The Edmonton Oilers have two games remaining in the most disappointing season in franchise history. It will be another long off-season for fans, players, coaches and management, and the organization needs to ensure they find ways to ice a competitive team next season. The roster will look different, but I’m not sure we will see massive changes. I could be wrong, and we’ll see what the summer offers, but it is more likely we see three new players than seven or eight.
Their opposition tonight, the surprising Vegas Golden Knights, should provide some inspiration for the Oilers in how you don’t need to add superstars to make your team competitive.
The Golden Knights have exceeded everyone’s expectations, and their consistent play hasn’t dipped for any prolonged time all season. They are fourth in goals scored with 264, and they are tied for fifth in goals against at 214. Their powerplay is eighth at 21.8% and their PK is also eighth at 81.7%. They are 11th in shots on goal per game and seventh in shots against.
They haven’t shown any weaknesses all season, and the Oilers need to be on their toes to avoid being embarrassed at home tonight. The Golden Knights have the best home record in the NHL, and they have accumulated the fourth most road points, 49, with a 22-12-5 record.
Vegas still has something to play for. They are four points back of Nashville for first in the west with two games remaining, and they own the tiebreaker, as they are tied with Tampa Bay for the most regulations wins in the NHL with 47. They are also one point back of Winnipeg, and Vegas would love to finish ahead of them to secure home ice advantage if they meet in the third round.
The Oilers are playing for pride, and they will get a bit of an emotional lift tonight as Keegan Lowe plays his first game as an Edmonton Oiler. “I grew up a diehard fan. I’ve always been a fan and to put on the jersey tonight will be surreal,” beamed Lowe this morning. When you have nothing to play for, players look for anything to motivate them, and Lowe’s excitement could be infectious. At this point you try to draw on anything to get you into the game.
I spoke to Jesse Puljujarvi this morning about his English lessons. “They are going well. I needed them,” he smiled. He did have “a few” meetings with an English teacher last year he said, but only a few. Right now he goes every day when he is home, except on game days. He plans to continue working with someone to improve his English this summer.
He told me he did take English classes for six years in Finland, but said, “I did nothing. I didn’t study or work at it.” I know how he feels. Homework as a teenager was not my forte. I did enough to get by, but when I went to College and studied I found school easy. Puljujarvi is only 19 and he really wants to improve his grasp on the English language.
He also spoke about needing to get stronger, and wants to work on his edges. “I learned my weaknesses,” he said.
It is important for many to realize, including the Oilers organization, that he is still a very young man. I’d argue he shouldn’t have been in the NHL the past few seasons, but the one positive is he has learned what he needs to work on to improve in this league. I won’t be surprised if we don’t see Puljujarvi start to reach his potential until he is 22 or 23, which is just fine, but the organization needs to be patient with him. He also needs to put in the work on and off the ice to improve, and I expect he will.
I don’t think he will be a superstar first line player, but he has the tools, if he keeps maturing and improving, to be a very solid player for the Oilers in the future. But the future might not be next season. He might still be more of a third and second line player next year, and that shouldn’t be looked as a negative.
Gerard Gallant wouldn’t commit who will start in goal. It sounds like he will let Fleury decide. Zach Whitecloud will make his NHL debut on the blueline. Reilly Smith skated, but isn’t ready to play while Jonathon Marchessault and Nate Schmidt will get the night off.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The 2017-2018 season has been extremely disappointing for the Oilers, who were preseason favorites to win the Pacific Division after last year’s promising playoff run. Instead, the Oilers have regressed considerably and will be in the Draft Lottery sweepstakes yet again.
However, the Oilers players want to help McDavid win the scoring title and claim his second straight Art Ross Trophy. McDavid sits five points ahead of Nikita Kucherov (98) in the scoring race and, barring any wild late-season heroics of the Jamie Benn variety, should do just that.
McDavid was on quite a tear recently, recording seven goals and 14 points in a six-game point streak. However, he has been held without a point in back-to-back games. The 21-year-old phenom has game-changing speed and already has two goals and five points in three games against the Knights this season, so containing him will be one of Vegas’ top priorities. However, as we’ve seen before, that’s easier said than done.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Vegas keeps rolling and wins their 48th game in regulation 4-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid avoids going pointless in three games for the second time in his career. He picks up two points to reach 105. He wants to surpass 106 and have the most points in an NHL season since Evgeni Malkin scored 109 in 2012.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Darnell Nurse scores his first goal in 35 games. His last goal was January 13th in Vegas.
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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 3/5/2018 – 1:30 pm MST