Andrej Sekera doesn’t have the usual NHL nickname. They didn’t shorten his last name or add a “Y” to the end.
He got the nickname from Mike Stothers, his junior coach in Owen Sound. At first they jokingly called him Aan-d-Reg, but Stothers shortened it to Reg and now his teammates call him Reg or Reggie.
They are happy to have Reg back and Sekera can’t wait to play. Tonight he’ll play his first NHL game in 230 days since tearing his ACL in Anaheim on Friday, May 5th.
“I feel as good as I need to feel to be playing at this level. I will play hard and try to help us win a game,” smiled Sekera yesterday morning.
This was the first major injury of his career. He missed a month in January of 2010 and has missed three weeks numerous times, but he never endured a seven-month rehab stint.
“In the beginning it was difficult, because after the surgery there is only certain things you can do and it gets old, but then after every stage of the rehab you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” explained Sekera.
“It was getting better and better, and you finally get used to it and then every single new thing later in rehab is like a kick in the butt and a new starting point, and now I’m excited, not nervous,” continued Sekera.
He will be paired with Matt Benning tonight and likely won’t face the toughest line matchups just yet. But, he will replace Oscar Klefbom on the first powerplay unit and he brings a different skill set to the man advantage.
Sekera doesn’t shoot as hard as Klefbom, and he does have a propensity to get his shot blocked more frequently, however, he is a better passer from up top. The Oilers PP has has no problem entering the zone, but once they are set up they have been too stationary and the puck movement hasn’t been quick enough. Sekera is a better passer than Klefbom in the offensive zone. He will move it around quicker and don’t be surprised to see Mark Letestu having more one-timer opportunities in the next few games. Sekera is more of a fluid passer and with the powerplay currently in a 4-for-34 slump, his presence could give them a boost.
Letestu did score just after the powerplay expired last game and Milan Lucic did the same in Minnesota, so the PP is showing signs of awakening again, and while Sekera is a better passer than Klefbom he will also have seven months of rust to knock off. Sekera feels his biggest challenge will be adapting to the pace of play
“Just getting up to speed. Guys are already 34 games in and I’m at zero. I just need to play a simple game and try to make sure they like me on the ice when the play with me and not the other way (laughs),” said Sekera.
After a lengthy layoff, most players admit the first game back is actually easier than games 2-10. Their adrenaline gets them through the first game. They are so excited to be back on the ice, but that doesn’t last over the next few games and Sekera told me will be monitoring that. He spoke to some current and former teammates about the challenges of returning after a long rehab and the biggest challenge is trying not to do too much. After a long layoff, every player wants to contribute right away, but they can get in trouble if they try to do too much too soon.
He will play tonight and Saturday and then have four days off before the Oilers return from the Christmas break next Wednesday in Winnipeg. The CBA prohibits the Oilers from practicing for three days, and TSN radio host Jason Strudwick mentioned Sekera might try to get on the ice and skate by himself just to stay sharp. The other players could use the rest, while he wants to improve his timing and skating.
Sekera’s return comes at a great time for the Oilers. Oscar Klefbom has been playing with an undisclosed upper body injury for weeks. Give him credit for playing through it until Sekera was ready. Sekera’s return combined with the re-acquisition of Brandon Davidson means the Oilers have excellent depth on their blueline. When Klefbom returns there will be healthy competition for icetime. Davidson might be the odd man out to start, since Sekera, Klefbom and Darnell Nurse are the top-three left defencemen, but he is playing very well and if he does come out of the lineup it won’t be for very long. Nurse and Russell are the only defenders to play all 34 games, and with a more constant stream of injuries this season, the return of Davidson and Sekera is crucial as the Oilers try to climb the Western Conference standings.
It looks like Mike Cammalleri returns to the lineup, and he’ll start on the fourth line, but he should still have an opportunity to produce as Letestu and Zack Kassian have produced the third and sixth most points for the Oilers in the past eleven games. They’ve had a rotation of left wingers, but still managed to produce offensively. Cammalleri has six points since being acquired from Los Angeles for Jussi Jokinen, and has played much better in his past eight games. I’m curious to see if Cammalleri returns to the second powerplay unit tonight or if Jesse Puljujarvi gets another shot. I’d give Puljujarvi a few more looks.
The Blues have really missed Jaden Schwartz. He was placed on the IR on December 9th and the Blues are 1-4 without him. Schwartz, despite missing five games, still leads the NHL in even strength points with 30. Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov and John Tavares have 29. Schwartz is the engine that drives that line. He is relentless all over the ice and the Blues offence has hit a wall without him. The Blues have been shutout twice in the past five games and they’ve only scored a total of four goals, three of them on the powerplay. Tarasenko and Schenn have two points each, but none at 5×5. Those two haven’t been able to produce thus far without Schwartz. In fact, Tarasenko doesn’t have a 5×5 goal since November 21st, when he scored versus the Oilers. He has three goals, all on the powerplay, in the past 14 games.
The Blues have also been outshot 127-76 over the past three games. The Jets fired 46 and 48 shots in back-to-back games while Calgary had 33 last night. The Blues are struggling and they played last night while the Oilers have had two days off. Despite the Blues being tied with Vegas, Nashville and Los Angeles for first place in the Western Conference, this is winnable game for the Oilers.
The Blues are struggling, which happens to every good team at some point, while the Oilers are playing their best hockey of the season. They need the points more than the Blues, and must avoid another slow start. The Oilers have allowed the first goal in 21 of 34 games. They are 6-14-1 when they allow the first goal, and when they score first they are 9-3-1. The Blues meanwhile are 16-2-1 when scoring first. It won’t be easy scoring early, as the Blues have allowed only 21 first period goals, second lowest in the NHL. And unless the Oilers want to take a major risk, they can’t be trailing after 40 minutes. The Blues are a league-best 18-0 when leading to start the third period. The Oilers are 9-0 when leading after 40.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Blues embarrassed the Oilers 8-3 a month ago to the day. The Oilers are are 8-5 since then and will continue to play well in a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Blues score a PP goal and RNH picks up a point — 15 of his points have come at home.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Instead of an endless amount of crowd shots, the in-house entertainment decides to use the world-class big screen to pump up the crowd by showing replays of big hits, great goals and other plays. You know, reasons to cheer, unlike watching Sally and Steve in section 105 look up, notice they are on big screen and wave.
MONTH OF GIVING
Thank you to Doug and Rory for their bids and the Brick for the great packages.
Day 15: Package #1 Dinner with Smyth and Letestu at Vivo Ristorante
- Dinner for six people at Vivo Ristorante in their private room. You will dine with Ryan Smyth and Mark Letestu. I will fill the glasses.
- Includes five course meal and beverages and wine of your choice
- Blue Sky Limos will pick you up and drop you off at the end of the evening.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The Alberta MS Society
Package #2: Pyramid of Giving
Adopt-A-Teen Edmonton is well short of their fundraising goal. They supply a $50 gift card to teens so they don’t go without at Christmas. Being a teenager is tough. You are trying to figure out who you are, dealing with hormones, relationships and at times it is very awkward time of our life. We do a lot for kids at Christmas, but many teenagers are left out and today we will help them.
We will have a pyramid of giving.
Eight people will donate $100
Six people will donate $200
Four people will donate $500
Two people will donate $1000.
Of the 20 who donate I will then do a draw and the winner will receive a $500 shopping spree at Crowley’s Jewellers.
You can text 101260 starting at 2 p.m. today. Thanks in advance.
Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 12/21/2017 – 12:30pm MST