The Oilers won’t have Tom Gilbert, Cam Barker or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back in the lineup tonight, and according to Tom Renney, you will likely see Barker before Gilbert. Barker and Gilbert skated yesterday, but both were wearing non-contact jerseys, while Nugent-Hopkins was battling the flu. Nugent-Hopkins still hasn’t participated in any contact drills, but there is a chance you will see him before this short three-game homestand is over.
The Oilers, and their fans, would love to see RNH back sooner than later, but this team has surprisingly missed Gilbert more.
That might shock you, but the Oilers PK has hit the skids since Gilbert went down, allowing nine goals on 34 chances (73.5%) in the last 11 games. Despite missing 11 games, only Ladislav Smid has logged more PK minutes than Gilbert, and it is clear they miss him while shorthanded.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change, because last year most fans wanted to give Gilbert a one-way ticket out of town, but in the summer he dedicated himself to being more competitive and up until his injury he’d been very consistent all year. He even started delivering a few heavy hits, which we’d never really seen before, but most importantly he was very effective defensively, and moving the puck up ice.
Most people assumed the Oilers special teams would falter after Gilbert and Nugent-Hopkins were injured in Chicago, but most felt the PP would suffer more, but surprisingly that hasn’t been the case. The Oilers are 7 for 29 (24.1%) since RNH went down, which is about a 3% improvement over when he was in the lineup. I don’t think the PP is better without him, but it’s clear that he wasn’t the only reason the PP was successful.
David Staples mentioned the Oilers are generating almost one fewer PP scoring chances/game since RNH went down, but I’m not sure if he took into account that the Oilers averaged 4.05 PPs/game in the first 38 games, but they’ve only had 2.6 PP chances in the last eleven. I assume that having fewer powerplays/game would mean fewer scoring chances/game.
With Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Corey Potter the Oilers have better PP specialists than in previous years, and when RNH returns they should continue to be exceptional on the PP. They will need to start drawing more penalties though, if they want to continue to be a top-three PP team.
Prior to the All-Star break the Oilers played two of their most consistent games of the season, picking up three of a possible four points over the Canucks and Sharks. They got very good goaltending from Devan Dubnyk, and he’ll need to continue his stellar play if they hope to win two of three this week.
Philippe Cornet will play his first NHL game tonight, and he’ll play with Sam Gagner and Eberle. Renney said you can expect Cornet to get some PP time as well. The lineup will look like this:
Cornet – Gagner – Eberle
Hall – Horcoff – Hemsky
Smyth – Belanger – Jones
Eager – Lander – Petrell
Whitney – Potter
Smid – Petry
Peckham – Sutton
Nugent-Hopkins wants to play on Thursday, and while Renney wouldn’t commit to Thursday, he said you can expect the 2011 first overall pick back very soon. Gilbert’s ankle is getting better and today was the first day he didn’t tweak it while skating, but he won’t play on this homestand.
*** If you google "great hair" this picture comes up, so I thought it was fitting.**
- If I’m Ryan Jones I’d shave my hair off. First off it is for a great cause, and secondly, Jones needs a change. He was invisible for all of January. I didn’t expect him to score 25 goals this year, so I’m not shocked that his goals have dried up, but he hasn’t been around the puck or the net for a few weeks and he needs to get back to playing gritty. Jones won’t be successful playing "pretty" or on the perimeter. That isn’t his game, and I suspect he spent the AS break reminding himself why he was successful in the first 40 games.
- Many have discussed the merits of trading Andy Sutton. There are pros and cons to keeping him. His suspension history is the biggest con at this point. The next time he crosses the line, he’ll be sitting out at least ten games, possibly more, and you wonder if having that hang over his head will make him less effective. The big question for me is what will be the return for him. If the Oilers can only get a 3rd rounder, I don’t see why you trade him. The odds of that pick panning out are very low, so unless they can get a 2nd rounder I wouldn’t make the move. Re-sign him for $1 million bucks and let him stick around to protect the young stars, but also be a calming influence in the room.
- The Avs are one of five teams battling for the 8th and final playoff spot. The top-six teams are locks at this point, and I suspect the Kings will have a stronger final 30 games, so that leaves one spot for the Avs, Wild, Flames, Stars or Coyotes to grab. Three points separate those five teams today, and the Avs push to the playoffs starts tonight. Matt Duchene needs to get healthy for them to have any chance of making it.
- The Caps own the Avs first round pick from the Varlamov trade this summer, so I wonder if GM Greg Sherman feels more pressure to make the playoffs and avoid giving up a top-ten pick. I wonder if he’d make another bold move to try and squeeze in?
Many of you will be just as interested, if not more, in the commercials rather than the actual game this Sunday. Here’s one of the spots you will see.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers will skate away with a 3-2 victory on two goals from Hall.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hall will be very alert when Ryan Wilson is on the ice for the Avs. Wilson will try to line him up for a few hits, but Hall won’t put himself in a vulnerable position, and one time he’ll avoid a hit that leads to one of his goals.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Eric Belanger spent most of his AS break shooting pucks in his backyard. Instead of using round disks as targets, he had head shots of myself, Mark Spector, Jim Matheson and Bob Stauffer in the four corners. Supposedly on the first day he went two for ten, but by Saturday he was consistently going four for five. All the practice pays off and Belanger shocks Oilersnation by potting his 2nd of the season.