The top three teams in the Canadian, err North, Division have one thing in common: They’ve all managed to win consecutive games. The Oilers enter tonight with a chance to win consecutive games for the third time this season, and they are hoping to leave Winnipeg with their first winning streak early this season.
Last year the Oilers were 11-6-4 in games where they had a chance to win two in a row. They found ways to bank points quickly, and that led them to finish with the second most points in their division. It is very early, but the Oilers need to string together a short winning streak. I don’t expect many lengthy winning streaks this year from any team in the Canadian division, but you will need to find ways to string together a few two- and three-game winning streaks if you want to remain in the playoff hunt.
Last year the Oilers began the season on a five-game winning streak. They had two three-game streaks and won two in a row eight times. This division will be very competitive, so going on four- or five-game winning streaks will be even more difficult than in previous years.
The Oilers snapped Winnipeg’s three-game winning streak on Sunday. The Jets are the only team in the division to win three in a row thus far. Montreal and Toronto have each won two games in a row twice, while Calgary also won two in a row while only playing four games.
I realize it is early, but after tonight Edmonton will have played 14.2% of the season. In a shortened season the “it is early” refrain ends quickly.
There will be nights when you play well and lose. That is the nature of hockey. It is a game where bounces, lucky or unlucky, are a regular occurrence, and that is why in this shortened 56-game season getting wins early is huge. It is magnified even more because there will never be any nights where your divisional opponents all lose. When you win, someone will be keeping pace with you, so if you fall to far behind it will be a massive challenge to gain ground.
If Edmonton loses in regulation tonight they will be four points back of Winnipeg and Montreal, and either four, five or six behind Toronto who plays Calgary tonight. It might not seem like much, but Edmonton also will have played more games than Winnipeg and Montreal. So the gap could widen. It is important to stay close early in the season.
RNH – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Kahun – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Neal – Turris – Kassian
Archibald – Khaira – P.Russell
Nurse – Bear
Russell – Barrie
Jones – Larsson
Three lineup changes as Tyler Ennis, Devin Shore and Slater Koekkoek are out, and Jujhar Khaira, Patrick Russell and Caleb Jones are in. I thought there was a good chance we would see Jones again. They want him to be the puck mover to play with Adam Larsson. I expect Jones will be better than he has early this season.
“Jones coming in on the back end,” said Tippett. “Koekkoek has been alright, but we looking to improve our puck moving if we can. We’ve looked at all our defenceman, but Bouch (Evan Bouchard) has a bit of a back issue he has been dealing with the past couple of days and he isn’t an option for us. We are just trying to get that group solidified back there so we can defend well and have capable puck movers when we need it.”
Tippett had this to say about the changes up front.
“Shore came in and played well, but the last few games haven’t been as strong,” said Tippett. “We are looking for a bigger body than Ennis so we have added Khaira and Patrick Russell. The unique thing about this year is usually you have one or two extra guys and you try to make sure everyone fits in, but now you have eight or nine extra guys. You try to make sure you aren’t forgetting about anyone and let them show you what they can do.
“Patrick Russell has been dominant with that taxi-squad group. He’s the most powerful guy, and he’s hard every practice. We believe those taxi-squad players are going to be strong for us, and when someone doesn’t play as well as they can, we have hungry people ready to come in the lineup. If you keep those people hungry, there will be people going out who will get hungry and people coming in who will be hungry.”
Now I’m hungry. I might have to order some Oodle Noodle, but I digress.
Russell’s energy has always been apparent. He gives you everything he has every shift. He hasn’t shown much offence to this point, but Tippett wants some energy on his fouth line and Russell should bring that. Can that line have a positive impact on possession time, not a negative, is the main question.
Connor – Scheifele – Ehlers
Copp – Statsny – Ehlers
Perreault – Lowry – Appleton
Harkins – Gustafsson – Lewis
Heinola – Morrissey
Forbort – Pionk
Stanley – Beaulieu
Connor Hellebuyck draws in after getting the night off Sunday. He’s continued his Vezina-winning ways this season going 3-1 with a .920Sv% and 2.25 GAA in four starts. Edmonton will need to get traffic in front and funnel a lot of pucks to the net if they hope to score three goals. It is rare you beat him clean from distance.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Despite picking up where he left off last season – resulting in a 2.01 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage through his first three starts in 2021 – goaltender Connor Hellebuyck looked a little shaky during his most recent outing against the Ottawa Senators as he allowed three goals on just 21 shots. Still, the 27-year-old held his team in the game and ultimately earned the victory.
But considering Hellebuyck has historically struggled against the Oilers, as he’s generated a 3.03 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage through 13 career games against them, it’s certainly possible he could endure similar issues on Tuesday night. With that in mind, the 2019-20 Vezina Trophy winner would definitely benefit from some strong defensive support in front of him during his fifth start of the season.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: My gut says Oilers win, but my head says they lose. I’m going with my head tonight as they drop a 3-2 decision.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: I’m in awe of Sean Brown’s ability to never age. He grew his hair out and somehow looks younger than he did when he was drafted. On top of his intermission analysis, he drops some tips on how he looks so young.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The fourth line finishes with positive possession numbers.
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