The Edmonton Oilers held an optional skate at practice yesterday. Skaters participating were four fringe major league defenceman, enforcer Luke Gazdic, and injured winger Nail Yakupov. It was, as the coach admitted afterward, a pretty good indication of the health of the team.
And baby, they already weren’t that strong.
Optional skate for #Oilers this morning. Only the three goalies, Belov, Klefbom, Fraser, Yakupov, Gazdic & Larsen on the ice.
— Chris Wescott (@TheChrisWescott) March 29, 2014
“We just thought it was better to keep most of the guys off the ice, put a few guys on and go from there,” Eakins told assembled reporters. “We’ve got a ton of guys right now that are banged up, and some guys that have been playing big minutes, and we have to do our best to keep them ready for the games.”
We touched on this yesterday, but Eakins was “fairly confident” that Tyler Pitlick would play Sunday against New York, but also passed on the news that Ryan Jones was done for the year and sounded pessimistic about a Yakupov return.
“He’s been out just over a week, so he’s going to need some practices for sure,” Eakins said. “But I know he still has some discomfort in there.”
There are a lot of different ways this could go; it’s even possible (if Pitlick proves unable to play) that the Oilers run four defence pairs and go with three forward lines plus Luke Gazdic.
Assuming an 11 forwards/seven defencemen split, my guess is that Anton Belov keeps playing (because he’s a right-side guy) and that Philip Larsen draws in as a power play specialist while Mark Fraser gets scratched.
Personally, I’d split Jeff Petry and Andrew Ference, who got the hard match against the Getzlaf line in the Anaheim game and got run over; they’re the two closest things the Oilers have to NHL shutdown guys but as a pair they don’t get results as good as Petry/Martin Marincin or even Petry/Ladislav Smid used to do.
Naturally, we’ll update this when more information becomes available.
Update: Ference isn’t playing, thanks to a chest injury, which means Fraser draws back in:
Hall-RNH-Eberle, Lander-Gagner-Perron, Hendricks-Gordon-Pitlick, Gazdic-Smyth-Larsen, Klefbom-Schultz, Marincin-Petry, Fraser-Belov
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) March 30, 2014
Even this year’s version of taking kicks to get high picks is boring. Edmonton’s going to be going into the draft favoured for either the second or third overall selection; Buffalo in first is out of reach (12 point gap) and so too are the New York Islanders in fourth (seven points). Woo hoo.
Game day prediction: New York had their five-game winning streak snapped by Calgary on Friday, but they’re still 25 points ahead of the Oilers. On the other hand, a) they’re an Eastern team and b) Scrivens is gonna Scrivens, so let’s call it 2-1 Edmonton.
Obvious game day prediction: Martin St. Louis hasn’t scored a goal in a baker’s dozen of games for New York. He finally pops in his 30th of the season tonight in Edmonton.
Not-so-obvious game day prediction: After the game, St. Louis is asked what enabled him to finally break the slump. He’ll laugh and say, “You know, it’s the weirdest thing. I was incredibly tense, but then I heard ‘The Last Saskatchewan Pirate’ play in the arena, and it was such a ridiculous song to play during a hockey game that I laughed and the tension went away.”