Oilers (18-11-0) at Blues (17-9-5)
Not to count our chickens before they hatch, but it looks like the Oilers will be back in action tonight in St. Louis against the Blues. Between the Christmas break and the COVID postponements, it’s been a long time since Foegele scored 2 while on McDavid’s wing in a win at Seattle. There are a number of players on every team in protocols, the Oilers and Blues included, so we are bound to see makeshift rosters for the foreseeable future. The important thing is that players and staff seem to be recovering well.
We’ve already seen lots of extreme highs and lows for this Oilers group, with stretches of poor results eroding a strong start. The depth, which many see as an issue, will continue to be tested, but the Oilers are not without candidates who could push up the lineup with the opportunity available. It’s important to state that good news is on the horizon with players returning from injury, notably starting goalie Mike Smith.
It’s very much a restart across the league, and we’ll see how teams come off the unexpected pause. Regardless, the Oilers will face a tough opponent in the Blues, who are having a bounce back year after last season’s lackluster playoff performance. We’re expecting to see Smith and Binnington start in goal.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Carpe Diem. With so much lineup uncertainty intertwined with the season’s proceedings, new opportunities will be presented across the lineup. Everyone should be ready to restart with urgency and diligence.
- Breakout support. This has already been a bit of an issue at times, but with prominent defenders out of the lineup it becomes all the more vital.
- Special teams. The Blues have great units on both pp and pk, both slightly behind the Oilers on the season.
- Start strong. The Oilers have had a bad habit of getting down early.
Edmonton: Nurse, Lagesson, and Puljujarvi are in protocols.
Foegele — McDavid — Hyman
RNH — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Perlini — McLeod — Turris
Benson — Ryan — Sceviour
Keith — Ceci
Samorukov — Bouchard
Koekkoek — Barrie
Saad — O’Reilly — Perron
Buchnevich — Thomas — Tarasenko
Brown — Bozak — Kyrou
Kostin — Sundqvist — Walker
Mikkola — Parayko
Krug — Faulk
Scandella — Perunovich
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edmonton: All things considered, things are close to full strength at the forward group. The success Warren Foegele has had in his brief stint with McDavid is surely top of mind. If he can settle into this role it will help the Oilers depth greatly. Either way we should expect at least one of he or Hyman to stay with McDavid long term, but with Puljujarvi out in protocols perhaps the trio can build something together quickly. Yamamoto had what was probably his best play coming into the break, so hopefully the reset can see him build off the more engaged energy he last played with. McLeod is trying to prove his mettle as a 3C, but isn’t exactly insulated by the ideal linemates, as the edge of the Oilers forward depth is being stretched here. Turris is a bit high in the lineup (but showed good chemistry with Perlini and McLeod in the preseason), but truthfully this lineup has 2 interchangeable 4th lines. More on the Blues later, but it’s telling to compare the strength of the team’s respective 3rd lines.
The defence is a really interesting glimpse into the future, as Samorukov is thrust into a key role here. Samorukov had his bid to make the team out of training camp derailed by a broken jaw, but the 22 year old has a lot of pro experience in the KHL and AHL already, and could be ready to play his way up the lineup. For those who think the Oilers could use some more net-front-clearing, cycle-breaking, size on the back end, Samorukov could provide some capacity in this regard, perhaps filling a role that some have envisioned Ben Chiarot in for the Oilers.
St. Louis: The basis of the forward group has been exactly this over the course of Berube’s tenure behind the bench, starting with the O’Reilly line. Perron has played his best hockey over the past 3 seasons or so, aging like fine wine, and Saad is a nice upgrade in Blais’ old spot, while still offering some of the same elements, with more scoring touch. Buchnevich was a player many Rangers fans were disappointed to see leave as New York chased toughness at the expense of skill, and Buchnevich is thriving on his new team, performing well with a resurgent Tarasenko (and normally Barbashev) as the Russians have been the Blues best offensive unit. Kyrou is having by far his most productive season, and I will be watching Logan Brown, as the big skilled forward never seemed to get a shot in Ottawa. Kostin has some draft pedigree and is continuing to slowly play his way up the depth chart, while Australia’s finest Nathan Walker scored a hat trick this season. Even missing some key players, this is a deep Blues group, perhaps the biggest positional discrepancy between St. Louis and Edmonton.
There are some interesting things to point out on the blueline, I’ll start with the pair of Krug and Faulk. At least by reputation, both are offence-leaning, perhaps a bit on the smaller side, mostly bringing this up because maybe the Oilers could attempt such a deployment with a Keith-Barrie pairing. I haven’t seen much of Mikkola, but he’s gotten a stretch paired with Parayko which says the Blues must be happy with his game. I also have not gotten to see much of Perunovich, who was pretty highly touted coming out of college while Scandella offers some of the size and defence that we’ve come to expect from the Blues.