Usually Oiler fans would be excited to watch the best player in the game, but the thought of Sidney Crosby shooting on Devan Dubnyk is frightening. The Pens are 3-0 at home and they’ve outscored the opposition 12-3. The Penguins skated into Florida last Friday and got waxed 6-3 by the Panthers, so don’t expect the Penguins to take the struggling Oilers lightly.
Crosby is rolling with 5 goals and 9 points in 5 games. He is likely licking his chops in anticipation of facing the Oilers and their 4.83 GAA.
The great part about sports is that anything can happen. Most would predict an Oiler loss tonight, but once the puck drops anything can happen.
Maybe Devan Dubnyk suddenly finds his game. Stop chuckling, it is possible.
Maybe the Oilers stop turning the puck over at the offensive blueline, and chip it deep.
Maybe their PK gets some timely saves and some sticks in the lanes to break up passes.
Maybe Nail Yakupov shows Dallas Eakins he got the message and pots two goals.
Maybe the Oilers finally understand all the nuances of Eakins new system and play a sound defensive game.
They might need all of these maybes to happen in order to win, but if the Penguins can lose 6-3 to the Panthers the Oilers have a shot.
The Oilers didn’t have a morning skate, but we will see some lineup changes.
Jesse Joensuu has been sent back to Edmonton to get an undisclosed injury looked at.
Ryan Jones was recalled from OKC, while Philip Larsen was sent down.
Yakupov will return to the lineup.
I’m guessing Jones will play on the 4th line in place of either Luke Gazdic or Mike Brown. Brown leads the team in hits, but isn’t doing anything offensively. Gazdic is tougher, and he’s been physical. Eakins believes you need to wear down the opposition physically, so maybe Brown stays while Gazdic sits. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a bonafide heavyweight so Eakins could put Brown with Jones and hope they create something on the forecheck.
The top-nine could have numerous options. These are the top-nine forwards, but we likely won’t know the lines until later today. This is what I would do:
LW C RW
Hall RNH Yakupov
Perron Arcobello Eberle
Smyth Gordon Hemsky
Jones Acton Brown
It is a major risk to put Yakupov with RNH and Hall, because they’ve given up a lot of chances lately, but I’d still look at it.
Eberle and Perron had good chemistry in camp, and Arcobello seems to fit in well with Eberle.
You could go with a veteran line of Gordon, Smyth and Hemsky. Hemsky and Smyth know how to play with one another, and they should be reliable enough defensively.
Ultimately, I don’t think it matters who plays with whom. Collectively the forwards need to be better away from the puck. Most of the guys are producing, and once Yakupov finds his offence this group will be fine. The key is which trio can find some defensive chemistry.
The blueline is struggling. J.Schultz looks lost, but he’s only played 54 NHL games and he wasn’t heralded as a defensive dynamo when they signed him. He will calm down and make smarter plays. Belov has been okay, but this team lacks a true top-pairing defender. Until they get one, they need their forwards to help them defensively. It is a must for this team to be competitive.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hard to believe the Oilers can pull out a victory. They lose 3-2, but don’t give up four goals for the first time all season. That will be a moral victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Crosby scores a PP goal in the first period.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Gordon scored 4 goals in 48 games last year, but he already has 4 this year. Craig Adams scored 3 goals in 48 games last year, but he already has 3 goals in 5 games. Gordon leads the Oilers in goals, while Adams is 2nd on the Penguins. Both of them continue their surprising starts and pick up a goal each. Both of them will score career highs in goals this season.