Yes, the Edmonton Oilers are still in the midst of the 2020-21 NHL season. After a week off, the club gets back into the swing of things tonight with a quick trip to Manitoba to take on the Jets. It’s Edmonton’s first game since last Saturday night, and kicks off a stretch where they will face the Winnipeg Jets three out of five times.
This is the seventh of nine meetings on the season between the Oilers and Jets. The sides will conclude the season series with a pair in Winnipeg at the end of the month. A quick look at the standings, however, shows that the game on April 28th probably won’t be the last time these two meet this season.
Connor Hellebuyck gets the go for the Jets, while Mike Smith gets the start for the Oilers,
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: More sustained pressure. The Oilers are 2-1-0 in their last three games, two without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but they have struggled mightily to create much in terms of sustained pressure in the offensive zone. Against a Jets team with a suspect at best defense, the Oilers have to find a way to set up and pressure Hellebuyck. He’s not unbeatable.
Winnipeg: Clog up the neutral zone. The key to beating the Oilers is out, Edmonton struggles to get much of anything going when you make the transition game hard on them. Now, that’s a lot easier said than done, but the Jets have the size both up front and on defense to make life hard for the Oilers. If they can slow down the McDavid/Draisaitl line through the neutral zone, they’ll be in great shape.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: Gaetan Haas, you’re up. The Oilers need someone to step up with Nugent-Hopkins out of the lineup, and Haas is getting the opportunity. He’ll center Dominik Kahun and Kailer Yamamoto tonight, as the club is expected to once again load up the top line. The Oilers badly need a second line to produce. Can Haas center such a line?
Winnipeg: Kyle Connor is a weapon. Connor leads the Jets with 21 goals this season and has 43 points (21 g, 22 a) on the season. Not only can he score at five-on-five, but he is lethal on the powerplay. Connor has scored ten powerplay goals this season, which is second most in the NHL. He doesn’t get the headlines, but he’s a top-notch scorer in the league today.
The Oilers confirmed that Nugent-Hopkins would not travel and is out for the third consecutive game. While the lineup has yet to be confirmed, the expectation is that Tyler Ennis and James Neal will remain on the taxi squad, with Patrick Russell, William Lagesson and Alex Stalock healthy scratched.
Dmitry Kulikov is on the COVID-19 Protocol List as he serves his mandatory quarantine. He’s expected to join the team on the ice Thursday.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Dominik Kahun – Gaetan Haas – Kailer Yamamoto
Josh Archibald – Jujhar Khaira – Alex Chiasson
Joakim Nygard – Devin Shore – Zack Kassian
Darnell Nurse – Tyson Barrie
Kris Russell – Adam Larsson
Caleb Jones – Ethan Bear
The Jets have key forward Blake Wheeler day-to-day with a concussion, and do not expect him in the lineup tonight. Nathan Beaulieu (hand) is on IR, while veteran Bryan Little (eardrum, vertigo) will not play this season.
Winnipeg Jets Lines:
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Pierre-Luc Dubois
Andrew Copp – Paul Stastny – Nikolaj Ehlers
Mathieu Perrault – Adam Lowry – Mason Appleton
Jansen Harkins – Nate Thompson – Trevor Lewis
Josh Morrissey – Tucker Poolman
Derek Forbort – Neal Pionk
Logan Stanley – Dylan DeMelo
“From our perspective, you want to come out here fresh and flying,” Oilers defender Darnell Nurse said earlier on Saturday. “For us, we used the week really well and practiced hard. We just got to come out and play. It’s a big 14-game stretch here and we’re excited to get started.”
The Oilers have had a hard time against the three other North Division playoff teams this season, for the most part. Edmonton finished the season series 3-5-1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and are currently 1-3-1 against the Montreal Canadiens. The one series they are in the black? Against the Jets, where the Oilers are 4-2-0 through six games. A win tonight would clinch the season series.
Connor McDavid has enjoyed the head-to-head matchup with the Jets this season. In six games, McDavid has 13 points (4 g, 9 a). That leads all skaters on both sides. Nurse, meanwhile, has seven points (1 g, 6 a) in the series. Both Leon Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins also have seven points against the Jets this season. The big guns have showed up in this matchup.