In many ways 2 weeks feels very long ago, at least when it comes to the Oilers. For now the clouds of negativity are breaking, dissipating with each win stacked, now riding a 4 game win streak. Is this the clearing of a storm?
Sure, it was a cushy win against a not-very-good Montreal team, but now with Hyman and RNH back in the lineup, not to mention the addition of Evander Kane, the quality of the roster has improved. In a league of such parity a small change can be the tipping point between middle-of-the-pack and elite.
The Oilers will have a chance to continue their strong play tonight in Ottawa against the Senators. This is a Sens lineup that has quickly depleted since these teams last met on January 15th, a game that the Sens won 6-4, marking a very low point for the Oilers. In that sense both these teams have reversed fortunes since then, isn’t that just how the wheel of fate turns?
We’re expecting to see Koskinen and Murray start in goal as the teams face off for the last time this season.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Focus on your process. The Oilers have been through too much to play down to their opponent at this point. In many ways the team is just starting to find a better version of itself, which should be established with intensity.
- Penalty Kill. The results here have to start improving, and there’s not much excuse against such a depleted Sens lineup.
- Goaltending. It was on that January 15th game between these teams that Murray got his 1st win of the season. He’s managed to have some more positive results since then.
- Forecheck. The best way to stop the Oilers dangerous forward group is to disrupt their breakouts. The Sens have some size and speed up front which could be useful in this venture.
Kane — McDavid — Yamamoto
Foegele — Draisaitl — Puljujarvi
Hyman — Nugent-Hopkins — Kassian
Shore — McLeod — Ryan
Nurse — Bouchard
Keith — Ceci
Lagesson — Russell
Tkachuk — Stützle — Ennis
Formenton — Tierney — Gaudette
Sanford — Paul — Watson
Bishop — Kastelic — Sokolov
Chabot — Thomson
Holden — Zub
Brannstrom — J. Brown
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edmonton: At least for one game everything seemed to fall into place for the Oilers forward group. There is most definitely reason to believe that will continue to be the case. Yamamoto is arguably the most responsible player on the McDavid line, and his work ethic and playmaking skills do seem to compliment his linemates.
Foegele’s intensity is always his first and foremost contribution, well received by the skilled games of Draisaitl and Puljujarvi.
Kassian has been at his best this season alongside RNH, viably productive for the 3rd line, especially when flanked by Hyman. This line should be able to provide strong 2-way play against any opposition, especially when Kassian’s toughness and less-than-cheery disposition adds some snarl to the clean-cut pair of responsible linemates.
McLeod has performed reasonably well as 3C which should see him excel in a lower spot in the lineup, especially given that most of his contributions are of the defensive variety. Wether it’s Ryan, Sceviour, Perlini, Shore, or Turris, the 4th line should be well trusted to spell the rest of the lines when needed.
Ottawa: The rebuild may not exactly be over, but at full strength Ottawa has at least one really strong forward line. Not only are 2/3 of that group out tonight in Batherson and Norris, but also other top 9 forwards White, C. Brown, and Pinto are missing. Stutzle is getting a nice audition as a 1C, personally I think of him as more of a winger, but tonight is a great chance to watch him in that role. Of course Tkachuk should be a nice linemate here.
Formenton has always had “pro speed” but has leveraged that into other roles including as a penalty killer and a secondary offensive threat. It’s fair to say he’s cementing himself as part of a young, ascending core. Gaudette has done well to find himself in a top 6 audition as there is a bit of skill there.
Sanford, Paul, and Watson are pretty emblematic of the style Coach Smith wants to see from the Sens. Straightforward, hard working, and physically imposing. With last change it’s all but guaranteed we’ll see Smith try to match this group against McDavid or Draisaitl’s line.
Sokolov is big and plays like it, with the ability to be a force in the right areas which compliments his scoring talents well. He’s been producing well in the QMJHL, the World Juniors U20, and the AHL over the past 3 seasons. Still looking for his first NHL point the opportunity to start working his way up the lineup is upon him, even into a regular top 9 role in the near future.
Chabot is Mr. Everything on the Sens blueline, logging enormous minutes and will almost certainly see a lot of time with partners outside young Lassi Thomson.
Zub is a really nice find out of the KHL, although being on the Sens has probably shielded him from some of that reputation. I’d wager that he should be on a best-on-best team Russia, for example.
Brannstrom has some talent, no doubt, but has had a difficult time moving up or at times even staying in the lineup.