The Edmonton Oilers have 48 wins and 102 points. The wins are tied for fifth most in a single season and the 102 points are the eighth highest total since Edmonton joined the NHL in 1979-80. They’ve had a very solid season. Woodcroft has pushed all the right buttons since he arrived, and the team has responded with a sizzling 25-9-3 record. The outcome of tonight’s game won’t mean much other than individual player statistics and where the Oilers season will rank all-time in franchise history.
The main question is: Who will Jay Woodcroft play tonight? Will he rest some top players?
— Woodcroft is loathed to talk about the next day. His mantra since he took over has been “focus on today.” After discussing the Oilers’ 5-4 OT win
where “they found a way to win” according to Woodcroft, I asked him about tonight’s lineup and who he might rest. “We’ll enjoy the win for the next 20 minutes or so and then we’ll see how everyone wakes up in the morning and we will make our decisions then,” said Woodcroft.
— Later in the presser, Ryan Rishaug asked how much of the back-to-back situation will factor in on his decision. “Yes, back-to-back will definitely factor in on our decision on who rests. We will sit and talk with the coaches and the managers, and then we will involve any players we are thinking about resting in the decision making process,” said Woodcroft.
— The obvious choices will be @Connor McDavid and @Leon Draisaitl. If @Darnell Nurse was healthy, he’d also be in that conversation as those three play big minutes. If they opt to rest McDavid and Draisaitl, it makes sense. But I also could understand if the players mentioned they want to play and stay in a groove. I sense they will rest their two big stars.
— The other main decision will be: Does @Mike Smith play? He’s been unreal since February 11th going 14-5-1 with a .926Sv% and 2.40 GAA. He has the fifth best Sv% in the NHL over the past 12 weeks. In his last 10 starts, he’s been even better going 10-0 with a .949Sv% and 1.68 GAA. So the question will be: Does Smith want to play after having two days since his Tuesday victory in Pittsburgh, or take the night off and have five days between starts when the playoffs begin on Monday?
— Here is a look at how Smith has played, since February 11th, based on days between starts.
— With playoff games usually being every second day, the above chart bodes well for Smith. He is 7-0 with a .955Sv% and 1.57 GAA when he has one day between starts. The other days are fairly small sample sizes. The two days between rest doesn’t look good, but that is skewed from the Minnesota game when he allowed four goals on seven shots. It was the Oilers’ fifth game in seven nights and the entire team was flat. Those 13 minutes weren’t good, but the Oilers won’t be playing five games in seven days in the playoffs.
He only played one game with five days between starts and that was the Montreal game. In his 12 starts since he is 11-0-1. The five-day break didn’t have a great result, however, in his other three starts where he had six, seven and 11 days off between starts he was 3-0 with a .936Sv% and 1.95 GAA. So I’m not sure if Smith playing tonight or resting will have much of a factor in how he plays on Monday. It might just come down to how he feels or if they are concerned about an injury.
— My nephew grew up in Beaumont and he was an Oilers fans. Alex Ovechkin was his favourite player, but the Oilers were his team. He was lucky to get to go to a few games a year. He played games at Rogers Place in the WHL, but last month he finally got to play an NHL game close to his hometown. It was a thrill for him, and our entire family. Last night
was almost surreal though. I haven’t jumped out of my seat at an NHL game in years, but when he snipped home his goal, I was up quickly cheering and yelling. I barely saw him score 30 seconds later because I was still so overwhelmed from his first goal.
That feeling of being a fan is amazing. I love my job and accept that being a fully invested fan isn’t part of it, but for games I go to when he is playing, I sit in the crowd and I’m a fan. I was so jacked up and to have my wife and son right beside me was great, even though my eight-year-old calmly said after Noah’s second goal that I had to put $20 in the swear jar for dropping eff bombs. I rarely swear in front of my son, but it was the best $20 I’ve spent in a long time.
When I first stood up a few Oilers fans around me were like WTF. But once I said that is my nephew they all understood. In fact a few clapped when he scored his second goal. The raw emotion of being a fully invested fan is the best part of sports and I’m excited for Oilers fans, and the other 15 fanbases (except Calgary — sorry, I loathe Calgary) as you get ready for the playoffs.
— I hope you enjoy those moments of pure, raw elation, high-fiving your family or friends, or strangers seated beside you. That feeling of nervousness leading up to the game, or late in the game when your team is protecting a one-goal lead, or feverishly trying to tie the game. Embrace it, because there are few things that can bring out those emotions. Relax watching tonight’s game, where the outcome ultimately doesn’t matter, because starting Monday your adrenaline, nerves, excitement will increase significantly.
— Thanks to my friend Kerry for giving up his four loge seats last night. Great vantage point to watch the game, but in the second period I looked down and saw young Ben Stelter sitting in a suite. Ben has become a huge part of the Oilers and Edmonton. I had the pleasure to meet him, his sister Emmy and his parents Lea and Mike yesterday. Ben’s smile and his giggle are so pure and uplifting. I got to watch as Connor McDavid presented Ben with his very own hockey card.
— What a great thing for Ben and his family. I watched Connor surprise him with the card and hear Ben’s infectious giggle. It made me smile, but I also noticed how slow Ben moves. He is five years old and his body has been beaten down by cancer, yet he keeps battling. Mike had told me earlier how Ben needs lots of rest as the treatment takes a lot out of him. When I spotted him sitting in the suite, only 30 minutes after watching my nephew fulfill a dream of scoring a goal in Edmonton, it made me realize how fragile life can be. It is unfair that Ben, and his family, have to go through cancer treatment and their journey. My heart aches thinking of how much that must hurt his little body, and how difficult it is for Mike and Lea to see their child in pain. And for Emmy to see her big brother deal with all these things no little boy should have to. It must be scary for her.
I also try to focus on how beautiful it is to see McDavid and the Oilers, and all Oilers fans, really embrace Ben and his family. It is uplifting, but also terribly sad because Ben’s future is unknown. To Ben and all the other kids, and their families, dealing with cancer, I send you many positive thoughts and hope you keep getting good news. To Ben and the entire Stelter family: Thank you for giving us something uplifting and inspiring to experience and for inspiring so many.
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