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Game Notes Oilers @ Coyotes: Injuries Mounting

Chomp, chomp, chomp. The injury bug has taken three bites out of the Edmonton Oilers defence group in the past three games, and suddenly Edmonton’s depth will be put to the test.

Darnell Nurse leads the Oilers blueline averaging 20:20/game at 5×5. Duncan Keith was second entering last night’s game at 17:21. And now both of are out. Keith was injured on an innocently looking play in the second period. But his reaction showed clear discomfort and he could be out a few weeks or more.

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The video shows Head Athletic Therapist, TD Forss, speaking with Keith and looking at his left side of his back or hip.

Slater Koekkoek was injured in the same game as Darnell Nurse, last Thursday against Winnipeg, meaning all three left defenders in that game are now out. It is quite the shift for the Oilers blueline. They go from Nurse, Keith and Koekkoek, to tonight dressing Philip Broberg, Kris Russell and William Lagesson. Russell and Koekkoek had platooned as the third pair LD, so that change isn’t a drop off, however, Broberg and Lagesson have a combined 29 NHL games played. Nurse and Keith have skated in 1,622 games.

— Injuries are part of the game, but it is rare to see so many to one position in a span of three games. The Oilers have no choice but to deal with it. They can’t use it as an excuse, and for Broberg and Lagesson it is a wonderful opportunity to rise to the occasion. This could be Lagesson’s last chance to show he can help a team at the NHL level. He has a chance to showcase himself to the entire league. Broberg is only 20, and he will have a long NHL career, but he will be thrust into bigger minutes than the Oilers wanted him to play this early in his career. Knowing the mindset of players, he will be excited.

— Edmonton isn’t the first team to deal with key injuries. The San Jose Sharks played six games without four of their top-six defencemen when Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jake Middleton and Radim Simek were all sidelined due to COVID protocol. Their leading scorer, Timo Meier, and winger Kevin Labanc missed five of those games due to COVID protocol. They were without six regulars and managed to go 3-2-1. They beat Winnipeg, Calgary and Buffalo, lost to St. Louis and Winnipeg in regulation and to New Jersey in a shootout. Injuries can make it more difficult to win, but they can’t be used an excuse. The healthy players need to play better.

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— The Oilers got behind early, again, last night and couldn’t recover. For the first time this season, they allowed two powerplay goals, both in the first 16 minutes of the game and Edmonton couldn’t recover.

Dallas played very well. That was the best game I’ve seen an opposing team play against the Oilers this season. They didn’t give up anything, outsid of the two-on-one that resulted in Ryan McLeod’s goal. Other than that odd-man rush I’m not sure Jake Oettinger faced another quality chance. Edmonton put a lot of pucks towards the goal in the first period, but the Stars blocked most of them. Dallas was quicker on pucks, created turnovers, forced the Oilers to move the puck quicker than they wanted and did a great job of getting in the shooting lanes. Dallas deserved to win.

— Now Edmonton needs to respond tonight against Arizona. Since Dave Tippett took over the Oilers have been excellent in back-to-back sets.

They are 15-5-1 in the first game, after last night’s loss, and they are 15-5 in the second game. In the previous 20 sets of back-to-back only once have they not won at least one game. They lost 4-3 in OT in Anaheim on February 25th, 2020 and lost 3-0 the following night in Vegas. They’ve shown a great ability to rebound, and they need to continue that tonight in Arizona.

— After starting the season 1-13-1, the Coyotes are suddenly 3-0-1 in their last four games. The won 3-2 in St.Louis, lost 5-4 in a shootout to Columbus, beat Detroit and LA 2-1 in OT. The Coyotes have only allowed eight goals in their last four games. Tonight won’t be an easy two points for the Oilers.

— Despite their injury woes on left defence, Edmonton still has a more talented roster than the Coyotes. But they will have to outwork them. The Coyotes top two defensive centres, Jacob Larsson and Jay Beagle, are both injured. They are also without Nick Schmaltz, Dmitrij Jaskin and Andrew Ladd. Their four centres tonight will be Barrett Hayton, Tyler Boyd, Ryan Dzingel and Jan Jenik.

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Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl should dominate the centre matchups tonight. McDavid had his 18-game point-streak end last night, and dating back to the start of the 2018-19 season, he has only gone pointless in consecutive games three times. The odds are extremely high he will pick up at least one point tonight.

— It is very early, but Ryan McLeod is looking more effective each game. In the last five games, he has three goals. He is tied with McDavid for most 5×5 goals, and tied with McDavid and Draisaitl for most 5×5 points at three. He is using his speed more effectively and carrying the puck with confidence. He’s been very good on defensive zone draws going 14-6 and he is 53.9% overall. There will still be some rough patches, as he’s still young, but he looks like a player who could become a very good third line centre.

— Dallas really pressured the Oilers defence last night. Evan Bouchard and Broberg had stretches where they needed to move the puck quicker. Bouchard wasn’t happy with his play a few times, but he has responded with a better game the next night out. One of the biggest learning curves of becoming a solid NHLer is not getting down on yourself. You come to the rink the next day excited and confident. Of course that his easier said than done, but I will be watching to see how they respond tonight. Both will be asked to play a lot of minutes.

— Some might have wondered why Brendan Perlini got bumped up to play with McDavid and Draisaitl for a few shifts. Nothing was working, so Tippett tried a few different combinations. I liked the Hyman-RNH-Puljujarvi unit. They are the best possible second-line combination when you load up McDavid and Draisaitl. Perlini is a shooter, and I can see why Tippett tried it in a game where nothing was going.

RNH has one goal and four points in 162 minutes with Draisaitl, while Kailer Yamamoto has 2-1-3. Draisaitl is second in the NHL in 5×5 scoring with 16 points. It’s not like RNH and Yamamoto have been producing huge points 5×5 with Draisaitl, so the odd switch, in a game where not much was going offensively, isn’t that surprising.

— The Coyotes claimed goaltender Scott Wedgewood on waivers from New Jersey on November 4th. He made his first appearance on November 6th against Seattle. Karel Vejmelka allowed two goals on two shots in the first 59 seconds and got pulled. Wedgewood played 59:01 and stopped 29 of 31 shots as the Coyotes came back to win 5-4. Their next game on November 10th, Vejmelka started again but allowed five goals in the first two periods and Wedgewood played the third and stopped all eight shots he faced.

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Wedgewood has started four of the last five games and stopped 136 of 145 shots, and for the time being seems to have taken over the starting job from Vejmelka. Vejmelka did start their last game against Los Angeles, but Wedgewood gets the start again tonight.

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