Game 56 has finally arrived. The Edmonton Oilers will put an end to a successful 2020-21 regular season this afternoon at Rogers Place, with a chance to finish inside the top ten in the NHL standings. A point of any kind will push the Oilers ahead of the Boston Bruins, placing them tenth in league standings. Regardless of the result, the Oilers have already clinched their best points percentage since 1986-87.
The Oilers wrap up their season by hosting the Vancouver Canucks in the tenth and final meeting between the teams on the year. Edmonton took three out of four in a miniseries last week, and holds a 6-3-0 advantage overall in the series. The Oilers are 2-2-0 at home against Vancouver so far this season.
Thatcher Demko gets the go for the Canucks, while Mikko Koskinen gets the start for the Oilers.
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: Treat this like a real game. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter today for the Oilers. However, this is Edmonton’s only game in a span of a week leading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Being crisp and ready is going to be key if Edmonton wants to take out the Jets in round 1. While it’s just one game, the Oilers will want to put their best foot forward to keep their recent momentum going.
Vancouver: Get a look at the future. There is playing out the stretch, and then there is this. The playoffs begin tonight, and overall Vancouver will play four games while other teams play in the playoffs. It’s not an easy task, especially after what they’ve dealt with with COVID-19. This should allow the Canucks to get a good look at the future of their organization, which should be on display today.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: Gaetan Haas was a mainstay in the bottom-six for the Oilers during most of the season. However, a foot injury and the recall of Ryan McLeod have pushed Haas to the press box in recent weeks. Haas gets a chance today, centering a veteran third line, to prove he is ready to contribute in the upcoming playoffs. This game is mostly meaningless, but it means quite a bit to Haas.
Vancouver: Tyler Graovac has played just ten games with the Vancouver Canucks this season. Four of those games have come against the Oilers, and both of his points, both goals, have come at Edmonton’s expense. For whatever reason, this is a matchup that Graovac has enjoyed success in this season. In a top-nine role this afternoon, will he have one final show to put on against the Oilers?
The Oilers are going with a largely regular lineup to close out the season today. Haas, Joakim Nygard and Slater Koekkoek all return to action, while McLeod (illness), Devin Shore (healthy) and Caleb Jones (healthy) come out. Kyle Turris, Tyler Ennis, Patrick Russell, William Lagesson and Alex Stalock will also be healthy scratches today.
Zack Kassian (lower body) remains on LTIR with no timetable to return, while Kris Russell (lower body) is day-to-day but skating again and could be ready for Game 1.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Dominik Kahun – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
James Neal – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Joakim Nygard – Jujhar Khaira – Josh Archibald
Darnell Nurse – Tyson Barrie
Dmitry Kulikov – Adam Larsson
Slater Koekkoek – Ethan Bear
The Canucks are still quite banged up and have a number of key players out of the lineup as they limp down the stretch. Antoine Roussel (lower body) is day-to-day, while Elias Pettersson (upper body), Jay Beagle (undisclosed), Justin Bailey (upper body) and Micheal Ferland (concussion) are on IR.
Vancouver Canucks Lines:
Nils Hoglander – JT Miller – Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson – Bo Horvat – Matthew Highmore
Marc Michaelis – Tyler Graovac – Jayce Hawryluk
Jimmy Vesey – Travis Boyd – Zack MacEwen
Alexander Edler – Nate Schmidt
Quinn Hughes – Tyler Myers
Olli Juolevi – Travis Hamonic
“The start wasn’t what we wanted but who knows, maybe that brought us together and brought us closer as a group,” Adam Larsson told reporters after the team’s skate on Friday. “That could have made us stronger for the second half of the season. We haven’t had too much of a deep hole throughout the year and I thought we kept it pretty steady. Now is when the real fun starts.”
How good have the Oilers been this season? Well, they’ve set some lofty standards when it comes to scoring. With Connor McDavid winning the scoring title, Leon Draisaitl coming in second and Tyson Barrie leading all defensemen in points, the Oilers are the first team since 1984-85 to have the league’s top two scorers overall and top scoring defenseman. It’s also the first time since 1983-84 and 1984-85 that a team had back-to-back scoring champions, as pointed out by Jack Michaels.
On a team level, the Oilers have been elite for most of the season. Since January 30th, when the club sat 3-6-0 and was just trying to stay afloat, the Oilers are 32-12-2. That is the third-best record in the entire NHL. Overall on the season, the Oilers have the second-most regulation wins in the league with 31, trailing only the Colorado Avalanche.