After taking care of business against the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks, the Edmonton Oilers will conclude their four-game swing through California and Nevada with a huge four-point game with the Vegas Golden Knights.
1. The Golden Knights currently lead the Pacific Division but the Seattle Kraken are suddenly right on their tails. Seattle extended their winning streak to seven games with a 3-0 win in Boston on Thursday, which represented the first time the Bruins had lost at home in regulation this season. The Golden Knights have 58 points through 43 games while the Kraken are four points back with two games in hand.
2. The Oilers are nine points back of Vegas with one more game played, so getting the win in regulation in this game is critical for keeping the Golden Knights within reach down the stretch. The Oilers beat the Golden Knights in overtime back in November, and the two teams will meet once in Edmonton and once in Vegas within the span of a few days in late March.
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3. Vegas was dealt an injury blow earlier this week as captain Mark Stone left their game against the Florida Panthers with an upper-body injury. On Friday, head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Stone would be out week-to-week but didn’t go into any detail about what the injury was. Stone was limited to just 37 games in 2021-22 while dealing with a significant back injury that forced him to undergo surgery in May.
4. The Golden Knights are already without one of their top defenders, as Shea Theodore has been out since the middle of December with a leg injury. Stone and Theodore rank third and second on the Golden Knights in terms of on-ice goal differential at even strength, behind only Jack Eichel, so they’ll need to have some of their depth players step up.
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5. The top Golden Knights forward line is usually Eichel, Stone, and Chandler Stephenson, so Jonathan Marchessault will move up and join the top trio. Marchessault’s spot on the second line with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith will be filled by veteran Phil Kessel. Both Marchessault and Kessel can score but what the top-six is losing with Stone is his excellent defensive play. Stone finished second in Selke Trophy voting in 2019, fifth in 2020, and third in 2021.
6. Though they’re both weak opponents, Jack Campbell was excellent between the pipes when the Oilers played the Ducks and Sharks, as he stopped 46 of 49 shots over the course of those two games. It was the first time this season that Campbell posted back-to-back games with a save percentage of higher than .900 since back in late October when the Oilers played the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins.
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Starting a goalie in games on back-to-back nights isn’t common but Campbell didn’t have to face much pressure in San Jose on Friday and the Oilers shouldn’t throw their third-stringer into the fire against the Golden Knights.
7. Evander Kane is nearing his return from injury. Ken Holland said on Friday that two weeks would be his conservative estimate for when Kane is back in the lineup. When Kane returns, the Oilers will have to do some shuffling to get themselves under the salary cap ceiling.
Mattias Janmark was the odd man out at the start of the season but he’s been an effective depth player since getting called up (three goals, 11 points, killing penalties). Klim Kostin also got called up when Kane got injured and there’s obviously no way the Oilers can send him down while he’s on this scoring streak (six goals over eight games). Warren Foegele was healthy scratched a few times recently, and there’s always been plenty of talk about Jesse Puljujarvi wanting to move on. It’ll be interesting to see what Holland does.
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8. Connor McDavid scored his 82nd point of the season against the Sharks, so he could hypothetically not score a single point for the rest of the year and still finish at a point-per-game pace. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly he can reach 100 points. Back in the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, McDavid reached the 100-point plateau in his 53rd game. He needs 18 more points and he has nine games to match that pace and eight games to beat it.