Finally, it has returned. The Edmonton Oilers have played just four meaningful hockey games, five if you count their summer exhibition, over the last 307 days. Starting tonight, they will play 56 games in the span of 115 days. It’s going to be a sprint as the Oilers look to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tonight, they’ll begin a back-to-back set against the Vancouver Canucks. The second game, also at Rogers Place, will be tomorrow night at 7:00 pm MT. It’s the first of ten meetings between the teams on the season, and the first since December 23rd, 2019. The Canucks won that game by a final score of 4-2.
Braden Holtby is expected to make his debut for the Canucks, while Mikko Koskinen gets the start for the Oilers.
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: Be ready to go. It sounds simple and cliché, but it’s true. The Oilers were not ready to go over the summer and got caught in game one against the Blackhawks. Just like against Chicago, the Oilers are the better team tonight. If they want the two points, they need to show up and play their game from the opening drop of the puck. No team can afford to give games away this season.
Vancouver: Push the pace. The Oilers defense and goaltending is better than people give it credit for, but it still is their weak spot. The Canucks are not as deep as they were over the summer, but they still have a ton of talent and can push teams with their speed and skill. To have a chance against the Oilers tonight, the Canucks will need to use those tools.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: Tyson Barrie finally makes his debut with the Oilers after years of rumors. Barrie, a dynamic offensive defenseman, could be a terrific fit for this team. He’s the best puck mover that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will have played with, and he should add another element to an already elite powerplay. I’m looking forward to seeing what he looks like in his debut.
Vancouver: All of the talk surrounding the Canucks during the off-season was about what they lost. Lost in that is what they gained. Veteran defenseman Nate Schmidt was acquired via trade and gives the Canucks another top-four defender. Schmidt should prove to be an upgrade on Chris Tanev, and gives Vancouver a steady presence on the blueline. Expect him to see a steady diet of the McDavid line tonight.
The Oilers elected to carry 12 forwards, nine defensemen and two goalies on their opening night roster. In addition, they have six players in town on their ‘taxi squad’. The ‘taxi squad’ contains G Stuart Skinner and F’s Alan Quine, Patrick Russell, Tyler Benson, Joakim Nygard and Ryan McLeod. Tonight’s scratches will be D’s Evan Bouchard, William Lagesson and Kris Russell.
F’s James Neal and Gaetan Haas will begin the season on IR, with Neal potentially returning next week.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Dominik Kahun – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Josh Archibald – Kyle Turris – Jesse Puljujarvi
Tyler Ennis – Jujhar Khaira – Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Caleb Jones – Adam Larsson
Slater Koekkoek – Tyson Barrie
The Canucks will be down two veterans tonight. F JT Miller and D Jordie Benn will not be with the team “for a couple of weeks” due to COVID-19 concerns. Miller and Benn are currently quarantining at Benn’s house in Vancouver. As a result, Jake Virtanen has been elevated to the first line. Veteran defenseman Travis Hamonic joins Schmidt as a new addition on the blueline, while Nils Hoglander has made the active roster.
Vancouver Canucks Lines:
Brock Boeser – Elias Pettersson – Jake Virtanen
Tanner Pearson – Bo Horvat – Nils Hoglander
Antoine Roussel – Adam Gaudette – Zack MacEwen
Tyler Motte – Jay Beagle – Brandon Sutter
Alex Edler – Nate Schmidt
Quinn Hughes – Travis Hamonic
Olli Juolevi – Tyler Myers
“I think our team took some steps ahead all of last year,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said following Tuesday’s practice. “We created some momentum in our group. Especially in the second half of the year, we were moving in the right direction. We want to come back as a stronger group.”
McDavid has played 21 games against the Canucks in his young career, scoring 27 points (8 g, 19 a). That includes the game winner in last year’s opening night game at Rogers Place. In four total games against Vancouver in 2019-20, McDavid had six points (2 g, 4 a). Leon Draisaitl, meanwhile, collected six points of his own in four meetings (3 g, 3 a).
The Oilers have never lost a home opener at Rogers Place. They opened the building with a 7-4 victory over the Calgary Flames on October 12th, 2016. They also opened the 2017-18 season with a victory over the Flames, blanking them by a final score of 3-0 on October 4th, 2017. In 2018-19, it was a 3-2 overtime victory over the Boston Bruins in the home opener, and finally a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks last season.