Injuries are part of hockey, and usually at one point in the season, every team in the NHL will endure some challenges due to injuries. Good teams find ways to overcome them, at least for short periods of time. Exceptional teams will be able to overcome key injuries for long periods of time. The defending Stanley Cup champions haven’t missed a beat despite being without the best goal scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko, all season. The Pittsburgh Penguins went 18-6-4 without Sidney Crosby.
If the timeline is accurate the Edmonton Oilers, luckily, won’t be without Connor McDavid for a long stretch, but they need to keep playing well despite his absence if they want to maintain their spot in the Pacific Division standings. The good news for them is their opposition tonight, Tampa Bay, also has some key players out of the lineup.
Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are out tonight. So is their second line centre, Anthony Cirelli. The Lightning have a lot of depth, and great goaltending, and they should be able to survive a few games without half of their top six. But their offensive punch has taken a hit as those three have combined for 40% of their forwards’ goals this year.
McDavid and James Neal, who is out with an ankle injury, have scored 30.4% of the goals by Oilers forwards. So simply on a percentage basis, the Oilers, even without McDavid, have more offensive punch, on paper, from their forwards tonight.
There are some interesting stats to look at between these two teams courtesy of Sportlogiq.
Tampa excels at creating scoring chances at even strength:
Tampa is first in shot attempts from the slot off the cycle. Oilers are 16th.
They are third in passes to the slot. Oilers are 21st.
They are third in EV shot attempts from the slot with 23.9%. Oilers are 26th at 20.1.
Tampa is fifth in NHL in shots on net from the slot. Oilers are 23rd.
They are fifth in second chance (rebound) shot attempts from the slot. Oilers are 30th.
Edmonton will need to be on their toes defensively tonight. Here is how they rate defensively in limiting scoring chances.
They are fifth in shots on net from the slot off the forecheck against. Tampa is 10th.
They are 11th in allowing shot attempts from the slot. Tampa is ninth.
They are 11th in shot attempts on net from the slot against. Tampa is 10th.
They are 27th in shot on net from the slot off the cycle against. Tampa is 7th.
Tampa is first at creating shot attempts against off the cycle, while the Oilers are 27th in allowing shot attempts off the cycle.
I’m no genius, but it would seem that is the area to watch tonight. Can the Oilers limit the Lightning’s chances off the cycle? They need to, or Mike Smith will need to stand on his head for the Oilers to skate out of Tampa Bay with a victory.
Dave Tippett elects to stay with the same lineup from Tuesday. It makes sense. I think you will see Tyler Benson get a game on the weekend, but right now the only option to come out of the lineup for him is Patrick Russell. Jujhar Khaira kills penalties and that gives him an edge. It doesn’t mean he can’t come out, but the PK has been really good lately so I understand why the coach isn’t looking to make changes.
The Draisaitl line will need to be the offensive catalyst again.
Another thing to watch for the Oilers blueline at even strength. Here is how they rank in completed stretch passes this season (stats courtesy of Sportlogiq):
Darnell Nurse: 105 in 1,122 EV minutes.
Ethan Bear: 103 in 1,064 EV min.
Kris Russell: 87 in 718 EV min.
Oscar Klefbom: 82 in 1,070 min.
Adam Larsson: 55 in 608 min.
Matt Benning: 44 in 400 min.
Caleb Jones: 42 in 377 min.
With injuries to Stamkos, Kucherov and Cirelli the Lightning are down to 11 forwards. They might play Gaunce as a forward, or slot him in on defence. Edmonton actually has more goals and points in their forward lineup tonight than the Lightning do. Of course the Lightning have Vasilevskiy in goal and he is 17-0-2 in his last 19 starts with a sparkling .933Sv% and 1.97 GAA. The Oilers will need to play tighter defensively tonight than they did against the Blackhawks. It would seem unlikely this will be a high scoring affair, but you never know. The NHL can be very unpredictable at times.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers are competitive, but lose 3-2 in a SO. With the SO loss, they are still 8-1-2 against Eastern teams on the road.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Draisaitl’s line scores again at even strength.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The fourth line combines for an unexpected goal.
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