When you’ve got two teams locked into playoff positions and trying to navigate their way to the post-season with everybody rested and healthy, and then throw them into an afternoon game for good measure, you get what we witnessed in the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday.
The Oilers, set in second place in the North Division and facing a playoff match-up with the Winnipeg Jets, have been resting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the fly by playing them in reduced minutes. The red-hot McDavid played just 15:12 but still picked up two assists to improve to 104 points. He has played under his season average of 22:16 in his last seven games. Draisaitl played more, 21:33, but it was his sixth straight game under his season average of 22:17. He went 1-1-2 and has 83 points.
The Habs, meanwhile, are dragging themselves to the finish line and a date with the Toronto Maple Leafs after a season turned upside down by COVID and injuries. They came in for the matinee without injured regulars Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Eric Staal, Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson, Jake Allen, Carey Price, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Jonathan Drouin (on personal leave). We saw half their team.
With the bigger playoff picture in play and different circumstances and approaches to same, we got a mostly dispassionate, disjointed display that really didn’t tell us much about what either outfit will look like when the puck drops on the post-season next week. The Habs are done at 24-21-11 for 59 points. The Oilers, 35-18-2 for 72 points, play out the string against the long-faded and dead-last in the division Vancouver Canucks Saturday. This one doesn’t exactly shape up as a barn-burner either.
WHEN IT MATTERS
“Sloppy, nobody got hurt, and we got two points. Other than that, it was good,” deadpanned coach Dave Tippett when asked about what he’d seen. “Some of the turnovers, some of the sloppiness tonight, you’d like to take out of our game, but you’re trying to get some players some minutes.”
So, we saw more of youngster Ryan McLeod between James Neal and Alex Chiasson, who scored the 1-1 goal with Neal picking up an assist, and Dominik Kahun, who got the winner in OT. We got a little bit less of McDavid and Draisaitl. Kahun started the overtime alongside Draisaitl instead of McDavid – not a move we’ll see when the Oilers post-season begins Wednesday.
“With young McLeod, I’m trying to put him in some situations where we can get a feel for how he does. You get some rhythm in your lines. You’ve got to be cognizant of not over-playing anybody . . . there’s a lot of factors that come into play that we’re just tinkering with here.” Tippett’s full post-game availability is here.
The thing is, there is no set blueprint to get ready for the playoffs. To this point, Tippett has opted not to sit McDavid, Draisaitl or workhorse Darnell Nurse. With three days between games before the Oilers open against the Jets, there’s time to rest. If one of them wanted or needed a game off during this last stretch, they’d have it. Tippett knows more about the health and energy level of his players then we do.
What matters most is that McDavid, ridiculously hot with 5-15-20 in his last seven games, and Draisaitl, who has 7-9-16 in his last seven games, have gas in the tank and are ready to go. Same with Nurse and goaltender Mike Smith, who got Monday’s 4-3 OT win over the Habs off and will get a rest against Vancouver Saturday.
The way I see it, Tippett has done a masterful job managing his roster and the wear and tear on his key players of late – the Oilers are a division-best 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. That’s a better indication of where the team is at than what we saw yesterday.
WHILE I’M AT
After years of screaming for the Oilers to land an offensive defenceman who can run a power play, I’m perplexed by people who are so eager to move on from Tyson Barrie, who leads all NHL blueliners in scoring with 8-40-48. Before the season is over. Before playoffs have begun. Before the Oilers and Barrie have had a chance to sit down and see if there’s the desire and the money to get something done. It’s mind-boggling.
Barrie is far from a perfect player, but he’s delivered what the Oilers are looking for on a bargain contract of $3.75 million. I get it that he took a discount deal here because he saw an opportunity to succeed and pad his numbers going into UFA status. I get it that he’ll be able to shop those numbers to the highest bidder – that’s how it works. My guess is Barrie will demand more term and more money on the open market than Ken Holland can pay, even with more cap room to play with this off-season.
That’s the business and it’ll likely go that way, but let’s at least see if there’s a will and a way to make the term and money work. If you’re willing to kiss off Barrie because you think Evan Bouchard can step in with just 20 games on his NHL resume and do what he does right away or you’ve got an underlying number you put more weight in than what projects to a 71-point season in an 82-game schedule, I don’t know what to tell you.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- Worth a Look
- Need a Save There, Again
- Breathing Room
- Connor at 400
- What’s the Real Deal?
- Chasing 100