The Edmonton Oilers are in New York to play the Rangers on Sunday. A win tonight would move them to 2-2 on their current five-game road trip and give them a much needed boost up the standings. A loss, on the other hand, would make it all too easy to dismiss Friday’s win as an aberration and bring yet more pressure down on the coach and general manager.
One of the things I wonder when I look at this team is whether Dallas Eakins was doomed by the fifth game of the season. I say that because the Oilers aren’t a terribly good team – I pegged them 12th in the West – and so even playing 0.500 hockey is pretty tough to do for a sustained period of time. When a team loses its first five games, even if it goes 18-18 over the next 36 it’s still going to be sitting at 18-23 on the year by the halfway point of the season.
That’s sort of what’s happened to the Oilers, who are 5-5-0 over their last 10 games. Unfortunately for the club, that 0-4-1 start means that despite winning half of their last 10 games the club is 5-9-1, seven points out of the playoffs and seeing torch-and-pitchfork wielding mobs on social media after every loss (and sometimes, if the opponent is Buffalo, even after the wins).
I thought the Oilers played better than an 0-4-1 mark would indicate over their first five, but even if that’s true the dice have no memory – the team doesn’t get to demand the bounces go their way for five straight games to even things out. Somehow, Eakins needs to find a way to get this team to play at better than a 0.500 pace for a while or he needs to get some friendly bounces. Otherwise, the team is going to stay near the bottom of the NHL standings.
No changes up front; the biggest question is how much time Iiro Pakarinen gets. Eakins has been double-shifting Nail Yakupov and the Russian winger has looked pretty good, but Pakarinen’s own play has been a strong argument that he deserves more minutes. There isn’t a wrong answer for the coach here.
Andrew Ference is back, which means that Martin Marincin gets to join Oscar Klefbom as a healthy scratch. Eakins has opted to reunite last year’s wretched Ference/Justin Schultz pairing, and we’ve seen enough of it to know how that’s likely to go. The other two pairings are unchanged, as Nikita Nikitin is given another game with Jeff Petry as he tries to overcome his own struggles and shutdown defenceman Mark Fayne draws Keith Aulie once again.
It’s an ugly position, but the personnel choices here aren’t helping.
Viktor Fasth played well against Buffalo, so he gets to try again against New York.
Game day predicition: New York played on Saturday, with Alain Vigneault opting to start his backup against Toronto – presumably under the belief that with Henrik Lundqvist in net the Rangers stand a good chance even tired against the Oilers. It’s a reasonable bet on his part, but it won’t work out, as the Oilers manage to squeak out a 2-1 decision.
Obvious game day prediction: Keith Aulie likes playing, and fighting doesn’t hurt his chances of staying in the lineup, so he and Tanner Glass will square off at some point in the first half of the game.
Not-so-obvious game day prediction: While much of the focus will be on Benoit Pouliot returning to New York, he’ll be outshined by Nail Yakupov. There have been suggestions for years that Glen Sather’s love of elite talent might make him interested in Yakupov, and the 2012 first overall pick won’t hurt that talk with a goal and an assist against the Rangers.
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