Welcome, officially, to the danger zone. The Edmonton Oilers have less than 30 games remaining and are barely holding onto a playoff spot. Earlier today, they found out that star forward Connor McDavid will be out two to three weeks with a quad injury. The Oilers enter their most crucial stretch of the season without their best player.
Tonight, the Oilers will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the second of three meetings between the teams this season. It is the lone meeting in Edmonton. The Oilers are coming off of a 3-2 victory over Nashville on Saturday, while the Blackhawks fell 5-2 to Winnipeg on Sunday.
Mike Smith gets the start for the Oilers, while Robin Lehner gets the go for the Blackhawks.
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: Buckle down defensively. Without McDavid, the Oilers don’t have the horses to play an open game. They’ll need to trust Dave Tippett’s system, buckle down defensively and win games 3-2 and 2-1. That has to start tonight against a desperate Blackhawks team. Attention to detail and defense first. Dave Tippett has won that way with way less on his roster.
Chicago: Open things up. The Blackhawks have a weaker defensive group, but they do have a lethal attack and strong goaltending. Against an Oilers team without McDavid, the Blackhawks should feel free to open things up and trade chances with the Oilers. That benefits them in this contest.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: Leon Draisaitl can cement his first career Hart Trophy with a strong two to three weeks. If Draisaitl carries the Oilers without McDavid, and they make the playoffs, he’ll be the first German to win the award. This is the biggest challenge of his career. Is Draisaitl up to it? All eyes are on him tonight, he needs to be the one that steps up.
Chicago: Drake Caggiula has been playing some really good hockey as of late. Tonight, he returns to Edmonton with a chance to deliver a big punch to his former team. Will the ex-Oiler curse haunt them again tonight? Caggiula’s speed and skill makes him a tough player for the Oilers to defend.
McDavid (quad) is on IR along with Joakim Nygard (hand) and Kris Russell (concussion). James Neal is also out and recently suffered a setback. He’ll miss at least the next four games, including tonight. The Oilers are expected to recall a forward, but he likely will not play tonight. William Lagesson is scratched on defense.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Sam Gagner – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Josh Archibald – Riley Sheahan – Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira – Colby Cave – Patrick Russell
Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Caleb Jones – Matt Benning
Adam Boqvist (shoulder) is currently day-to-day and not likely to play tonight. Brent Seabrook (shoulder, hips) and Calvin de Haan (shoulder) are both on LTIR and out for the season. Veteran Andrew Shaw (concussion) has been out since December 6th.
Chicago Blackhawks Lines:
Dominik Kubalik – Jonathan Toews – Drake Caggiula
Brandon Saad – Kirby Dach – Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat – David Kampf – Dylan Strome
Zack Smith – Ryan Carpenter – Alex Nylander
Duncan Keith – Erik Gustafsson
Nick Seeler – Connor Murphy
Slater Koekkoek – Olli Maatta
“Both teams competed hard for space, and that’s what we were looking for from our team,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said Saturday after the win over Nashville. “We wanted to compete hard and get out of the little funk we were in. We were able to do that and get two points.”
Leon Draisaitl, the man who needs to now be Edmonton’s full-time hero, was the hero on Saturday night with two goals. “This time of the year, it’s about sticking with it,” Draisaitl said. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. Two points are two points, so it’s a gutty win for us. I think that’s huge for our group.”
Edmonton, for all of the sadness surrounding McDavid, is still 9-3-2 in the last 14 games. The club is also 17-2-2 when leading after one period of play. They’ll need a fast start tonight if they want another two points at home and a successful home stand overall.