesson and Koekkoek’s averages, but without a doubt Nurse is asked to do more on the left side than Petry has to in Montreal. Ideally, Edmonton would like to lower Nurse’s 5×5 minutes a bit, but he has played very well thus far, so until someone else steps up and shows they can play second pair 5×5 LD at a high level, I suspect we will see Nurse log a lot of minutes. He doesn’t play a lot on the PP, and overall he is 12th in the NHL among defenders averaging 24:37 minutes per game.
— When Ethan Bear is healthy I think there is a chance we could see Tyson Barrie slide to the left side and play with either Adam Larsson or Evan Bouchard. Barrie played the left side two years and in junior and he has done it sporadically in the NHL. Evan Bouchard has been steady in his four games, and I think having Nurse, Barrie, Bear, Larsson and Bouchard in the lineup when healthy makes sense. Then one of Russell, Lagesson, Jones and Koekkoek will fill out the other LD spot.
— Jujhar Khaira has four points in six games, but it is his play in the defensive zone lately that has really impressed Dave Tippett. “He’s moving. He is physical and he’s making good plays. He made a great backhand pass last game,” said Tippett.
Then I asked Tippett about Khaira being better as a centre than a winger and he explained why he likes him better down the middle.
“Where he is really a strong player is below the hash marks in our zone, helping our D and below the goal line. Watch him down there, that is where he has the most poise with the puck of anywhere on the ice. He can make a good play through the middle (neutral zone) and in the offensive zone, but his D-zone coverage and his ability to read situations down low is really good.
“We are trying to maximize his strengths in that position. When he was on the wall (playing wing) he is down there (below goal line) less, but as a centre he can get down there more and help the D. As a coach you are trying to find the best place for a player to maximize his assets and that is why we put him at centre and he has done a good job down there. His line is not spending much time in their own end. He breaks up a lot of plays down low, and Archibald and Ennis have good speed to get up the ice and hopefully, it has the makings of a good line. We’ll see where it goes.”
It is only three games, but Khaira has been really good and when you combine that with his playoff performance and how he finished last season, he might become an unexpectedly important role player. It would be a huge find if his strong play continues.
— I expect Mike Smith to start tonight. Then we likely will see him and Koskinen split the series against Winnipeg next Monday/Wednesday and the back-to-back against Calgary Friday-Saturday.
— Jake Allen starts for the Canadiens after Carey Price went last night against Toronto. This is not good news for the Oilers. Allen has dazzling .940sv% and 1.81 GAA in five starts, while Price has a .896Sv% and 2.84 GAA in eight starts.