San Jose (28-27-8) at Edmonton (35-24-5)
Coming off a loss to the Stars, the second half of a back to back, the Oilers are back at home to host the Sharks. In what will be Evander Kane’s second game against his former team the Oilers will be looking to get back to winning ways. It’s true that the team’s record under Woodcroft is strong but the need to push the pace in the playoff race is still pressing.
The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is set to return tonight, bringing the Oilers forward group to virtually full strength. On top of this the Oilers will debut trade deadline acquisitions Kulak and Brassard.
The Sharks are a bit stuck in no man’s land, with a number of high priced veterans who still have some game but a roster that falls short of fully supporting them. At the very least they’ve done valiantly in trying to address one of the biggest and longest standing issues on their roster, goaltending.
Sure, Kahkonen is not yet an elite starting goalie, but the size and skills exist for him to get there. At 25 he’s still decently young for a goalie and does have a significant amount of experience already. Tonight will mark the maiden voyage for the newly acquired Finn.
In all it’s a move that could help the Sharks regain their bite while the likes of Karlsson and Burns can still contribute. This season may already be lost for the Sharks but it does set the team up with a much better shot going forward.
Meanwhile, it seems the Oilers will be turning to Mike Smith in net.
Kane — McDavid — Yamamoto
McLeod — Draisaitl — Hyman
Brassard — Nugent-Hopkins — Puljujarvi
Foegele — Shore — Kassian
Nurse — Ceci
Keith — Bouchard
Kulak — Barrie
Meier — Hertl — Barabanov
Leonard — Couture — Balcers
Reedy — Bonino — Gregor
Gadjovic — Chmelevski — Viel
Megna — Burns
Karlsson — Merkley
Vlasic — Meloche
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kane and Yamamoto are putting together a nice run with McDavid, and the trio might have what it takes to stick together for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile McLeod continues to be moved around the lineup, this time moving onto the wing in the top 6. It is a role in which he has produced effectively in short stints, but tonight could be a statement in cementing a more permanent deployment.
Brassard is a journeyman at this stage of his career, and though he should offer some useful depth play the expectation for anything more should be kept in check. He does have a great pair of linemates for tonight with RNH and Puljujarvi.
Speaking of RNH, his return allows Woodcroft the opportunity to move the Foegele-Shore-Kassian down to the fourth line. Although one might have some complaints about the exact arrangement of the lines, it does show how deep the forward group is as a whole, even without Derek Ryan in the lineup.
The defence remains the same as it has been, save for Kulak taking the spot as a pair with Barrie. Kulak has the size and skating skills to get around the ice, defend the rush, and break cycles, all of which Barrie appreciates in a partner. The Oilers have had players who have stepped up in this role to various extents, like Lagesson or Niemelainen, but Kulak should be the best suited thus far, at least in theory.
The Sharks have a few high quality forwards, namely Hertl, Couture, and Meier. Barabanov is feisty and has a level of quality to his game as he can make some plays off of his linemates.
Bonino still has some utility as a shot suppressing defensive centre lower in the lineup, which goes a long way towards stabilizing a group that is at least inexperienced, if not a little underwhelming as a whole.
Many of the other forwards in this lineup are in their early to mid 20s and this could very well be their best chance at grabbing hold of a more permanent roster spot. Balcers, at least by my eye, has shown some flashes, but we’re still finding out a lot about many of these forwards.
Burns and Karlsson still have some skill and can impact the game. Things have declined a bit more for Vlasic. There is a new wave of help en route, notably with Merkley in the lineup tonight. He has a lot of skill, and although there have been some concerns about his attitude over the years it seems as if the Sharks are comfortable with how he’s developed as a person and a player.