Todd McLellan is getting closer to having a healthy roster for the first time this season. Matt Hendricks returns to the lineup tonight after serving a three-game suspension, leaving Oscar Klefbom and Connor McDavid as two main pieces still not available.
Both will miss four games this week, but McDavid should be ready to go on February 2nd, the Oilers’ first game after the All-Star break, and during an incredible brief exchange with Klefbom Saturday night in the bowels of Rexall Place he said, “It is getting better,” with a smile on his face.
I was walking into the press room and Klefbom was walking down the hallway out of the Oilers’ dressing room. I asked how he was doing and he responded in his typical upbeat fashion. There is no exact timeline for his return, but it will in February, very quick after the All-star break, and when he’s back the battle for icetime will increase.
Saturday versus the Flames, every forward played 10+ minutes. McClellan wants to roll four lines with the Oilers in the midst of five games in eight nights, and the return of Hendricks will give him another viable option.
The Oilers EV minutes were as follows:
Korpikoski 7:34 (hurt his foot)
McLellan has not eased Kassian into the lineup. He is giving him a steady dose of minutes, and clearly the coach likes his big-body presence. Kassian was yapping with various Flames throughout the game and he hasn’t looked out of place.
Jim Johnson runs the defence and he relied heavily on four defenders at EV and on the PK.
Those four were also the main PK guys, with Gryba playing the most, at 6:21, and Fayne the least at 3:25. Nurse played 1:01 while Schultz didn’t get any PK time.
Nurse and Schultz struggled early and Johnson didn’t go back to them as often as we’ve seen in the past. I see this as healthy competition. Players who are playing well, will play more.
Fayne played one of his best games of the season. His goal was a bonus, but defensively he played like the D-man we saw in New Jersey.
“He has played quite well lately. He is more aggressive right now. He is more involved in the play, he has a better gap, better reads, more confident with the puck and he is quicker. He seems to be a half a step faster and if he continues to play like that he is a heck of a good defenceman,” said McLellan, when I asked him about the differences in Fayne’s play recently.
It is only a few games, but if Fayne can return to being a consistent, solid defensive defender it will give Johnson options. It could also impact general manager Peter Chiarelli’s decisions. It is no secret Chiarelli will try to acquire a top-four, right shot D-man in the summer. Will the Oilers want Fayne in their third pair making $3.5 million? If Fayne continues to play well he will have some trade value.
Luke Gazdic and Hendricks are in, with Anton Lander and Lauri Korpikoski coming out. Korpikoski injured his foot, and McLellan wants Gazdic in case the game becomes a physical affair.
- I don’t have much issue with the Cam Talbot three-year contract extension worth $4.166/year. Only seven teams will have a starter making less than Talbot’s salary next season: Anaheim, Buffalo, San Jose, St.Louis, Toronto, Philly and Winnipeg. He will not be paid like an elite goalie because he has yet to prove he is one. The Oilers aren’t locked into a long-term deal, and even if Laurent Brossoit is ready to be the starter in the final two years of the contract, Brossoit won’t have a large cap hit so the total dollars for the goalie tandem won’t be very high.
I could see Brossoit and Nilsson battling for the back up job next September. Both are RFAs, but Brossoit doesn’t need waivers, and if he plays another year in the AHL it won’t crush him. He has played very well as a starter in the AHL, but being the go-to starter for another full AHL season will not hinder his development.
- The only slight concern is the no-movement clause. It began yesterday when the extension was signed and is a full NMC until June 2nd, 2018. The modified NMC begins in June of 2018, prior to the draft, and Talbot can submit a list of ten teams he would accept a trade to. If Talbot has been surpassed by Brossoit in the 2017/2018 season he might agree to a trade anyways, because he wants to play, so for me the NMC is only a minor issue.
- The goalie UFA market doesn’t have many better options. Cam Ward, Jonas Hiller and James Reimer are the most proven goalies. Kari Ramo, Jonas Enroth, Alex Stalock and Anton Khudobin are some of the other names. I don’t see any of them as a guaranteed better option.
- Talbot started the season fairly well, but struggled after the Halloween debacle versus Calgary. He only played three games between Halloween and December 13th and allowed four goals in all three. He spent time working with goalie coach Dustin Schwartz to improve his weaknesses (shortside goals), and since he returned on December 14th he has an impressive .939sv% in 12 starts. Moving forward he will need to ensure he doesn’t let one bad game carry over to the next.
- After winning their 12the consecutive games in a row vs. the Oilers last Sunday, the Panthers have now lost three straight including a 3-1 defeat last night in Tampa Bay. They weren’t playing great at the end of their winning streak, but the absence of Aaron Ekblad hasn’t helped either. He will miss tonight’s game as well.
- Gazdic needs to be involved if he has any hopes of staying in the lineup. He can’t be too respectful, and he has to do more than just fight Shawn Thornton. Be physical, intimidate with his gloves on, and be strong on the forecheck and in his own end.
- Hall had a tough game versus the Flames, but won a key faceoff that led to Fayne goal. “I was happy to contribute on something, because we weren’t very good defensively,” said Hall. “I thought we gave up a lot of grade A chance and a lot of turnovers by me. Our goalie bailed us out. Cam was the reason we got two points.
- Hall and Draisaitl have struggled offensively since returning from Christmas. In eleven games Hall has 1-2-3 while Draisailt has 1-3-4. The Oilers need those two to get going and Hall knows it. “We aren’t producing like we should and we have to get back to it. We are a bit perimeter lately, our slot chances have disappeared and you start racking up goals and producing offence when you gets shots from the slot and in tight. We have to find a way to get back there,” said Hall.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Florida (26-14-5) went into Edmonton as the NHL’s hottest team on Jan. 10 and left with a 12th straight victory and third to start a lengthy six-game trip. The outcomes have been markedly different following that 2-1 win, as the Panthers lost in overtime to Vancouver and were routed 6-0 Wednesday in Calgary prior to Sunday’s 3-1 setback to Tampa Bay.
The three-game losing streak – their longest since Nov. 19-23 – has coincided with star defenseman Aaron Ekblad sidelined with a suspected concussion, the result of a hit from Edmonton’s Matt Hendricks that earned the Oilers forward a three-game suspension.
While payback may be on the Panthers’ minds with Hendricks eligible to return, they’re more concerned with reviving a lifeless power play that’s 0 for 18 over the last seven games.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers haven’t lost in Florida since March 08th, 2002. They have won six in a row in Florida, with the last five being decided in OT (once) or in a SO (four times). The Oilers’ winning streak in Florida improves to seven with a 4-2 regulation win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Gudbranson goes looking for Hendricks. They fight, but it is a very short-lived tussle.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hall has scored against every NHL team except for two. The Panthers are one of them. (Do you know the other? I will put answer in the comment section after 1 p.m.). Hall scores his first goal in six games versus the Panthers on a nifty pass from Draisaitl.
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THE NATION SKI TRIP
This is going to be the event of the year and we’re inviting you and all of your scandalous buddies to join us. If I was to make a recommendation I would suggest that you don’t wait to buy your tickets. This event will sell quickly, and procrastination will do nothing but leave you missing out on a hell of a party.