The Oilers enter Nashville in the midst of a dangerous dance routine; one step forward, two steps sideways and one step back. They wrapped up a crucial four-game homestand with only one win and capped it off with a dreadful performance against the Blues.
Their only victory came against the Predators, and if the Oilers have any hope of staying in the playoff race, they will need a victory in Nashville tonight.
The Predators handed the Oilers their worst loss of the season, 6-0, back on March 8th, so if you combine that with their woeful effort on Saturday you’d expect the Oilers to put forth a much better effort tonight.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took the morning skate and he will play. In order to get him on the roster the Oilers had to send Teemu Hartikainen down to OKC.
And with RNH coming back Lennart Petrell will come out of the lineup. I don’t think the line combinations matter as much as the Oilers finding a combination of hustle, smarts, effort and consistency.
Devan Dubnyk will start in goal.
I asked Ralph Krueger to share his thoughts on how he uses Nail Yakupov in the 3rd period.
JG: Are you trying to protect Yakupov late in games, or are you concerned about his defensive awareness?
RK: He has our confidence. He’s an 18 year old, he’s going to be playing in this role, probably very similar, for the rest of the year. Not For lack of ability or will, he’s very responsible without the puck now. He’s trying to play the team game all of the time. We’re happy with him, but he’s an 18 year old and down the stretch the hierarchy has it in a way that we have more experience in other positions and other players. When you’re reduced to six to nine forwards and you’re trying to close games up and take them either into overtime or finish them with a lead, he understands that it’s just not his time yet. It was no different when we went back a few years to the roles that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle had to now being able to play in those minutes.
But it’s nothing against Nail, we all know that putting a player of that age in the lineup has its unique challenges, and I think that we’ve been able to use him very well and we’re happy with the minutes that he’s played.
JG: What about in overtime when it’s 4-on-4?
RK: We just have a lot of confidence in our penalty shooting ability. We’ve had some troubles 4-on-4 during the season, so we did have him playing if you think back. And there were some 4-on-4 breakdowns that cost us games that were extremely painful, and so we’ve kind of gone with more experience there. Those are gut feelings, whether you have 8 guys, or whether you end up going with 6. And he just wasn’t in the top 6 mix the last game, but he could be the next one. There’s nothing wrong with Nail playing there, but there’s a defensive element there and a risk reward. I’ve been in situations before where you play three forwards and one defenceman and just go for it.
But again, we believe in our ability also to win in penalty shots and we just felt the way that that game had been going, and the way that San Jose had been pushing us through the last part of the game that our chances might have been better. But we did play one of our best 4-on-4 periods, I thought, this season. They had 0 shots on our net and we had a couple of scoring chances, so I thought it was actually pretty good overtime period.
JG: How do you balance the feeling as a coach from game to game? You mentioned how right now you’ve got some veteran guys, and when it’s a tight game you’d lean towards them. Against San Jose after that shift in the third period when he had two big hits and got the crowd and bench energized, yet he didn’t see the ice again. How do you balance it? Is it just a gut feel, do you have a plan going into the 3rd period, or do you go from game to game and switch it that easy?
RK: I have all of the numbers and I’m a numbers man. I have them in my head and I’m working them down as the game evolves. I’ve got nine forwards in my head. On the one side I’ve got the green side; that means we need goals. The other side is the red side, we’re trying to shut a game or close it down, I’ve got nine forwards in my head and then going down to the last four minutes I’ve got six forwards. It’s a game to game thing. It really truly is conversations that we have with Bucky and Freddy between periods coming from above. It is final conversations with Steve (Smith) while we’re in those TV timeouts so I get some input from around me, and then the stomach just really takes you down the stretch. And you go with the players who really feel good that night for that situation. "
Yakupov was on the ice for two OT losses, on February 04th and 06th. He did lose his man, Tanev, vs. the Canucks but he made no mistake on the Jagr game-winner. We can agree or disagree with Krueger’s responses, but I respect him for taking the time to express his thoughts on Yakupov. I do agree with the coach on bringing him along slowly in regulation, but considering Krueger admitted Yakupov has worked extremely hard at becoming more responsible at ES, I’d look at giving him a shift in OT when there is more room to be creative.
- Why is Sam Gagner having his best NHL season? A big reason is because of a guy named Andy O’Brien. Read more here.
- If you honestly believe the Oilers are better off moving out veterans and replacing them with unproven youth, then you can expect the Oilers to remain near the bottom of the western conference moving forward. The Oilers need to find PROVEN NHL players, not more "maybe," "might be," or "what if" type players.
- I’m not saying the Oilers can’t move a veteran or two, but the return is likely more prospects and picks. These trades won’t fix the Oilers’ problems immediately. The Oilers need more experience, more consistency in their competitiveness and they need some size/skill in their top nine.
- The Oilers will be competitive when their best players are equal to the best players on the other teams. The 4th line doesn’t win games for the Penguins, Blackhawks or Ducks. Their best players do, and until the Oilers best players are mature and have more experience the Oilers won’t win. That isn’t a knock on their young kids, it is just a fact.
- Case in point. The Capitals have won 5 of 7 and are suddenly two points out of the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin has 7 goals and 11 points in those 7 games. To win consistently in the NHL you need production from your top lines, top defenders and goalies. Focusing on the woes of the Oilers 4th line is a great distraction, but it isn’t the main problem in Edmonton.
- A stellar quote from Ovechkin courtesy of Corey Masisak from NHL.com: "Right now I’m scoring goals and I’m king of the world. Couple weeks I was almost in the toilet. Maybe [they] forgot to flush me."
- Today is the last day to help my hometown, New Sarepta, win the right to host a concert, but more importantly raise money to build a new arena. Do me a favour and take 30 seconds and vote here for New Sarepta. Thanks.
- The Oilers play their remaining 18 games in a span of 34 days. They have four sets of back-to-back games and they only get two days off between games three times. The Oilers will have to play unbelievably well to have a shot at the playoffs.
- If you were GM of the Oilers what moves would you make? Now you can show your intellect with www.websimhockey.com. It is a 100% web-based, multi-player hockey simulator. You take on the role of the General Manager of a virtual hockey team. You manage the various aspects of your team (drafts, trades, lineups, coach strategies, negotiations and contracts signings, arena construction, tickets, beer, hot dog and parking costs, and much more). Properly managing your team and its finances will ensure your success. The first 12 Nations readers who email firstname.lastname@example.org with "Nations promo" as the subject line will get a free trial. Good luck.
- This is an awesome beer commercial. I’m sure most of you have a buddy that reminds you of the guy brushing his teeth.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: In the last three meetings between these teams in Nashville one of them scored six goals. The Oilers got blanked 6-0 this year, but won 6-3 and 6-2 last year. I’m a fan of offence so I’m hoping that trend continues. The Oilers surprise us with a 6-3 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ales Hemsky scores twice thus heating up discussions over whether the Oilers should trade him before April 3rd.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: During intermission Sportsnet will feature "trade watch," and instead of Ryan Jones’ name coming across the prompter it will read Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Even though the hosts will say it was an error, many will take to twitter and blogs suggesting destinations for Nugent-Hopkins. Seriously, some will believe that moving RNH would be a good move.