All losing streaks will come to an end eventually, some just take longer than others. The Oilers victories over the Islanders and Ducks last Thursday and Saturday were their first back-to-back wins since they defeated Buffalo and Vancouver on January 14th and 16th, and it was the first time they won consecutive home games since December 9th and 14th when they defeated the Flames and Flyers. Edmonton has won three games in a row only three times this season, and if they want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, they will need to string together a lot more wins down the stretch.
They skate into Nashville tonight, a place they ended a four-year drought earlier this season, with some renewed confidence, but also overmatched as Connor McDavid sits out his final game of a two-game suspension.
1. The Oilers are 1-1-1 without McDavid this year. Twice he sat out due to illness and the Oilers lost 4-1 in Dallas, and 3-2 in a shootout to Arizona, before defeating the Ducks 2-1 this past weekend with him suspended. Edmonton will need another strong performance from Mikko Koskinen to have a chance tonight and they will need Leon Draisaitl leading them offensively. He has four points in three games without McDavid and has factored in on four of the five goals they’ve scored with #97 sitting in the pressbox.
2. Koskinen made his first start with the Oilers on October 27th in Nashville and won 5-3. That was Edmonton’s first victory over the Predators since March 3rd, 2014 and ended a 13-game losing steak. Sam Gagner had 1-1-2 that night. I think Koskinen has played quite well since Cam Talbot was traded. He will make his seventh consecutive start tonight, and despite not getting wins in the first four I felt he played quite well. He’s given them a chance to win every night.
3. Here is an update on the Jesse Puljujarvi situation. Here is what I do know. He did skate last week. He can skate without pain, but if he has to engage in a battle he feels discomfort in his lower body. I can’t confirm where the discomfort is, and speculating what an injury usually leads to an error, but I’m guessing it is a groin or hip problem based on what I’ve heard. Based on conversations I’ve had I sense they are getting a second opinion because they (Puljujarvi’s camp and the Oilers) want to figure out exactly what is the problem. Players often play with a nagging injury, but eventually they want to see progress or at least know exactly what the injury is.
4. I mentioned on my show on Friday that surgery might be a possibility, and if so, it will end his season. And because of that there is the one aspect of this entire scenario that I don’t understand. Why did Puljujarvi’s agent, Markus Lehto, tell Mark Spector maybe it was time for a change of scenery the day before Puljujarvi sat out due to this injury? The agent had to have known his client was banged up. Had the agent not said anything, some fans, and certain media members, wouldn’t have been speculating that Puljujarvi was faking the injury or they asked for a second opinion to ensure he couldn’t be on the AHL playoff roster. Lehto’s timing made no sense to me. It came out on February 16th, and Puljujarvi didn’t play that night. Bad decision by the agent.
5. I’ve never wavered on my thoughts on Puljujarvi. I didn’t think he was ready at 18, 19 or even earlier this year and that the Oilers organization hasn’t helped his development by not realizing this. I’ve also said I believe when he is 22 years old and filled out his massive frame he will be a solid NHL player. I’m not sold he will be an elite point-producer, but he has the ability to be a really good contributor. Yes, the Oilers and Puljujarvi’s relationship is strained a bit right now, but that happens to players all the time. Zack Kassian’s agent mentioned a trade early in the season. It didn’t transpire and Kassian has been very good for the past six weeks. The relationship between a player and management evolve and change all the time.
6. The Oilers have made bad decisions on Puljujarvi’s development to this point, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make better ones moving forward. They won’t be able to send him to the AHL without clearing waivers next year, so he either develops here or possibly a year in Europe. It might not sound ideal, but going to Europe for a year did not hurt Mark Giordano. Giordano was 24 when he couldn’t agree to a deal with the Flames, so he went to Moscow Dynamo. He returned to Calgary the next season, and while he didn’t light it up in 2008/2009, he scored 11 goals the following season and has developed into one of the league’s best defender. Not every path to NHL success is the same, and if Puljujarvi plays one year in Europe, and plays a lot, that might not be the worst-case scenario for the Oilers and Puljujarvi.
7. Puljujarvi is far from a bust. The vast majority of 20 year olds are even playing in the NHL. Just because his development has been slower than some hoped, doesn’t mean he won’t be able to develop further from here. The Oilers aren’t going to give up on him. They won’t trade him away just because he and his agent aren’t happy. Of course a trade is possible, but I don’t see them making it unless they are getting a player back who they view has the same upside. There is still much more upside than downside to Puljujarvi’s game. I’ve preached patience on numerous occasions for this player, and I believe the organization needs to remember that now more than ever. They can’t change the past, but his future could still be very bright and all parties need to have an open communication and realize how they can make the relationship more productive moving forward.
7. Who doesn’t love a story like Josh Currie? He battled it out in the minors for six seasons. He played 154 games in the ECHL producing 35-50-85 then was recalled to the AHL where he scored 76-67-143. He was on AHL and ECHL deals for the first five seasons, before signing his first NHL two-way contract last summer. Currie was the hottest goal scorer in the AHL before the Oilers recalled him last week. He has 15 goals in 17 games, and on Saturday night he realized his lifelong dream of scoring an NHL goal. The reaction from his teammates on the ice and on the bench illustrated how much respect they have for him. Players always love watching a guy score his first NHL goal. They all remember their own first goal, but when the player is a guy who battled his way up the ranks, those goals are a bit more special.
8. Don’t freak out, but the Oilers will likely send Currie back to Bakersfield today. But it will only be temporary. In order to be eligible for the AHL playoffs a player needs to be on the AHL roster today. I expect the Oilers will send Currie and Brad Malone down, essentially a paper transaction, and then they will recall both of them so they are eligible to return to Bakersfield for the playoffs if the Oilers don’t make the postseason.
9. The Condors won their 16th consecutive game on the weekend and go for #17 tonight. Shane Starrett is 13-0-0 with a 1.77 GAA, a .936 sv% and two shutouts during the streak. He’s on a great run, but I suspect the Oilers will still sign a veteran backup to a one-year contract and have him and Starrett compete. A lot can change by next October, but if I was betting today I think they would start Starrett in the minors next year and if he dominates again they would recall him during the season. He has only played 42 AHL games, so there is no need to rush him.
10. If the Predators don’t acquire another legit scoring top-six forward I don’t see them making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. They have an excellent defense core, good goaltending and solid forwards, but I think they lack a big-time scorer. Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Victor Arvidsson are all good players, but I don’t think they are great offensive players. If they land Mark Stone the Preds would become a serious contender, otherwise I see them as a really good team, but not one who will make the Cup Finals.
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Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Trade Deadline Primer
- GDB: 60.0: Bringing a Butter Knife to a Gun Fight
- Everything is Happening: Gagner, Sekera, Puljujarvi and more
- Brodziak’s Unexpected Path to 900 NHL Games
- GDB 56.0: A Storm is Brewing
- Woodcroft outlines game plan
Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 2/25/2019 – 9:00 am MT