What have you done for me lately? The question is asked at a rhythm in the competition of professional sports. The answers to which can go all sorts of different ways.
Take, for example, our Oilers. To round out the numbers crudely they’ve had a strong run of about 20 games, followed by a terrible run of about 20 games. Of course, the team’s performance hasn’t been as cut and dry as that, but 2 weeks ago things looked and felt awfully different surrounding the club. Now riding a 3 game win streak the mood has shifted, opposing coaches are praising Koskinen’s work, the team has ramped up its overall play, and new additions lie ahead.
Let’s get to the elephant in the room, shall we? Evander Kane makes his Oilers debut. Before getting into any on-ice discussions, there is no doubt a lot of noise surrounding Kane off the ice. There’s a wide variety of categories, let alone incidents, that have been public over the past decade. Some of these are proven, some are atoned for, some are complete lies, some are far more concerning than others, many I just don’t know enough to even try to figure it all out. Of course the hope is that we can all become better people, and I believe that forgiveness can grace those that seek it in earnest.
On the ice how this entire situation has come to be is a huge series of blessings for the Oilers, adding a top 6 forward who fits all the criteria the Oilers could need, for no assets, and fitting with the cap without removing anyone. Many armchair pundits (myself included) had prescriptions to fix the Oilers forward woes. Some were calling for more competitiveness, physicality, and snarl. Some wanted a trigger man who could score from further distance to compliment some of the more pass oriented sections of the forward group. Some thought the only thing needed was enough speed and skill, or perhaps quality, to warrant an unquestionable place in the top 6. You get the point, on top of being able to contribute on both special teams, Kane significantly improves the lineup in many crucial facets.
With the recent returns of Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman the Oilers lineup has quickly improved. Armed with the desperation of such a long losing streak the Oilers should be ready to take it to a bottomed-out Habs roster that is reeling in several major areas, including in net where we expect Sam Montembault to start tonight. The Oilers are expected to start Koskinen once again, but I don’t think it’s prudent to ride him too much, and a weaker section of the schedule (Montreal and Ottawa) should see Skinner get the nod in the near future.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Outwork. The Oilers are by far the more talented lineup tonight, and should be the more motivated as well. There’s no excuse for being out worked tonight.
- Don’t cheat. With a newly stacked lineup and a weak opponent the temptation to try to pad offensive totals could be present, but must be ignored. Sticking to the basics and strong fundamentals should make it difficult for the Oilers to lose this game.
- Puck luck. This means save percentage and shooting percentage. This could happen to any hockey team on any given night.
Kane — McDavid — Yamamoto
Foegele — Draisaitl — Puljujarvi
Hyman — Nugent-Hopkins — Kassian
Shore — McLeod — Ryan
Nurse — Bouchard
Keith — Ceci
Lagesson — Russell
Lehkonen — Suzuki — Toffoli
Dauphin — Poehling — Hoffman
Pitlick — Evans — Anderson
Pezzetta — Vejdemo — Paquette
Chiarot — Savard
Kulak — Petry
Romanov — Wideman
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edmonton: The addition of Kane opens many new possibilities when it comes to Oilers lines, starting tonight where it seems Tippett will have RNH at 3C in earnest. With McLeod down to the fourth line this becomes one of the league’s premier centre groups, strong enough to make up for some other holes on the roster.
Outside of McDavid and Draisaitl the Oilers had some strong forwards, RNH, Hyman, Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, to an extent Foegele and McLeod as well. It’s a group that can do a lot of things well, speed, 2-way play, playmaking, but lacks a bit of goal scoring punch.
Their lack of goals often would be used to highlight the Oilers lack of depth, which is only partly fair. Now with the power forward, perennial 30-goal scorer Kane in the fold the group is deeper and more versatile. In short, the Oilers might finally start rounding out into that “deepest F group in years” we felt promised this offseason.
It is a bit interesting to see Sceviour come out instead of Shore or even Ryan, but no doubt the standard of play on the 4th line is raised.
The defence looks to remain unchanged since last game, which is fine considering this would be a reasonable answer to “what is the Oilers best top 6 today?”. Lagesson is interesting, he’s had a fantastic flow of play metrics but hasn’t made any of it look easy, including taking a huge hit last game.
Montreal: Things are bad enough in Montreal that no one is looking as strong as they should, with whatever players that remain from a Cup finals appearance weighed down by this season’s contrasting struggles. The strongest part of this particular lineup is down the right wing, with Toffoli, Anderson, and Hoffman as well established options in the league.
Suzuki might be the only option in tonight’s lineup that is certain to be a part of the Canadiens core in the future, whose defensive acumen draws comparisons to Patrice Bergeron at the best of times. Perhaps a more reasonable comparable would be Nugent-Hopkins, as both are slight centres with offensive talents, but are able to use their hockey sense to be effective defensively. I’m a fan.
Speaking of personal soft spots Laurent Dauphin is someone who I thought would be a scoring forward when I watched him briefly in QMJHL Sherbrooke. He never really got his chance with Arizona like I thought, but somehow he’s found himself in a top 6 role tonight. Sure it’s completely circumstantial and perhaps a bit ambitious that he’ll be able to hold this spot long term, still it’s funny to see my valuations from years ago come to fruition.
Like centres Poehling and Evans, the time is now for many of these fringe NHLers to prove if they have what it takes to stick around until the Habs are competitive again (let’s call it after this season and a dignified tank for Bedard/Michkov next season).
Chiarot and Savard are great physical defensive defenders, great for the bully-ball style of the postseason. Petry is being noted for a tough season, with many remarking that his play has slipped from the high level he has set in recent years, concerning considering the length of his contract. Perhaps this is more an example of being dragged down by a bad team, perhaps it’s due to wear from a traumatic grind to the Finals, perhaps it’s just Father Time. Even Tom Brady hears that call after all.
Romanov is a fun player. His upside might be capped as a 2nd pairing defenceman, but he plays with a visible intensity in all areas. He isn’t afraid to throw hits or make bold passes.