If you told me that the Edmonton Oilers would return from their two game road trip to Denver and Winnipeg with three out of a possible four points, I’d tell you that the team had a successful run. That’s exactly the situation Edmonton comes home in, but many can’t help but think the club is in a worse spot than when they went out on the road.
That’s because the Oilers had to IR both Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, who both sustained injuries during that wild win in Denver. Darnell Nurse played over 30 minutes both Tuesday and Thursday night, while Chris Wideman and Jason Garrison were both forced to return to the lineup after lengthy stints in the pressbox.
The Oil nearly came away with two victories on this trip too. They led the Jets 4-3 after two periods of play and I thought dominated the second period after a sluggish first twenty. The problem? The Oilers simply ran out of gas and got spanked in the third period. Mustering just five shot attempts of their own, the Oilers surrendered over 40 shot attempts against and lost their lead. If not for Cam Talbot’s heroics in the frame, the club doesn’t reach overtime.
Take the point and get the hell out of town. In reality, Winnipeg is a very tough place to play and the Jets are one of the better teams in the league. Get back to Edmonton and get set to take on the Flyers, a reeling team, later tonight.
We know it is going to be a few weeks until Klefbom can get back into the lineup. Although there is no official timeline, it sounds like Klefbom is going to miss the rest of December with his hand issue. If he is cleared and ready to return on January 1st, which I think it pushing it, Klefbom would miss a total of eight games including last night’s overtime defeat.
Russell, meanwhile, was only ruled out for last night’s defeat and tonight’s game against the Flyers at Rogers Place. Although, the club did place him on IR and I believe that rules him out for Sunday’s game in Vancouver, meaning the earliest he can comeback is Tuesday night against the Blues.
With two top-four defenders out of the lineup, guys move up the depth chart and are forced into roles they likely aren’t ready for. The biggest jump? Darnell Nurse’s trip up from a second pairing guy to Edmonton’s number one left shot option. Nurse played 31:04 last night and it showed. He got caught watching on the second goal against and played way too lax in overtime, leading to the game-winning goal for the Jets.
Overall, I thought Nurse was fine. He scored a goal and I thought defended well for the most part. It was clear, however, late in the game that he was worn down and simply could not handle the massive amount of minutes being heaped on him in Klefbom’s absence.
Adam Larsson played 28:45, a number he is likely to be used to under Hitchcock. The Oil are going to ride this young man with Klefbom and Russell out.
Kevin Gravel (20:38) and Matt Benning (18:05) served as the team’s second pairing while Wideman (11:07) and Garrison (8:59) were the third pairing. I think it is safe to say that Garrison’s days as an NHL defender are over. He looked slow and lost all night Thursday, and quite frankly I don’t think Hitch trusts him.
With the injuries this club is battling through, you need depth guys to step in and play 10-15 minutes a night. Garrison, right now, is not providing that. I suspect Caleb Jones replaces him tonight, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Garrison ended up on waivers once Russell returns.
An Outside Addition?:
Nurse is a top-four defender in my mind and Larsson is a very solid number three that can play the role of a number two defender if need be. Outside of those guys, however, the Oilers do not have a top-four defender suiting up right now.
That situation will improve when Russell returns, but not having Klefbom long-term is going to be a huge hit for this club moving forward. I don’t think Nurse can handle 30 minutes a night moving forward, and I think the Oilers have to explore the trade market.
The Bruins are certainly willing to deal Torey Krug, while the St. Louis Blues are reportedly open for business right now. The LA Kings are a mess and allegedly willing to deal veterans like Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin, while the Chicago Blackhawks might not be far behind.
The reality of the situation is that, even when healthy, Edmonton’s defense likely isn’t good enough to make noise in the playoffs. They’ll need to make an addition anyways if they hope to improve their chances between now and the deadline.
If Peter Chiarelli is going to be in the market for a rearguard, now is the time to ramp up the discussions and push for a solution. If LA is serious about moving Muzzin and/or Martinez, then the push should be on to get one of those guys to Edmonton.
The Oilers have earned their way back into the playoff conversation, but there is still ample work to be done. They are operating without two of their top defenders right now, and struggling to maintain water. If last night’s third period is any indication, this team would be wise to make an addition to help the current group of blue.