GDB 82.0: Final Rehearsal (7pm MT, SNW)

Photo credit:© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 year ago
I don’t buy the suggestion the regular season doesn’t matter. It allows teams time to fine tune their styles of play, to earn home ice advantage and to experiment with different line combinations and defence pairings. But it is fair to state the playoffs are a new challenge and regular season success doesn’t automatically transfer to the postseason.
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Tonight is the final dress rehearsal for Edmonton before, for the first time since 1990, they enter the dance as a legitimate contender. The 1990 Oilers, even without Wayne Gretzky, were still a legit contender. They finished second in the Western Conference and fifth overall in the standings. They also had a roster filled with Stanley Cup winners and loads of playoff experience.
The 2023 Oilers don’t have a Stanley Cup champion on their roster. They are one of three teams without one entering the playoffs. They could become the fifth team since 1967 NHL expansion to win a Cup without a previous Cup winner on the roster and join the 1974 Flyers, 1980 Islanders, 1989 Flames and 2019 Blues. When the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup in 1984, they only had one player with a Cup ring — Pat Hughes won a ring with Montreal in 1979 as a rookie.
The Oilers don’t have a Cup winner on the roster, and I don’t believe that having one automatically makes your roster better. They have three players who lost in the Cup Final in Mattias Ekholm, Mattias Janmark and Brett Kulak. Their core of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Darnell Nurse, Cody Ceci and Evan Bouchard all lost in the third round last season. They’ve learned some tough lessons the past three playoff seasons, but this year’s team is deeper, bigger and more skilled than any roster they’ve had in 33 seasons.
There are no guarantees of playoff success. Winning four rounds is extremely difficult. You need to play poised, smart and disciplined hockey. You need to remain composed, even when things don’t go your way, or an unlucky bounce leads to defeat. And you need some lucky bounces to go your way, and avoid serious injuries.
In the Stanley Cup era, the President’s Trophy winners have only won two of 17 Cups. The 2008 Red Wings and 2013 Blackhawks.
The Oilers and Colorado are the top-two favourites in the West. But you can make an argument the Oilers are the favourite, due to the avalanche of injuries Colorado has endured (hi, Gene). In its last 39 games Edmonton is 28-5-6 and has amassed 62 points. They are three shy of the best 40-game stretch in franchise history.
From October 29th, 1983 to January 25th, 1984, the Oilers went 31-6-3 for 65 points. A victory tonight would give the Oilers 64 points and make it the second best 40-game stretch ever. The Oilers are good — really good — and they will enter the playoffs as one of the favourites to win the Cup.
They have elite scorers. They have scoring depth. They have a sound defence with two high-end D-men in Darnell Nurse and Ekholm to anchor their top-two pairings. And Stuart Skinner is giving them solid goaltending.
But remember: The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are ruthless. They have broken many player’s and fan’s hearts. They will this year, as many teams feel they can win, but only one will.
Enjoy tonight’s matchup with the Sharks because it will be the last game this season where you won’t feel angst or stress as a fan. The Oilers have much to play for, and I expect their skill to overpower an inferior opponent. But starting next week the opposition every night will be much more skilled and desperate.
It will be great hockey, and for the Oilers players and their fans, this is the first time in decades they enter the playoffs as a legitimate contender. Enjoy.




RNH – McDavid – Hyman
Kane – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Kostin – Bjugstad – Janmark
Foegele – McLeod – Ryan
Nurse – Ceci
Ekholm – Bouchard
Kulak – Desharnais
Stuart Skinner will start, and he has a chance to break Grant Fuhr’s rookie record for most wins in a season. Jay Woodcroft wouldn’t confirm the 18 skaters, but based on morning skate I suspect this will be the lineup, unless someone has a nagging injury and will be sat. Cody Ceci will play his first game as a father.


Peterson – Hertl – Couture
Svechnikov – Lorentz – Labanc
Gregor – Sturm – Zetterlund
Bordeleau – Robins
Thrun – Karlsson
Ferraro – Benning
Simek – Knyzhov
The Sharks dressed 11-7 last night in Calgary. Erik Karlsson scored his 100th point in Winnipeg on Monday, and the Sharks have very little to play for tonight, other than pride. They didn’t skate this morning and we could see a few changes from last night’s roster. James Reimer will start in goal. A quick start for the Oilers will likely zap any energy the Sharks have.


Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers tie the franchise record with their ninth consecutive win in a 5-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The power play scores a goal and finishes the season over 32%, a new NHL record.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Vincent Desharnais scores his first NHL goal and has an epic celebration.


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