0

GDB 64.0: First Place On The Line (8:30 p.m., SNW)

The Edmonton Oilers haven’t finished first in their division since 1987. That is the longest drought in the NHL.

Winning the division isn’t a must for playoff success of course, as the Oilers won the Cup in 1988 and 1990 finishing second and third in the Smythe Division, but it illustrates how long it is has been since the Oilers had a dominant regular season.

They could end their drought this year, but they will need to play well against Vegas down the stretch to do it.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Tonight is the first of three meetings between the two teams over the final 19 games. First place might be decided by who wins this short three-game series.

If Edmonton wins (in regulation — screw you Bettman and your loser point — so we have to write this possibility every time) tonight they will fly home in first place in the Pacific Division with 76 points. Vegas would also have 76 points, but Edmonton owns the tiebreaker (regulation wins) and has a game in hand. If the Oilers lose they’ll remain in third place and four points (or three if in OT/SO — see how annoying this is, GARY?) behind Vegas.

The Oilers won’t dwell on a disappointing 4-3 OT loss last night. Their record on the second night of back-to-back games illustrates why I expect a much better effort, especially in the first period, tonight in Vegas.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Oilers are 6-0 on the second half of BTBs and 5-0 on the road.

Lost 3-1 in Detroit, then won 4-1 in Columbus.
Won 4-2 in Vegas, then won 4-3 in Arizona in a shootout.
Lost 5-2 to Vancouver, then won 3-2 in Vancouver.
Lost 5-2 to Pittsburgh, but defeated Montreal 4-3.
Won 4-2 over St.Louis, and then crushed Calgary 8-3.
Won 4-1 in Florida, and then 4-3 in OT in Carolina.

RELATED ARTICLE:
Morning Report: Oilers vs. Golden Knights (9 March)

Mike Smith was in goal against Columbus, and the last three victories, while Mikko Koskinen defeated Arizona and Vancouver.

The Oilers offence really showed up in the second games, scoring 27 goals. They will need their offence ready from the opening puck drop tonight.

Oilers fans will be just as fired up, I presume. The playoff race prepares you for the utter chaos of emotions you feel in the playoffs. You will either be flying high after tonight’s win, or gutted with the loss. There is very little in between during a playoff race and the playoffs. And it is about damn time.

My wife, Traci, is not a diehard. She only watches parts of games, but she loves the playoffs. She doesn’t like to watch because she gets too frustrated. She is a very calm and harmonious person, except when she watches sports. Suddenly she is cursing at the screen or will leave the room with, “I can’t watch this, it is pissing me off.” I say nothing.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Sometimes she will look at me with contempt and say, “How can you sit there and show no emotion?”

I miss having that unbridled passion or frustration, depending on the outcome. Luckily I have it when I watch my nephew play for the Sharks or when I watch the NBA and NFL, because I’m not covering those leagues on a daily basis.

But I love the intensity and passion of meaningful games. They are way more fun to watch and report on. The energy in the building is electric. You can feel the energy and I love it. In a hockey-crazed market like Edmonton you sense it on the streets, at the office, the community rink, pretty much everywhere you go.

Oilers fans haven’t experienced this heightened emotion, outside of 2017, for many years. And I think the brutal 2018 and 2019 seasons only made Oilers fans miss these types of games.

Enjoy tonight and the remaining 18 games. Those feelings are why we love sports.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

LINEUP…

Oilers

Athanasiou – McDavid – Ennis
RNH – Draisaitl – Chiasson
Granlund– Sheahan – Archibald
Khaira – Haas – P. Russell

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Nurse – Bear
Jones – Larsson
Lagesson – Green

Koskinen

The Oilers have no other healthy forwards so the lines should remain the same. Matt Benning could draw in on the blueline, however. Mike Green and William Lagesson were okay, but didn’t stand out enough for me to sit Benning for another game. Unless he is nursing an ailment.

RELATED ARTICLE:
Peter Chiarelli breaks his silence

McDavid’s line took some time to find some chemistry, which is expected considering the trio had never skated with each other before, but they found their stride midway through the second period and looked good the rest of the way. Tyler Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou each scored a goal and added an assist, while McDavid had three helpers. Ennis was really confident with the puck. He is a very skilled player and he had a strong first game. Getting off to a good start can go a long way for players on a new team. You feel part of the group right away and your confidence rises.

Golden Knights

Marchessault-Stastny-Reilly
Pacioretty-Karlsson-Stone
Cousins-Stephenson-Roy
Carrier-Nosek-Reaves

McNabb-Schmidt
Martinez-Theodore
Holden-Whitecloud

Fleury

I think the Oilers get a bit of a break facing Marc-Andre Fleury instead of the newly acquired Robin Lehner. Fleury has a .906Sv% this year, but since January 1st, 2020 he is 9-6-2 with a .893Sv%. He has allowed three or more goals in 12 of his past 17 starts. He is still a good goalie, and could easily have a great night, but he hasn’t been playing at the same level of the past two seasons in Vegas. Lehner played very well with Chicago and he is a massive upgrade on Malcolm Subban. I won’t be surprised if he pushes Fleury for the starter’s job down the stretch.

TONIGHT…

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Tough one to call. The Knights have won six in a row and scored 26 goals. The Oilers are undefeated on second games of BTB. I see this one going to OT, where the Oilers’ OT struggles continue as they lose 5-4.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: @Leon Draisaitl picks up his 100th point becoming only the 43rd player in NHL history to register consecutive 100-point seasons.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The intensity of a tight playoff race brings out the competitive side in every player. JUJHAR KHAIRA and @William Carrier have a spirited first period scrap that gets both teams, and the fans in Vegas, energized.

Recently by Jason Gregor: