After a long, cold bus ride from Winnipeg, the Jets will face the Oilers for a two-game set at Rogers Place on Monday and Wednesday.
1. The Oilers have turned around their season over the past couple of weeks. They picked up big wins over both Toronto and Montreal, capitalized on their four games against the basement-dwelling Senators, and had one loss to Calgary in the middle. All told, the Oilers have won six of their last seven games and their 3-6-0 start to the season is in the rearview mirror.
2. This week features an important test for the team. The two wins against the Maple Leafs and Canadiens are encouraging but we can’t ignore the fact that four of Edmonton’s nine wins have come against the Senators this season. Doing well in this stretch against Winnipeg and then Calgary later in the week is critical as both of those teams are fighting with the Oilers for playoff spots. There are four different four-point games up for grabs this week.
3. We’re just about a month into the 2021 season and the All-Canadian division is playing out pretty much as expected. Ottawa is long gone already, the Leafs are at the top of the standings, and there’s a big clump in the middle. I see Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg as the four teams vying for the three playoff spots after Toronto, though Vancouver can certainly still make a comeback if they start to get better goaltending.
Winning two-game sets against Winnipeg and Calgary is critical for the Oilers to continue to move up the standings and separate themselves from other playoff-calibre teams. Earning a split in both series would be the minimum here. You certainly can’t get swept.
4. The Oilers and Jets played a two-game set in Winnipeg back in late-January. The Oilers earned a wild win in the first game thanks to a last-minute rally. Kailer Yamamoto tied the game with four minutes left and Leon Draisaitl scored a walk-off goal with one second left on the clock. Edmonton wasn’t able to complete the series sweep as Winnipeg earned a 6-4 win a couple of nights later. Mikko Koskinen had a rough one in net that night, allowing five goals on 32 shots, ultimately erasing the 3-1 lead the team built in the first period.
5. The Jets have been all over the grid since then. They lost 4-1 to the reeling Canucks, went 2-1-1 in a four-game series against the Flames, and then had a split with the lowly Senators. Most recently, Winnipeg suffered yet another last-second loss as Brady Tkachuk scored the game-winning goal with nine seconds left on the clock on Saturday. Winnipeg now owns an 8-5-1 record, one point behind the Oilers in the standings with two games in hand.
Since their three-game sweep of the Senators early on, the Jets have won consecutive games just once this season. Four of Winnipeg’s eight wins this season have come against Ottawa. They’re 4-5-1 against the rest of the division.
6. Key to Edmonton’s current three-game winning streak has been the return of Mike Smith. He stopped 27 of 28 shots the Senators put on net in his debut and he then blanked the Habs, stopping all 38 shots they threw at him. In the middle, a rested Mikko Koskinen posted a 40-save showing against Ottawa.
We know Smith isn’t going to maintain a .985 save percentage for the entirety of the season but having him available to play is a game-changer. Koskinen is at his best when he isn’t playing every single night and he can have a chance to rest and get consistent practice time.
7. Another positive trend from the past few games has been the emergence of a shutdown defensive pairing for Dave Tippett. Adam Larsson struggled mightily to start the season and, at times, looked as though he was toast. But since being paired with young countryman William Lagesson, Larsson has returned to the steady, shutdown defender that he had been earlier in his career with the Oilers.
Through 70:55 at even-strength together, Larsson and Lagesson have been on the ice for only one goal against. The underlying numbers also back the pairing up. Natural Stat Trick has Larsson and Lagesson with an expected goals against of just 1.91 based on shot volume and shot quality against.
8. The sample size is admittedly small, but this is encouraging nonetheless. Edmonton allowed nine goals to the Jets in their first two meetings. Stronger defensive play and rested goalies should help change that this time around.
9. Yet again, the Jets will be without Pierre-Luc Dubois when they face the Oilers tonight. The last time these two teams played, Dubois was in quarantine due to crossing the Canada-US border. He played two games for the Jets and suffered a lower-body injury that ultimately sidelined him in their loss to Ottawa on Saturday.
Dubois won’t play on Monday but he’s travelling with the team on their road trip, so there’s a chance he draws in on Wednesday.
10. An interesting thing to watch tonight is Connor McDavid’s pursuit of 500 career points. McDavid has been held to just two points (both assists) over Edmonton’s current three-game winning streak. He has 28 points in 16 games this season and 497 points for his career. If he has a three-point night against Winnipeg tonight, McDavid will reach the 500-point plateau in his 368th career game. For the sake of comparison, Sidney Crosby reached 500 points in his 369th career game.
11. McDavid had three points (all assists) in Edmonton’s win over Winnipeg this season and two points (a goal and an assist) in the loss. He has 24 points in 16 games against the Jets for his career. I imagine that the quietly ultra-competitive McDavid would like to reach 500 points tonight in order to edge out Crosby. Expect a big night from the captain.