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Oilers Gameday: December 1st vs Pittsburgh  

The Oilers have 4 wins in their last 5 games and sit at 15-5-0 on the season. It’s been a good first quarter of the regular season despite the injuries throughout the lineup, which have continued to pile on in the form of losing Cody Ceci to COVID protocols. COVID situations have begun to spiral throughout the league and hopefully it doesn’t continue to infect other players in the Oilers lineup (or anyone tbh).

 

The Oilers will be hoping to produce some of the next-man-up type of results the Penguins have shown early into this year, as Crosby has returned to the lineup while Malkin is getting closer.

 

The Oilers are thinned out to the brink of their blueline’s depth, and though they’ve held their own quite well so far the ante has been upped once more.

 

We’re likely to see Koskinen in net for the Oil while the Pens counter with Jarry.

 

KEYS TO THE GAME

 

Edmonton:

  1. Support the defence. The Oilers are relatively healthy up front, and the forward group should be extra responsible in aiding their inexperienced defenders. That means defensive zone coverage, backpressure, limiting turnovers on the attack, and of course staying above the puck across the whole ice surface.
  2. Capitalize on chances. The Penguins have been controlling play really well at 5 on 5, and sport the league’s top penalty kill efficiency at over 90%. Jarry has been able to post extraordinary numbers early into the season behind a tight checking team.

 

Pittsburgh:

  1. Expose Oilers blueline. Through the forecheck or off the rush the Penguins are most certainly licking their chops tonight. There is a possibility to hem the Oilers in their own zone early and often, and the Pens will look to turn that pressure into the dangerous inside chances that Nurse and Ceci are usually tasked with stopping.
  2. Commitment to defence. Despite the chance for offensive opportunities, the key to beating the Oilers starts with an exhaustive effort of defending. Few teams would dare go chance for chance against the Oilers, and most of the teams that cause them troubles are ones that manage to contain McDavid and Draisaitl for at least 60 minutes.

 

EXPECTED LINEUPS

 

Edmonton:

 

Draisaitl — McDavid — Kassian

Hyman — Nugent-Hopkins — Yamamoto

Foegele — McLeod — Puljujarvi

Benson — Ryan — Sceviour

 

Russell — Barrie

Lagesson — Bouchard

Broberg — Niemelainen

 

Koskinen

Skinner

 

 

Pittsburgh:

 

Guentzel — Crosby — Rodrigues

Zucker — Carter — Kapanen

Aston-Reese — Blueger — McGinn

Simon — Lafferty — Heinen

 

Dumoulin — Letang

Pettersson — Marino

Matheson — Ruhwedel

 

Jarry

DeSmith

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

 

Edmonton: starting up front, all eyes are on Zach Kassian. This is a golden opportunity for him to help balance the lineup with Connor and Leon on the same line, as Hyman-RNH-Yamamoto has been very good together, and Foegele-McLeod-Puljujarvi had a promising debut as well. Of course with TSN’s Ryan Rishaug confirming reports of a DeBrusk trade request yesterday, this audition could have an impact on what roster moves GM Holland makes as we approach the Trade Deadline, if any. Puljujarvi has the chance to be the primary offensive catalyst on a line, and perhaps ignite a Foegele-McLeod combination that has been solid defensively. It’s a worthwhile experiment, and the extra touches and responsibilities could do a lot to continue growing Puljujarvi’s confidence even if it’s just a stop-over before reuniting with McDavid.

 

The defensive pairs could be subject to a lot of changes throughout the game tonight, but I’d expect Tippett to stick with Russell and Barrie as his top pair. Though it’s likely the 3rd pair if and when everyone is back, it definitely represents the most known commodity, which of course will be important when Crosby is on the ice. Bouchard has had some time with Nurse on the top pair, but shouldering big minutes with Lagesson represents a different challenge for the emerging blueliner, and the 2 will likely have their hands full against a Zucker-Carter-Kapanen line that has speed, skill, and grit. It’s been a blast to see Broberg playing well, and perhaps he starts to make a statement that he should stay with the big club. I’d expect some sheltered usage for this pair, but Broberg had been doing quite well when used in a big role beside Ceci, so it’s not out of the question that he continues to exceed expectations.

 

 

Pittsburgh: Evan Rodrigues has finally been entrusted with significant minutes and has had a great start to the season, contributing a lot of offence while both Crosby and Malkin were out. The Sabres never put him on a line with Eichel (they played together in college) but now he has earned a look alongside an elite centre. He doesn’t necessarily have any standout high end talents, but is exactly the type of smart, versatile player Crosby has found a lot of success with over the years, such as Kunitz, Dupuis, and Armstrong. Carter has been a good fit, and holds down what is usually Malkin’s spot at 2C. Anton-Reese and Blueger have been posting strong defensive results together for a few seasons now. Danton Heinen has shown some signs of life and could work his way further up the lineup as the season goes.

 

The blueline is pretty strong, Letang and Dumoulin have been paired for most of Coach Sullivan’s tenure. Marino is of course the former Oilers draft pick, and forms a pretty stable and understated pair along with Pettersson. Matheson is big and can skate well, and although probably signed to a richer deal than you’d hope there’s no question the depth that he affords them is crucial to success.

 

GAME NOTES

 

It’s not unheard of to point out the parallels between these teams, and it’s no secret that many evaluate the Oilers through the lens of what Pittsburgh has done with Crosby and Malkin. These comparisons have been top of mind for yours truly given how the conversation about how far Draisaitl is from McDavid has been a topic of discussion across the league.

 

The Canadian prodigy that perhaps overshadows the big, talented European. All 4 have won Hart Trophies as MVPs. There were many times, especially before the Golden Goal, where Malkin was forcing us to ask the question of who was the better of the Pens stars. It’s no question all 4 are all-time talents, but it’s clear Malkin is not afforded the respect he deserves, especially considering Toews, Kane, and Kopitar made the NHL’s top 100 players while Malkin did not.

 

What’s more is I’m tempted to see other similarities between Malkin and Draisaitl. Both are pretty smart and funny in a quiet and clever kind of way. Malkin has spoken about how he feels the language barrier has continued to hold him back in certain ways, which just goes to show you that he is thoughtful and self aware. Both Malkin and Draisaitl are every bit as driven and intense as Crosby and McDavid, and both have elevated their games when their partner in crime is missing from the lineup.

 

This is my long way of saying that if you forced me to pick between Connor and Leon, I’d probably take Connor first, but that shouldn’t at all be seen as a slight on Leon. In fact I’d expect Draisaitl to be better than McDavid in almost half the Oilers games, just as Malkin has been to Crosby through the years. Most importantly, the fact that they work so well together, push each other, and support each other is what will bring them success. The truth is that we appreciate the fact that we get to see them try.

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