Right now teams in the North Division won’t be allowed any percentage of fans in the building for the playoffs. It sucks for the fans, the players and the organizations. Even 2,000 passion-filled fans would make a significant impact on the atmosphere in the building.
Players in the US Divisions have talked about how great it is to have fans in the stands again. And some of those buildings only have 1,000 spectators spread across the sections. This pandemic has reminded players and teams just how important their fans are, and I hope when fans are allowed back in the building their absence isn’t taken for granted.
Despite the lack of fans, Connor McDavid still sees the value in having home ice advantage.
“If you get a team that matches hard, you want home ice advantage because you have last change,” said McDavid. “And you want to sleep in your own bed as much as you can, as that is an advantage in itself. You want to finish as high in the standings as you can. We want to finish ahead of them (Jets),” added McDavid when asked specifically about the importance of the two games against the Jets this week.
There is still a slim chance Edmonton can catch Toronto for first place, but McDavid is doing is best to ensure the Oilers grab home ice advantage for the opening round. He has 10 points in his last three games as he continues his quest to 100 points. But it isn’t just the offence that should impress you. Against Montreal McDavid was tenacious physically and defensively. His attention to detail in all three zones seems to have ratcheted up the past few games, and that will force his teammates to follow his lead. When your best player is battling all over the ice, on top of scoring at will, the least the depth players can do is their jobs. which on this team is mainly to ensure they don’t get scored on.
In an extremely small sample size, only three players have been outscored at 5×5 over the past three games against Montreal and Winnipeg. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1-2), Devin Shore (2-3) and Gaetan Haas (0-1). McDavid has led the way outscoring teams 8-2 at 5×5 in that span, and while Edmonton lacks the depth of a Cup winner like Tampa Bay or St.Louis, if they can play sound defensively, keep the games close, then eventually McDavid or Leon Draisaitl will likely create some offence.
And that could be a bit easier when Dave Tippett has last change in the playoffs. Tippett doesn’t chase matchups very often, but if he can get a few shifts with McDavid or Draisaitl out against opposing teams’ fourth line in the playoffs, that is a massive advantage.
Even without fans, I still believe home ice matters.
Edmonton started the season 1-4 at home. But they are 13-5 since, including winning eight of their past nine at home. Often how a team is playing heading into the playoffs matters. Edmonton has played solid hockey for months, but they’ve really picked up their play on home ice. Home ice advantage will allow Tippett the opportunity to get McDavid out for a few more favourable offensive zone starts. It might only be one or two per period, but with his elite skill that could be the difference in a game.
The captain sees the importance of home ice, and his play has mirrored that. A victory tonight would move the Oilers three points ahead of the Jets with two games in hand and the Jets would only have seven games remaining. A win won’t guarantee home ice, but it would be a massive step towards having last change in the opening round.
Kahun – McDavid – Puljujarvi
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Shore – McLeod – Archibald
Neal – Haas – Chiasson
Nurse – Barrie
Kulikov – Larsson
Jones – Bear
Tippett sticks with the same lineup, as he should after a convincing 6-1 victory. I suspect we could see a few changes tomorrow though. Mikko Koskinen will start, obviously, but I wonder if they give Smith the full night off and dress Alex Stalock as the backup. I would. We might see Kris Russell draw in tomorrow and they might want to give James Neal the night off as he is still getting back up to speed (conditioning wise).
Connor – Dubois – Wheeler
Copp– Scheifele – Appleton
Vesalainen – Stastny– Perreault
Harkins – Thompson – Lewis
Forbort – Pionk
Benn – Demelo
Paul Maurice was honest and accurate in his assessment of Monday’s loss. “We generated a lot for them (Oilers) off the rush.” He was referring to the fact the Jets had possession of the puck in the offensive zone, but then just gave it away and Edmonton transitioned the other way. The Oilers feasted on those mistakes, but Edmonton should get credit for creating a few turnovers.
No lineup changes for the Jets as they try to end their season-high four-game losing streak.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
After being embarrassed on Monday night, it’ll be extremely important for the Jets to come out strong and have a positive response during the first 20 minutes of Wednesday’s contest, especially since they allowed two unanswered goals in the first period of last game. With the Oilers’ offense currently riding high, as they’ve scored the third-most goals per game (4.00) since Apr. 15, any prolonged defensive miscues could put this game out of reach before the third period begins once again.
Since Winnipeg has lost four of the eight meetings against Edmonton when trailing first, they certainly can’t afford to fall behind on the scoreboard and will need to find a way to create sustainable pressure in the offensive zone early on. If this club can spend the majority of the first period away from their own zone, chances are they’ll be able to carry some sort of lead into the second period, which will hopefully set the tone for the final 40 minutes of action.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hard to pick against the Oilers when McDavid has 19 points in eight games against the Jets, and 10 points in his previous three games. Oilers win 4-1.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid scores 20 combined points against a second team this season. He had 21 against Ottawa and he ties that tonight. He might even surpass it. Crazy.
N0T-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ryan McLeod scores his first NHL goal. Oilers fans take to TikTok celebrating his goal and loving his seven-year-old (no front teeth) smile.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Injuries Could Impact Home Ice
- Oilers Welcomes Two New Faces
- Who Should Play LW with McDavid?
- Quick Hits: NHL referees, Bouchard, Kassian and More
- GDB 45.0: Winning With Defence