During the long 82-game season there are some games you expect to be uneventful. But then there is the other end of the spectrum where leading up to a game there is a lot of excitement or animosity.
Whenever the Stanley Cup champions come to town there is a different feeling, but tonight it is even higher because the @St.Louis Blues are not only the defending champs, they are also first in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Edmonton Oilers.
“Anytime the Stanley Cup champions come in your building you use it as a measuring stick,” said James Neal. “This is a game that is easy to get up for. There will be a lot of energy in the building. This is a game you want to win. They are coming off a back-to-back. We have to recognize their schedule, with us sitting at home and we want to be a team that is hard to play against at home. They got in late last night so we have to try and use that to our advantage.”
Head coach Dave Tippett went a bit deeper on how he approaches this game.
“There is a little more aura around the game when you play the defending champs,” said Tippett. “I know their team well. I know their coaching staff well. When you win like that you look like you play with confidence. Look at their entire group, throughout their lineup, they know they are a good team. You (Oilers) have to go out and make sure your work ethic is in place, the details of the game are in place because you know they will have them.
“It is a good challenge for us. I want to see how we play. We have some players who can play better than they have been. It’s about going out, putting the work in and finding a way to win against a good team,” Tippett said.
Tippett is coaching like this is a big game. Joel Persson will not dress tonight after not touching the ice after the Coyotes second goal on Monday. He isn’t sitting for one error. It was a build up of things. Tippett wants him to play with more urgency and fire in his game. The coach has also pointed out he understands Persson is adapting to the pace, speed and physicality of the NHL. The harsh reality of the NHL is that a head coach’s job is to win games, not develop players. You try to balance it, but successful teams don’t develop players in the NHL.
One game in the pressbox won’t hurt Persson. I think Tippett is actually protecting him a bit by not playing him against the Blues. He can come back in against the Devils or Ducks on the weekend, as those teams are not as good or as physically challenging as the Blues.
This is a wonderful opportunity for the Oilers to see how the matchup against the Blues. A win tonight would make them 4-0 against teams in the top-six in the NHL and into third place in the NHL standings. They’ve already defeated Washington (first place) Vancouver (sixth) and the New York Islanders (fourth).
Tippett alluded to the Blues knowing they are a good team. A win tonight for the Oilers would be a big brick as they try to construct a winning foundation in Edmonton.
It was an optional skate this morning, but McDavid was on the ice. He isn’t fatigued, far from it. He, and the other eight skaters on the ice, were working on various little things, but I noticed he was working on shooting off the rush. He is always working to improve different elements of his game.
Let me save you the time of writing how Kris Russell shouldn’t play the right side. We all know he is better on the left side, but at this point, Tippett feels Russell on RD is better than Persson. I agree with him. Puck movement is important, no question, but so too is defending and competing. Right now Persson is struggling with defending and competing, so Tippett is going with a veteran whom he trusts more, even if he knows there are weaknesses in having him on his right side. He sees those weaknesses as less of an issue than Persson’s right now.
This isn’t a long-term solution. If Adam Larsson is healthy then this isn’t even a discussion. The coach wants more out of Persson so he is sending him a message, but it’s not like he is the first player to be healthy scratched this year, and he won’t be the last as the Oilers are getting healthier.
Forwards Riley Sheahan, Joakim Nygard and Josh Archibald are all likely to return this weekend, so there will be some others coming out of the lineup, and a few forwards heading down to the minors. The Oilers are winning and players are battling, not only for ice time, but for a spot in the lineup.
This is long overdue in Edmonton and a welcome sight.
When you look up and down these lineups I doubt many would have the Blues scoring more goals and the Oilers allowing fewer. The Blues are without their most dangerous sniper in Vladimir Tarasenko for another five months. The Oilers have been without Adam Larsson since opening night, yet their GAA is lower than the Blues despite the Blues having a much deeper blueline.
The Oilers goalies get a lot of credit for that, but the Oilers haven’t been handing out five-star chances as often as in previous years. And for the most part they find ways to stay in games.
“I like our desperation in games,” said Neal. “I like the way we come back and how we feel we are never out of a game, regardless of how we are playing. Everyone has shown the willingness to do the work to get better. We have a long ways to go, but we are off to a good start.
“The Blues are a well-rounded group. They are physical, but they have the skill to go with it. I’m excited for tonight and I sense our team is as well,” continued Neal.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Mike Smith remains red hot and backstops the Oilers to a 4-2 victory. It is only his sixth victory in 22 career games against the Blues.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Some fans will miss the opening few minutes as they forgot the start time was 6:30 p.m. It will be a close contest to see if there are more complaints about the early start or Russell playing RD.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Kris Russell picks up his 10th career assist against the Blues. They are only the fifth team he has 10+ assists against.
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