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GDB 75.0: How Will the Oilers Respond? (7pm MT, SNW)

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
29 days ago
The best aspect of the National Hockey League is players rarely have to wait very long to test themselves. Regardless of how well you played last night or two nights ago, the next game presents a new challenge, and tonight the Edmonton Oilers face a very good Colorado Avalanche team. The Oilers have an opportunity to show they deserve to be ranked alongside the top teams in the Western Conference.
Be sure to check out the latest NHL playoff odds with online sportsbook Betway.
The Oilers have been quite competitive vs. the other seven playoff teams since Kris Knoblauch arrived. They are 8-4-1 v. those teams and four of their final eight games are against Colorado, Vegas and Vancouver. They are good measuring sticks, but ultimately they will mean very little once the playoffs begin and you face the same team every second night.
Each game is unique and different. It’s what makes pro sports so wonderful to watch. Even if you think you know what will happen, you never fully do.
The Oilers and the Avalanche could dominate tonight. It might be a defensive struggle. We might see both teams use their speed and exchange scoring chances. Teams have a game plan, but that can change quickly if someone gets out to an early lead.
Edmonton played well for the first 30 minutes in Dallas, but then they made some errors, and the game got away from them. It happens, even to good teams. It is all about how they respond, as a team, but more so as individuals.
The Oilers need more from Darnell Nurse. I outlined his pre and post All-Star game numbers a few weeks ago. He had solid games recently v. Winnipeg and LA, but his struggles returned in Dallas. Nurse has two choices: He will either respond with a strong effort, or he will try to do too much and struggle. There isn’t much grey area in sports. It is fairly black and white.
Nurse has proven he can be a difference maker when he plays to his strengths. He’s an elite skater. He can be physical. He can transport the puck, he can move the puck and his size and length allow him to limit the time and space of his opponents. I don’t sense the Oilers are asking him to be what he isn’t. He isn’t being asked to be the offensive leader. He’s played big minutes his entire career. It’s not like he’s a rookie who is being thrust in a top-pair, or top-four role.
He was excellent on the penalty kill for the first four months of the season, but lately he’s struggled. Mightily. He’s reaching, instead of reacting. He just needs to go back to basics: Use his great speed to get back to pucks quickly. Make a good pass. Be strong, and mean, in front of the net. Make the front of the net a difficult place to go for Avalanche forwards. Nurse can play better, and he needs to, but if his struggles continue, I wonder if we see more of Brett Kulak. Kulak has been very good in the playoffs for the Oilers and previously with Montreal. He’s a very good skater. He’s killed penalties in the past. I’d be surprised if we see a significant decrease in Nurse’s minutes, but if he doesn’t find more consistency in his play, the coaching staff might have no choice but to consider it.
He’s earned the right to play his way out of it, and this weekend’s games v. Colorado and Calgary present two opportunities for Nurse, and many of his teammates, to bounce back.

GAME DAY ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETWAY

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Draisaitl – McDavid – Hyman
Henrique – RNH – Foegele
Kane – McLeod – Perry
Janmark – Ryan – Brown
Ekholm – Bouchard
Nurse – Ceci
Kulak – Desharnais
Skinner
Kris Knoblauch said he expects the Nathan MacKinnon line to play 23-25 minutes, so he wants to his best players on the ice a lot also. It won’t always be head-to-head, but expect to see a lot of the top players tonight. It should be exciting, but it also challenges the second, third and fourth lines to be on their toes when they get shifts against the MacKinnon line.
Leon Draisaitl enters the game with 39 goals and 99 points. He needs one goal to become the only active NHL player with five seasons of 40 goals and five seasons with 100 points.
Congratulations to Vincent Desharnais for being the Oilers’ nominee for the Masterton Trophy. Here was his nomination write up.
Desharnais has criss-crossed the hockey world, from the Chilliwack (B.C.) Chiefs, to Providence College in Rhode Island. From Wichita in the ECHL, to Bakersfield in the AHL, to the Edmonton Oilers — with one common theme. “Everywhere I’ve been —  everywhere — I’ve started as the seventh or eighth D-man,” he said. And his game? “It’s not sexy, but I get the job done.” At age 27 the Laval, PQ native played his 100th NHL game this season. A seventh round draft pick in 2016, in the ensuing eight years the six-foot-seven, right shot D-man has established himself, against all odds. He has become a solid, physical defender who can fight, hit, and move a puck well enough to hold down a regular spot on the blue-line of one of hockey’s premier offensive teams.

Avalanche 

Drouin – MacKinnon – Rantanen
Nichushkin – Mittelstadt – Lehkonen
Wood – Colton – Parise
Cogliano – Trenin – Duhaime
Toews – Makar
Girard – Manson
Johnson – Walker
Georgiev
**Lineup update**
The Avs didn’t skate today, but they did re-assign Chris Wagner to the AHL. He played last night while Valeri Nichuskin and Yakov Trenin sat out with injuries. It sounds like both will return tonight, but I’m not sure who or on what line.
Regardless of who plays where, the Avs are a dangerous foe. Six of the last seven head-to-head matchups between these two teams have gone to overtime. The only one that didn’t was a 6-3 victory for Edmonton. Not much separates these two teams. Both are fast, skilled and play with pace. It should be a great game.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers bounce back and pick up a 5-3 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: MacKinnon, Rantanen, Draisaitl and McDavid each have multi-point games.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: No overtime needed. For only the second time in eight games they only play 60 minutes. Nugent-Hopkins also scores at 5×5.

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