Oilers (18-12-2) at Rangers (21-8-4)
Behold, the Oilers continue to sink into the pack of the Pacific Division. Things are not looking good for the team as they are but 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, and one of the league’s worst teams since the start of December. Things don’t get any easier tonight against a Rangers team that is quite strong at home.
Of course, COVID and injuries are shifting sands, as assistant coach Gulutzan moves to protocols, Smith is day-to-day with another injury, Nugent-Hopkins is back in Edmonton being evaluated, and McDavid appears to be in the lineup despite missing the morning session.
With the limited depth being stressed more and more, with the losses mounting, and with such a long stretch of time between games since the start of December, it has truly been a difficult time for the Oilers faithful. Even the biggest believers of this regime have to concede that the poor results can only continue for so long until drastic changes are upon us.
Meanwhile, the Rangers have been putting together a strong season, hardly a surprise given coach Gallant’s track record, as he’s managed to get this talented roster to the next level.
The Rangers beat Tampa Bay 4-0 last night, as such backup goalie Georgiev will get the start, while Koskinen appears likely to start for the Oilers with Smith’s injury situation.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Score first. This is probably better framed as “don’t allow the first goal”. Either way this issue is approaching the comically absurd.
- Penalty Kill. The Rangers 5 on 5 offence has been okay, but their power play has been strong. Especially without Panarin, the Oilers could limit the Rangers offence.
- Stay patient. The Oilers should be prone to frustration with things spiralling the way they are. Keep 97 & 29 in check and the rest should fall into place nicely.
- Watch the points. With the Oilers missing some firepower up front, the onus will be on the defence to contribute.
Hyman — McDavid — Puljujarvi
Shore — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Foegele — McLeod — Turris
Benson — Ryan — Sceviour
Nurse — Bouchard
Keith — Ceci
Koekkoek — Barrie
New York: Panarin, Lindgren, Rooney, and Tinordi in protocols, Blais on IR.
Kreider — Zibanejad — Kakko
Lafreniere — Strome — Goodrow
Hunt — Chytil — Gauthier
Gettinger — McKegg — Reaves
Miller — Trouba
Hajek — Fox
Jones — Lundkvist
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edmonton: I am not going to speculate on McDavid’s absence earlier today, but we hope to see his usual self during tonight’s game. Shore on the 2nd line is very ambitious, although it’s clear Tippett is trying to spread some quality throughout the lineup. Foegele and McLeod are a fine start to a 3rd line, as are Ryan and Sceviour on the 4th. Perhaps there’s a more optimal way to deploy Shore/Turris/Benson throughout this framework but quite frankly it’s splitting hairs, as even at the best of times this Oilers lineup has not been deep enough.
The defence is effectively at full strength here. It is becoming more rare throughout the league to load up a top pair with your 2 best defencemen, but I think that is the case with the Oilers here. Bouchard has been one of the few players to decidedly exceed expectations for the Oilers this season (perhaps Koskinen is the other? Okay, more so Jesse). Keith and Ceci have been pretty good together, and I will keep bringing up that Keith should thrive as the season grows longer, intensity ramps up, and rules relax.
New York: Kreider and Zibanejad are mainstays, but Kakko is coming into his own. The offensive production isn’t necessarily jumping off the page but the level of his play is increasing. He can make great plays along the walls with his strength, balance, and puck skills. Similarly, Lafreniere hasn’t exceeded expectations right off the top, but is slowly finding his way, and being moved up the lineup in Panarin’s absence could be a nice platform for him. Chytil is another younger player who has shown flashes, as he has moments of brilliant dekes. The Rangers clearly have an idea of what they like in their wingers, although the levels of skill vary, all are big and have a physical edge.
The Rangers have a very interesting and fun defence, starting with reigning Norris winner, the slow wizard Adam Fox. He definitely has some similarities to Draisaitl in that both can operate at a slower speed, drawing opponents closer before easily maneuvering around them, opening up the rest of the ice for open passes. Miller is a standout example of a modern shutdown defender, as he’s able to use his mobility to break up the opponent’s attack, much like a free safety in football or a centre fielder in baseball. Lundkvist and Jones are both rookies who have gained a lot of hype thanks to their strong play in other leagues. Even outside of these 2, the Rangers have a lot of young defenders coming through the system, and should have a strong blueline for years to come.Read next
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