After going 1-1-1 on their three-game swing through California and Vegas, the Oilers will return home for a game with the Winnipeg Jets before setting out on the road again.
1. The Oilers are in the middle of what is essentially a seven-game road trip. They played in Los Angeles, Anaheim, and Vegas, and are now returning home for a game against Winnipeg before travelling to Nashville, Dallas, and Chicago. All told, it’ll be seven games in seven different cities over the course of 12 nights. After this stretch, though, the schedule for the Oilers becomes a lot more favourable. They’ll play 10 of their final 14 games at home with just one three-game road trip to the Eastern Conference and the final game of the season in Calgary.
2. With things really starting to tighten up in the playoff race, the Oilers badly need to get healthy. Oscar Klefbom is the player the Oilers certainly miss the most. Since going down with a shoulder injury, the Oilers are 1-2-2 in Klefbom’s absence. They also really miss Kailer Yamamoto, as the second line seems to be missing a spark.
3. We got some good and bad news yesterday in regards to injuries. Starting with the bad news, Mike Green will be out for a few weeks due to a knee injury suffered in Vegas. In somewhat bad but expected news, Oscar Klefbom and James Neal still aren’t ready to go. On to the good news. Andreas Athanasiou’s injury suffered in Vegas is minor and he’ll be in the lineup tonight against the Jets. Kailer Yamamoto, who was originally listed as week-to-week, is a game-time decision tonight. Also, Kris Russell is a game-time decision to return after missing a month of action. And, of course, Zack Kassian will return from his seven-game suspension tonight. Getting Kassian, Russell, and Yamamoto back is a huge boost for this injury-riddled team.
4. Inserting Yamamoto and Kassian into the lineup gives the Oilers their most complete set of forward lines we’ve seen all season. The top-six of Athanasiou, McDavid, and Ennis along with RNH, Draisaitl, and Yamamoto is the best the Oilers have had in years and it also creates a formidable bottom-six, with Kassian joining Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald on the third line. If Yamamoto isn’t ready to go, I would slide Kassian back up with McDavid and Ennis down to the second line, as he brings a similar element of speed, tenacity, and skill.
5. As bad as Edmonton’s injuries have been over the past month, you hate to use them as an excuse. There aren’t very many instances like we saw with the 2016-17 team where an entire roster can go through a season virtually unscathed. Everybody deals with injuries, especially at this time of year. The Flames were without captain Mark Giordano for a stretch and the Canucks are missing Brock Boeser and Jacob Markstrom. The Jets are dealing with a laundry list of injuries, as Mathieu Perreault, Sami Niku, Bryan Little, and Adam Lowry are all on the Injured Reserve while Josh Morrissey missed the team’s last game and Patrik Laine left that same game after blocking a shot.
6. Tonight’s game can be viewed as a four-pointer. The Jets won’t go away in the playoff race and currently sit tied with Nashville for the final wild card seed. Winnipeg is just two points behind the Oilers in the standings right now, though they’ve played two more games. If the Oilers can stay ahead of Calgary and Vancouver in the Pacific Division race, it doesn’t really matter what Winnipeg or Nashville is doing. But if the Oilers do fall into the wild card race, they’ll really need these four-point wins over the Jets.
7. It’s honestly really impressive the Jets have stayed alive this season considering what happened to their blueline over the off-season. They traded away Jacob Trouba, lost Tyler Myers in free agency, and had Dustin Byfuglien walk away from the game, effectively removing three of their top-four defenceman in one summer. Winnipeg has stayed alive thanks largely to the play of Connor Hellebuyck. Despite Winnipeg having one of the worst defences in the league (they have the third-highest expected goals against total based on shot volume and quality), they rank 12th in the league in goals against. This can largely be chalked up to Hellebuyck having a .920 save percentage over 53 games played. If the Jets can get into the playoffs, Hellebuyck will warrant some MVP consideration.
8. The Jets also boast a solid offence, though it’s more top-heavy than in the past as they haven’t received the same depth contributions as they did in recent years. The usual suspects of Mark Schiefele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nik Ehlers, and Kyle Connor have all hit the 20-goal and 50-point plateau, but depth forwards like Jack Roslovic, Andrew Copp, and Adam Lowry haven’t produced as the Jets have hoped.
The boys are in the mix and we’re looking ahead to April. Please, Hockey Gords, make it so. Competitive games in February! Exclusively at NationGear.ca.