San Jose (32-36-12) at Edmonton (47-27-6)
There we have it folks, the Oilers have clinched home ice in the first round, where they will take on the Los Angeles Kings. The two games left are but a formality, back to back home games starting with the Sharks tonight, the last moments of peace before the reckoning of the postseason calls for all but one.
It’s an exciting time no doubt, as this is truly proven itself to be the best Oilers team in recent memory. Anything can happen in a best of 7 series, but at least as we close the regular season the team is firing on all cylinders.
At least for tonight’s game it doesn’t seem that Woodcroft will be resting many players, if any, but there’s no telling what tomorrow’s game might hold in that respect.
Opposite tonight, the Sharks likely have their offseason bags packed, as the team has been caught below middling once more. At the very least the focus and hope will be that the Sharks can infuse some young talent into their lineup, enough to reignite or perhaps better support some of the stronger pieces that already exist.
The truth is that we are beginning to see early signs of that youth movement, notably with Bordeleau in the lineup tonight. With other top level talent, like Eklund and Gushchin en route already, a turn around for the Sharks might be closer than we might imagine. For the Sharks, at least one eye is on the future, a definite contrast to the immediacy with which we measure the Oilers.
It will likely be Reimer and Koskinen in net for their teams tonight.
Kane — McDavid — Puljujarvi
Hyman — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Foegele — Nugent-Hopkins — Ryan
Brassard — McLeod — Kassian
Kulak — Ceci
Keith — Bouchard
Broberg — Barrie
Meier — Hertl — Barabanov
Bonino — Couture — Nieto
Balcers — Bordeleau — Gregor
Gadjovic — Chmelevski — Reedy
Ferraro — Burns
Megna — Meloche
Vlasic — Merkley
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Puljujarvi returns from an illness, and it is good he has some time to get his touch back headed into the playoffs. He reclaims his spot alongside McDavid and Kane. Yamamoto, in turn, reunites with Draisaitl and Hyman. He did quite well filling in Puljujarvi’s spot.
The 3rd line remains unchanged, Foegele and Ryan have shown good chemistry together. McLeod returns to the 4th line in the shuffle. Brassard and Kassian are certainly enough to give the young centre something to work with despite limited minutes.In all, the forward lines have stabilized nicely over the past couple months and we know what to expect from the group.
Meanwhile the defence continues to look drastically different with Nurse out. Kulak takes Nurse’s spot beside Ceci, and at the very least provides some of the skating and physicality lost better than any of the other left shooting D on the roster would.
That is except for Broberg, as the young blueliner takes Kulak’s spot beside Barrie. It’s good to get another look at what will almost certainly be an integral piece of the Oilers future.
Meier, Hertl, and Couture are still strong options, high level forwards without a doubt. Barabanov is serviceable in the top 6 but Bonino and Nieto are overextended in these roles.
All eyes should be on Bordeleau, as the young prospect gets his first action in a late audition this season. He’s done well so far and his linemates Balcers and Gregor have given him something to work with.
The fourth line has Gadjovic and Chmelevski, older prospects like Balcers and Gregor, all of whom are looking to position themselves for roster spots next season. From a numbers perspective it’s unlikely that all will be regulars going forward, but the energy level should be high as these four have a lot to play for and prove in whatever NHL action they are afforded.
The main watch on the blueline is Ryan Merkley, the former first round pick has tons of skill and has gotten a long look in the back half of the season. Behind the talents and right shots of Burns and Karlsson he won’t be rushed into more than he can handle, for certain.