Every player inside the Edmonton Oilers dressing room still believes they can make the playoffs. They have to, and they should. They are well aware the odds aren’t great, but you won’t last very long in the NHL if you are a quitter and won’t continue to work hard when things aren’t going your way.
The Oilers need wins, and a lot of them, just to get back in the playoff conversation, and right now they are using the Colorado Avalanche as positive motivation. The Avalanche won their 10th consecutive game last night in Toronto. Prior to their winning streak, the Avs were one point ahead of the Oilers and in 12th place in the west.
The Avalanche winning streak came against good teams. Nine victories came against teams ahead of them in the standings and all nine, excluding Minnesota, are currently in the playoffs. They defeated good teams,
The Oilers have won three in a row, and if they have any hope of making the playoffs they need to go on a long winning streak now. A win against the 30th place Buffalo Sabres is a must.
The Sabres topped the Oilers 3-1 in Buffalo on November 24th. It was one of the most boring games of the season. The Oilers had no emotion and they are well aware their effort and performance wasn’t good enough. They won’t be taking the Sabres lightly. They can’t afford to, and I don’t believe they are arrogant enough to do so tonight.
The Sabres won 2-1 in Calgary last night and are looking to win consecutive games for only the second time all season after defeating Boston and Detroit in October.
This is not a marquee matchup, although it does have Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the first and second overall picks from the 2015 draft. Those two don’t have a rivalry, nor do these teams, but the Oilers motivation should be easy to find. It is based on desperation.
And they need a quick start. The Sabres have been outscored 44-20 in the first period and they are 4-20-4 when allowing the first goal. I’m no Einstein, but scoring first against Buffalo will increase the Oilers odds of winning significantly.
Anton Slepyshev draws in for Mike Cammalleri. Slepyshev needs to show something. When other players like Caggiula or Khaira have come out of the press box, they made an impression and stayed in the lineup. Slepyshev hasn’t done that once this year. He needs to play so well he forces Todd McLellan to keep him in the lineup. He can’t settle for just being on the ice.
The Sabres didn’t skate this morning and Benoit Pouliot has been scratched in three of their last seven games. But often a coach plays guys against their former team. I’d expect him to draw back in tonight, but anyone holding on to the notion Pouliot would be helping the Oilers a lot should let it go. He has been healthy scratched on the 30th place team. When he is on, he is an effective NHL player, but consistency has always been his nemesis. He has four points in his last 26 games after starting the season with six goals in his first 19 games. He is a frustrating player, because he shows a coach how good he can be for stretches, but then his play really falls off. He has the talent to be more productive than he’s been in his career, but he’s always battled inconsistency. It’s too bad.
But due to his high-end play, I still think a team will acquire him at the deadline. He won’t cost very much and if he finds his game at the right time in the playoffs, he could score a big goal. It is a risk, but a low risk move and I could see a team acquiring him.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
After a nice little run in the playoffs last season. The expectations were high for the Oilers entering this season. Thus far they’ve fallen well short of meeting those expectations. Entering tonight they’re 11 points out of the final playoff spot in the Pacific division and 12 points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Oilers have won their last three games by a combined score of 12-6. They’ve also been sitting idle since Saturday. The Sabres could be in tough tonight after a tough overtime game last night in Calgary.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers match their season-high four-game winning streak by downing the Sabres 4-1.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Kassian picks up a point. He has eight points in nine career games against the team who drafted him 13th overall in 2009.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Puljujarvi scores two goals in a game on home ice for the first time in his career.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 01/23/2018 – 12:30pm MST