There’s a lot on the line in tonight’s match-up between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers. The Jets have pulled to within three points of the North division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs while the Oilers sit five back of Winnipeg for second place. The Jets are playing some of their best hockey of the season, winning five of their last six games. The Oilers have the upper hand in the season series, winning four of six.
With six games between the two teams now, we have a decent sample size to start identifying trends, strengths, and weaknesses. So, here’s what you can expect and what to watch for when the puck drops in Winnipeg tonight.
The Rush versus The Cycle
Both teams are capable of creating offence in multiple ways but there has been a theme in this season series: the Oilers' speed and the Jets' ability to work the puck in the offensive zone.
Winnipeg ranks second only to the Colorado Avalanche in goals scored off-the-cycle this season and, against the Oilers, they have produced just over 12 cycle chances per game -- which is above their season average. Winnipeg has out-chanced Edmonton 73-57 when it comes to creating offence in-zone, off cycle plays. The Jets have a ton of skill in their line-up and when they start whipping the puck around in the attacking end, it doesn’t take many chances for them to put the puck in the back of the net.
As for the Oilers, it doesn’t take an in-depth analytical breakdown to figure out why they are so dangerous off-the-rush. Connor McDavid leads all players in rush scoring chances this season and teammates Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are no slouches in this area either.
Edmonton holds a healthy advantage in rush chances in the head-to-head meetings between the Jets and Oilers this season.
A breakdown of the Oilers' and Jets' scoring chances. (By Sportlogiq, for Sportsnet)
Again, both teams are skilled enough to create offence both ways however the trend so far in the season series is cycle for Winnipeg and rush for Edmonton.
McDavid and Draisaitl
There’s no guarantee that McDavid and Draisaitl will play together tonight. The Jets are the deeper team at the forward position and Dave Tippett may elect to share the wealth, which he has done against Winnipeg this season when it comes to his two superstars.
That said, Tippet has also paired the two together here and there throughout games against the Jets this season and has seen outstanding results when doing so.
In six games against the Jets this season, McDavid and Draisaitl have played just under 20 minutes together at 5-on-5. The Oilers have dominated those minutes, outscoring the Jets 5-0 in the process.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have excelled at 5-5 against the Jets this season. (By Sportlogiq, for Sportsnet)
McDavid and Draisaitl have combined for nine goals in six games against Winnipeg. McDavid leads all players in the season series in rush scoring chances with 11, which is more than double anyone on the Jets. No, it’s not easy to slow these guys down and it’s impossible to completely shut them down for any meaningful length of time. But there are examples from this season of teams having success limiting their time and space in a game.
The Jets are far from an elite defensive team, ranking 26th in expected goals against per game but they will have to do a better job against 97 and 29 when they are on the ice together.
Jets forward depth
As mentioned, the Jets are deep and get offensive contributions throughout their lineup.
The Oilers have three forwards with more than 10 goals — McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Jets have six, with both Mason Appleton and Mathieu Perreault sitting on nine. Winnipeg’s leading scorers in the season series are Perreault, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Andrew Copp, who have three goals apiece.
Edmonton has done a good job limiting the number of quality chances off the sticks Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele, however both players have combined for five goals in the Jets' last three games. If they stay hot and the Jets continue to get offence from their bottom-six against the Oilers, it could tip the scales in Winnipeg’s favour.
Defensively, depth forwards Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis have done an incredible job preventing goals this season. In 214:35 of ice-time together at five-on-five this season, the pair have only been on the ice for one goal against.
Stay out of the box. It’s pretty much a key against any team but especially so with these two. The Jets and Oilers both have powerplays clicking at 26.7 per cent — only the Hurricanes and Capitals are better with the man advantage.
Head-to-head, both teams have operated at a similar rate. The Jets are 4-for-17 while the Oilers are 5-for-18. Winnipeg has created all four of its powerplay goals against Edmonton from the left side of the ice. Whether it’s Scheifele on his weak side or Ehlers on his strong side, the left faceoff circle is usually where the Jets look to create from.
The Oilers, far more unpredictable. Edmonton can beat you in transition and from either side of the offensive zone.
Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl have two powerplay goals each against the Jets this season.
The Oilers, having not played a game in a week, will be a well-rested team. The Jets are fresh of a grueling stretch of 17 of 22 games on the road — a test they aced, winning 11 of those road games. With a win tonight, the Jets will be hot on the heels of the division-leading Maple Leafs. If the Oilers come out on top, the race for second place will come more into view as these teams play twice more in the final week of the month.