Colorado at Edmonton
Avalanche lead series 3-0
Could this be it? The reality is surely at the forefront of our minds, that tonight might be the last night of the Oilers season. As the embers of hope begin to die out, with injuries mounting and suspensions dolled out, the Oilers have no more room for error; destiny is in the building.
Perhaps, in the near abyss of desperation, a spark can be produced. Maybe dumb-luck can find it’s way to the Oilers side of the ledger. By chance the unavoidable lineup changes might tip momentum. In any case the Oilers can’t afford to focus on the long and nearly impossible road before them, they must instead seize this moment.
To state some positives, the Oilers have played better as the series has progressed. Sure, there is not much solace in moral victories at this point of the season, yet it marks a trend that could be worrisome for the Avs if the Oilers can get a win tonight.
Injuries have already robbed Draisaitl and Nurse of their full effectiveness, Yamamoto likely out altogether once more after the questionable hit from Landeskog in game 2, and now Kane serving a 1 game suspension for his questionable hit on Kadri, the Oilers will be a significant ways off of their lineup’s full strength. The Avs have been victim to the attrition inherent to the postseason as well, with Kadri joining the likes of Girard and Kuemper on the injured list.
It’s been a dramatic season full of twists and turns, and although the overall outlook, to have made it this far, is something the Oilers should be able to feel good about, the time for reminiscing is not now.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Bounces. The Oilers have played better as the series has gone, yet the team could certainly use a little help in the luck department. The Avs defence, particularly in transition, has been quite strong, and getting a break or two could go a long way for the Oil. They won’t be able to win the series tonight, but the Oilers could at least plant a seed of doubt in the minds of their opponents.
- Finish. The Avs know better than to take the Oilers lightly or cruise to the finish line of the series. As the stronger team a good effort should give them enough to close out the series, but giving the Oilers new life could prove to be costly.
Hyman — McDavid — Draisaitl
Holloway — Nugent-Hopkins — Puljujarvi
Foegele — McLeod — Kassian
Ryan — xxxxx — Malone
Nurse — Ceci
Keith — Bouchard
Kulak — Barrie
Russell — xxxxx
Landeskog — MacKinnon — Nichushkin
Lehkonen — Compher — Rantanen
Burakovsky — Newhook — Aube-Kubel
Cogliano — Helm — O’Connor
Toews — Makar
E. Johnson — Byram
J. Johnson — Manson
PLAYERS TO WATCH
With the depleted depth at forward it seems as though Dylan Holloway will be making his Oilers debut. A first round pick in 2020, Holloway has battled injuries that have kept him from action for a lot of time since his draft year. Despite this, Holloway has been able to continue developing, and after finally returning to action this season he posted 26 points in 35 AHL games. He does have some skill, but a lot of his most significant value at this point comes from his size and speed.
The progression of his career suggests that he could be ready for full time NHL action, in fact many fans have been hoping for his debut since February. It’s hardly an ideal situation to be making a debut, but nonetheless it will be fun to be able to see how he stacks up against some of the best the league has to offer.
Since this might be the last game of the season, I have to express that Puljujarvi should continue to be stapled to McDavid’s wing. With so much focus on the Oilers from around the league, many have been pointing out the discrepancy between how well he plays and how little he’s being used, or even how critical some of the old-school writers are of the Finn.
Given the tumultuous start to his career many are wondering if the similarities between he and Nichushkin go beyond style and effectiveness, perhaps adding the similarity of their draft team undervaluing them, as the Stars did with Nichushkin. Both are high draft picks who took a while to develop despite their size, and who contribute in areas other than point totals. The Oilers would be foolish to let Puljujarvi out of the building, especially considering how well he and McDavid have been together throughout the years. It is certainly good news to see him get a larger role tonight, yet I can’t help but think switching him with Hyman would be better for both of the top 2 lines.
Foegele has held up his end of the bargain as an effective 3rd liner, Kassian less so. At the very least McLeod continues his breakout season and has cemented himself as an important piece of the Oilers top 9. His ascension to this role is a big reason for the Oilers success this season.
Ryan and Malone are crafty veterans who can contribute circumstantially. They understand their roles and can be effective in minimal icetime.
It is a bit surprising that this is the first time the Oilers have gone with 7 defencemen in this series, given the Nurse injury and the success they’ve had with the configuration. Russell brings a different element, a classic shot blocking defensive specialist, to a blueline that is mostly comprised of offensive minded defencemen.
Smith let in some goals that did not look good aesthetically, yet has continued to over deliver on performance overall. Having such a wildcard in net can be tough for the psyche of a fan, and no doubt contributes to Smith’s abilities being undervalued league wide.
With Kadri out the Avs have made some adjustments up the middle, moving Compher up to the 2nd line and bumping Newhook to centre on the 3rd line. Aube-Kubel takes Newhook’s spot on the wing, and the speedy winger fits the theme of the Avs bottom 6 seamlessly.
Especially with the solid two-way play of Lehkonen and the star power of Rantanen, Compher should be well supported. Personally I would like to see Newhook in this spot, as the young forward has a considerable amount of skill, and theoretically should be pushing for a top 6 job at some point. Compher is more experienced and has strong defensive abilities.
One figures Sturm could find his way into the lineup once more, and despite the head scratching acquisition cost (Jost), Sturm is a noticeable presence with his size down the middle. With good faceoff skills and some mobility Sturm does seem to fit a valuable archetype as a bottom 6 centre.
As I’ll continue to mention, Francouz’s biggest shortcoming is durability, not ability, and he has lived up to that appraisal and played well. Should he go down, as has happened at inopportune times, the Avs would turn to the young Justus Annunen. Annunen has some pedigree and could develop into a starter in the next handful of years, but he likely isn’t quite ready for this spotlight just yet. Skinner is a bit further along than he is at this point, but as a 3rd string goalie a team could do a lot worse than a talented youngster.