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Photo Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 15.0: More Mini-Series Please (6pm MT, SNW)

Slow clap to the schedule maker. I’m not sure if it was on purpose or not, but it is genius having the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets playing one another tonight and Thursday.

It would be awesome if the NHL schedule maker had teams, from the same conference, that met in the previous playoffs, play one set of consecutive games the following regular season. Rivalries are made in the playoffs where the stakes and emotions are higher. The minute the Oilers arrived in Winnipeg I guarantee they remembered the heartache and disappointment they felt when after the Jets eliminated them from the postseason last May.

In a long 82-game season, some games get the juices flowing more than others. Tonight and Thursday should be those types of games, especially for the team that lost in the playoffs. Even though Edmonton has some new faces, many of its core players like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, still remember that feeling of disgust and anger after getting swept by the Jets.

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Edmonton didn’t play poorly in the series. They outshot the Jets in three of the four games, and had many quality chances to score, but they couldn’t finish and the Oilers made some costly giveaways which cost them the series. Edmonton’s biggest weakness in the playoffs, and still now, is they gift the opposition too many easy goals. As this team matures and grows, it needs to reduce the easy goals and they need to become more determined to win battles around the crease.

Against Buffalo, twice the Oilers had the complete possession of the puck, then forced a pass through the neutral zone which was intercepted, and the Sabres went in and scored seconds later. On Sunday two of the Blue’s goals came when they won battles in front of the net, despite being outnumbered by Edmonton defenders. You will lose some net-front battles, but over their past four games the Oilers have allowed too many easy goals due to errant passes, when they weren’t pressured, that led directly to goals against.

Defeating the Jets tonight won’t erase the pain of the playoffs, but the first meeting after a playoff loss will rekindle some painful memories and I expect the Oilers to use it as extra motivation. I’m a big believer in stoking rivalries, and if it is possible, every year teams that met in the playoffs should play a mini two-game series in their first meeting the following season. It would create added excitement and energy.

Hopefully we see some heightened hostility tonight and Thursday.

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LINEUPS…

Oilers

Hyman – McDavid – Puljujarvi
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Foegele – McLeod – Kassian
Perlini – Ryan – Turris

Nurse – Bouchard
Keith – Ceci
Koekkoek – Barrie

Koskinen

Zack Kassian returns to the lineup after missing a few games with a groin injury. The speed, size and skill of Foegele, McLeod and Kassian has the making of a solid third line. McLeod is still young, and will have some ups and downs, but he’s played very well the past three games and if they can be reliable defensively and chip in offensively it will make the Oilers even better.

Kyle Turris and Brendan Perlini are also back in while Slater Koekkoek draws in for Kris Russell on the third pair. I expect the Oilers to be patient and not recall Philip Broberg from Bakersfield despite the average play from Koekkoek and Russell thus far. The organization would rather have Broberg play 22 minutes a night in the AHL and continue to get comfortable on the smaller ice, than recall him and play him limited minutes. He could play in the NHL, but I’m not sold he is ready to contribute just yet. I don’t see them rushing him, but if an injury occurs he’d be the first left D-man recalled.

I’ve received positive scouting reports on Markus Niemelainen. He has been steady in Bakersfield. He is mean and is really using his size and strength. To play in the NHL he likely needs to improve his puck skills, but he can defend. Not sure we will see him this year, but he has potential to be a solid third pair defender.

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Jets

Copp – Schiefele – Ehlers
Connor – Dubois – Wheeler
Harkins – Lowry – Svechnikov
Toninato – Nash – Vesalainen

Morrissey – Schmidt
Dillon – Pionk
Stanley – Demelo

Hellebuyck

The Jet’s top two lines are dangerous and balanced. Kyle Connor is sixth in NHL scoring with 11-8-19. Mark Schiefele and Blake Wheeler are off to slow starts, for their standards, with 1-3-4 and 0-4-4 respectively. Although they have only played eight and nine games. If they get going the Jets will be even more dangerous. They are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games and they’ve averaged two goals against/game in their last nine.

Neal Pionk and McDavid had a great battle in the playoffs. Pionk played him very physical and I wonder if it continues tonight. Those individual battles within the game often lead to more emotion from teammates and hopefully we see it tonight.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Jetsnation.ca:

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Surprise, surprise… McDavid has been dominating the opposition thus far, scoring a mind-blowing 10 goals and 27 points through just 14 games. Thanks to his most recent two-point performance over the weekend against the St. Louis Blues, the Oilers’ superstar forward passed the 600-point mark for his career, which he accomplished during his 421st game in the National Hockey League.

Not only will the Winnipeg Jets be tasked with slowing down No. 97, but they’ll also be forced to defend against his dangerous partner, Leon Draisaitl, who currently leads the league in goals (15) and points (31). If game-planning against that dynamic duo wasn’t difficult enough, Edmonton picked up Zach Hyman over the off-season and he’s already added eight goals and 13 points to their offence – making for a difficult assignment.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton has won six consecutive regular season games against the Jets, but that streak ends tonight with a 4-3 OT loss.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid extends his point streak to 15 games.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Jets have the fewest 5×5 goals from D-men (8) in their last 70 games, but they get a lucky bounce tonight from a point shot tonight to register their 9th 5×5 goal by a D-man.

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