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Oilers Gameday: December 7th vs Minnesota

Despite the return of Darnell Nurse the cloud of negativity and poor results have circled around this Oilers team the past few games has persisted. The Oilers have been getting out-possessed, out shot, and out played in back to back losses against the Kings and Kraken, and perhaps even in a win against the Penguins before that.

 

The Oilers will look to turn the tide tonight against a strong Wild team that sits at 17-6-1 on the season, one of the few teams currently above the Oilers in the standings. Once a dry defensive powerhouse, the Wild have found a more balanced style of play in front of former Oiler Cam Talbot who is expected to get the start tonight.

 

Meanwhile things have spiced up, especially when it comes to some of the lineup decisions that have been made as players start returning for the Oilers. The return of Shore sees Perlini placed on waivers, while Lagesson being scratched has prompted a tweet from Alan Walsh. A win tonight against a strong opponent could go a long way towards calming these waters, as Koskinen is expected to start for the Oilers tonight.

 

KEYS TO THE GAME

 

Edmonton:

  1. Defensive zone. Too often the Oilers have been hemmed into defending, either from being unable to break cycles or being unable to break out of their zone cleanly. Against a strong forechecking team the Oilers will need to be on point to avoid being outplayed again.
  2. Contain Kaprizov. The focal point of the Wild offence, containing the shifty and dynamic winger will limit the Minnesota team’s ability to keep pace. This means if McDavid or Draisaitl can play this line to a 0-0 tie it’s likely good news for the Oilers.

 

Minnesota:

  1. Forecheck. Even though the Oilers defence is returning to health, there is still ample opportunity to neutralize the Oilers by attacking their defenders.
  2. Penalty Kill. The Wild have a middling unit when it comes to PK efficiency, which will need to step up in a big way tonight to withstand the Oilers.

 

EXPECTED LINEUPS

 

Edmonton:

 

Hyman — McDavid — Puljujarvi

Nugent-Hopkins — Draisaitl — Yamamoto

Foegele — McLeod — Kassian

Shore — Ryan — Sceviour

 

Nurse — Bouchard

Broberg — Russell

Niemelainen — Barrie

 

Koskinen

Skinner

 

Minnesota: Spurgeon is week-to-week (LBI) while Gaudreau is in COVID protocols.

 

Kaprizov — Hartman — Zuccarello

Greenway — Eriksson-Ek — Foligno

Pitlick — Rask — Fiala

Duhaime — Sturm — Bjugstad

 

Brodin — Dumba

Merrill — Goligoski

Benn — Kulikov

 

Talbot

Kahkonen

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

 

Edmonton: losers of 2 straight, Tippett has reset back to zero when it comes to the forward group. It’s been more than a month since anyone was signing praises for the 3rd line as a whole, but McLeod has been promising. It’s unlikely, or perhaps unwise, to expect Kassian or Foegele to push further up in this lineup, so any improvements to the line would have to see them moving down the lineup vs up. For now, playing between 12-15 minutes a night and not getting scored against are about as high as I’d place expectations on the unit. Perhaps the return of Shore can get the 4th line playing at a similar level, which would go a long way.

 

Agent extraordinaire Alan Walsh tweeted out William Lagesson’s underlying stats in his most recent game (which were stellar playing with Bouchard). It’s true, Lagesson has looked strong enough to be in the mix for a regular spot, but evidently it’s Niemelainen taking his place once again tonight. I’m not that surprised, Tippett (and most coaches) seem to like players with specific and defined styles of play lower in the lineup, and Niemelainen provides that more so than Lagesson. His size, speed, aggressiveness, strength, and physicality provide a lot of what his partner Tyson Barrie is missing. Lagesson’s game might be stronger overall, but he has a much quieter and well rounded style. Either way, getting a better look at Niememlainen and Broberg is crucial for understanding the depths of the lineup, and for now provide some muscle for their smaller partners.

 

Oh, and while we’re here Evan Bouchard has clearly cemented the top pair role beside Nurse, which is equal parts inevitable and encouraging.

 

Minnesota: Kaprizov of course is the Wild’s top offensive player, and Zuccarello has a lot of quality as well. Hartman has been thriving alongside the pair, as the rambunctious forward has 13 goals and 21 points in 24 games this season, an offensive performance we haven’t seen or expected from him going back to his time in Plymouth of the OHL. Greenway and Eriksson-Ek have become a force together going back to last season, using their physical strength and defensive abilities to outplay opponents all over the ice. Together with Foligno this line will be a handful especially against the Russell or Barrie pairings. Fiala provides a bit of skill lower in the lineup.

 

For years the Wild’s strength has been on the blueline, and even without Spurgeon the group still has talent. Dumba and Brodin are a really strong top pair and have been for years now. The Wild do a good job of fitting in tough, defensive types lower in the lineup, and Merrill and Benn are the current iterations of that, aided by veterans that can handle the puck moving responsibilities.

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