Ok, so it might be a little premature to proclaim the Hitchcock era a huge success. It is however, a helluva start thanks to some terrific goaltending by Mikko Koskinen.
The Oilers are coming off a BIG 2-1 win versus the Vegas Golden Knights on saturday after disposing of the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 last thursday in another tight checking, hard-fought battle. Both games were the type of games that Edmonton usually lost under Todd McLellan the last couple seasons quite frankly. But this team under Hitch didn’t panic, and managed to hang on to win back to back 1 goal games and a 3 game sweep at home. The team is now 4-1-1 under the silver fox named Hitch.
As for Koskinen, it’s not hard to argue that he has been the best goalie in the Pacific Division this year looking at his stats. As of December 3rd, here is a list of all the goalies in the Pacific who have played a minimum of 10 games:
Say what you want about GM Peter Chiarelli, but this team would be screwed without Koskinen this year (so far). $2.5 Million is a lot for a backup – but for a starter? Maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t completely sold on Talbot after a disappointing year last year and decided to bring in a guy who at worst would be a solid backup but at best could be a #1 in the NHL. Either way, the returns on the big Finn have been enormous so far.
Ridiculous Stat of the Day
Cam Talbot has now played 81 consecutive games in the NHL without a single shutout going back to last season. Mikko Koskinen has 2 in the last 10 games and just missed a 3rd against Anaheim.
Why the Oilers are successful under Hitch
The biggest differences I see between Hitchcock and McLellan is one is able to get the most out of his lineup, while the other got the least. Plus, confidence & discipline are driving forces under Hitchcock while the team really struggled with those under TMac. Hitch instills a defensive structure & manages to get a consistent work ethic out of most of his team most of the time. Whereas, McLellan struggled to get consistent efforts out of his team on a nightly basis, and his team lacked defensive structure. Part of that certainly has to do with the fact one coach’s message was getting tiresome while the other’s is still a relatively new concept. But Hitch also isn’t looking for reasons to take guys out of the lineup, he’s looking for positive things that he can build on. He’s not looking to tear down a guy’s confidence – he’s looking to build it up, and takes great responsibility in doing so.
Jesse Puljujarvi has been a lightning rod for controversy during his time in Edmonton. He clearly fell out of favour under coach McLellan for whatever reasons, but was immediately identified as a key contributor under Hitch. Jesse has rewarded the coach with his play over the last few games and appears to now being gaining more confidence. That is something that just did not seem possible a month ago under McLellan. When Jesse scored the other night, Hitchcock was shown clapping on the bench after the goal. He knows he needs this player to win in his Conference, and is doing everything in his power to help boost the kid’s confidence. You gotta love it.
There are many other team examples including the Powerplay which is much more efficient now. The goals against have gone down dramatically as the Oilers play a more structured defensive system where everyone has seemingly bought in. Kevin Gravel has stood out defensively and is now a staple in the lineup after gaining praise from his coach. And as mentioned, Mikko Koskinen has flourished under Hitch so far. Keep in mind, McLellan didn’t even give him a start until the 9th game of the season making him the last backup in the NHL to start a game. So, while the lineup still isn’t scoring a ton, there are winning hockey games with a collective team effort night in and night out which is a positive sign moving forward.
New Kid in Town
The #Oilers have claimed left-winger Valentin Zykov via waivers from the Hurricanes. The 23-year-old was selected 37th overall by the Kings in 2013. Zykov has scored 4 goals & 7 assists in 25 career @NHL games. pic.twitter.com/bGdGQhSLWO
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 30, 2018
Last week, the Oilers picked up AHL scoring champ Valentin Zykov off waivers. He’s got Visa issues right now so won’t play right away but is an intriguing player for Edmonton. He has tremendous hands in close, and sports a wicked shot release. He would look really good on the Powerplay in Chiasson‘s spot right now but Chaser has also been playing very well there as of late. Regardless, Zykov is a talented player who could force his way up the lineup sooner rather than later once he gets his chance.