The Oilers’ previous eight games against the St. Louis Blues have been ugly. The Oilers lost all eight, one in OT, were outscored 34-13 and out shot 257-169. The two losses this year were improvements over the previous six — losing 3-1 and 4-2, the shots a combined 60-50 — but they still lost.
The Oilers played the Blues twice in the first four games of the season, and Todd McLellan was hoping he could gauge if his team has improved. He admitted this morning that with so many injuries it will be difficult to get an accurate read on his team, but was also quick to mention he wants to see how his team competes against the big, skilled Blues.
The Blues have no glaring weakness. They have an excellent D corps, and a wide array of forwards who can beat you with skill, or size or nastiness. In the regular season they are an elite team, and they’ve dominated the Oilers, but they are the San Jose Sharks of the central division when playoff time arrives. They’ve been unable to win when it matters most.
The Blues had their six-game winning streak snapped in Calgary on Monday and they were not happy with their performance. They will be in a snarly mood tonight, so McLellan should get his wish to see how his team reacts and competes against one of the upper echelon teams in the league.
“I want to see ten winning efforts,” McLellan said about the final ten games of the season. That doesn’t mean he expects ten victories, but he wants his team to put forth an effort that will give them a chance to win. The Oilers were very competitive versus the Predators on Monday, and if Cam Talbot was in goal they likely would have gone to OT, or possibly win in regulation.
The Oilers will need a similar effort tonight or the Blues will embarrass them.
The Oilers had an optional skate, so we won’t know the exact lines until game time, but Darnell Nurse draws in for Nikita Nikitin on the blueline and Cam Talbot gets the start in goal.
- I’m interested to see who David Backes plays against. He has intimidated the Oilers for years and he loves to try and get players off their game early on with an extra crosscheck of glove in the face. I’d challenge Leon Draisaitl and match him up against Backes tonight. When Draisaitl uses his size he is much more effective and Backes will make him earn every inch on the ice. It would be good to see how Draisaitl responds.
- Listening to McLellan today, the only thing he discussed with Darnell Nurse was knowing the rules more. Ensuring he knows about the instigator in the final five minutes, and the aggressor penalty. He did not talk about being less aggressive. They do not want to rein in Nurse’s natural aggression. McLellan believes it is an important aspect of Nurse’s overall game.
- “We don’t know what we have because we’ve never had our entire lineup. This week is the first time we’ve even practiced with our entire group,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. The Blues are tied for first place in the west despite all their injuries. Hitchcock is excited about the potential of his team, but is also a bit leery because he doesn’t know exactly what he has, since they’ve never iced a full lineup.
- There is no doubt the Oilers injuries have impacted their team, but no one in the organization should be fooled into believing they’d be close to a playoff team if healthy. The Blues have lost many key players, but they are still winning.
- Sounds like the NHL has almost finalized the expansion draft rules. Today’s proposal suggests teams will be able to protect seven forwards, three D-men and one goalie, or a team can protect eight skaters of any position and one goalie. Players with less than three years of pro experience, like Connor McDavid, don’t need to be protected. No confirmation on what happens for players with No Move Clauses. It might force teams to protect players with NMC. There are many wrinkles to iron out, but the number of protected players will be much lower than in previous expansion drafts and that is a good thing. The main wrinkle will be how much salary cap they need to protect and/or expose. That will make the lists much more interesting.
The expansion draft won’t happen until next summer, at the earliest. Based on today’s rosters I don’t see the Oiler having any issues. They are likely to make a trade or two this summer so their forwards will be fine. The only issue might occur on the blueline if they add one or two proven defenders. If they add two then they could only protect one of Klefbom, Davidson or Sekera if they elected to go with option one.
It is too early to speculate on who they’d protect, because we won’t know the roster for next season, but in July and August it will be fun to project who they’ll keep.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Of course, rebuilds are slow processes, and the Oilers are still far away the worst. They were tied with Calgary at the bottom of the Pacific Division, but the Flames pulled ahead just recently. Not shocking, but the Oilers are now in prime position for the draft lottery – yet again. They have gone 5-4-1 in their last ten games, and have lost two in a row leading into tonight. They get Darnell Nurse back tonight, after serving his 3-game suspension for sucker-punching and jumping Roman Polak on March 8th. Also center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be in his third game tonight since being injured in January. Also, we’ll be seeing some former Blues in Nikita Nikitin and Adam Cracknel. He was claimed off of waivers by the Oilers around the deadline, and has yet to register a point with his new team. That’s too bad, but I hope he holds off at least one more game.
Despite getting the hook against the Flames, it will of course be Jake Allen in goal for the Blues. The Oilers will have the option of starting their number one goalie Cam Talbot (17-24-4 record, .918 Sv%) or their new backup Laurent Brossoit (0-2-1, .882). That’s another position that they will have to shore up someday. There’s gotta be somebody that they can turn to for netminding once the rest of the team gels.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Blues are simply too deep. Talbot keeps the Oilers in the game, but they drop a 3-2 decision.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Kevin Shattenkirk shows off his elite offensive zone skill. He is so dynamic and creative inside the blueline, and he picks up two assists.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: RNH scores a PP goal, but unlike his PP goal against the Blues earlier this year, he actually shoots this one himself.
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