Welcome back Oil Country, as it’s been 3 days since the Oilers defeated the Coyotes. The team continues its trip through the Southwest sitting at 14-5-0 on the season, but just 6-4-0 in their last 10.
Of course, that’s not without reason as the Oilers find themselves without starting goalie Mike Smith and all 3 regulars on left defence. Tonight they take on a Knights team that is missing some key players of their own. Both squads appear to be weathering their storms reasonably well and are still within striking distance of living up to the expectations most had for them leading into the season.
The Oilers beat Vegas in this building 5-3 on October 22nd, and will no doubt be looking for a similar outcome tonight. The Knights have really turned their season around since then, despite losing Karlsson and Patrick to injuries, as well as Tuch and Krebs in the Eichel trade.
Tippett has been coy about not announcing the starter before he has to, and admitted that with so much in flux that every line or combination can be changed. It’s expected we’ll se Koskinen and Lehner in goal for their teams tonight.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Find some chemistry. We’ve seen a lot of shuffling in the past few games, but this is a big opportunity for players to prove themselves and potentially work their way up the depth chart.
- Limit turnovers. From breakouts through the neutral zone the Knights are adept at creating turnovers, of course with Mark Stone leading the way. With the blueline in rough shape the Oilers forwards will need to give strong support in this respect.
- Special teams. A must for taking on the Oilers, but after a slow start Vegas looks to be rounding into form as personnel starts returning. Stone and Pacioretty should certainty help a 31st ranked power play unit improve.
- Score first. As we’ve seen before, strong defensive teams can make it difficult for the Oilers to attack with control, most recently against the Stars. A wile defensive team live the Knights will no doubt try to clog things up if they get an early lead.
Edmonton: Coach Tippett might be shuffling the deck early and often.
Draisaitl — McDavid — Kassian
Hyman — Nugent-Hopkins — Yamamoto
Foegele — McLeod — Puljujarvi
Benson — Sceviour — Turris
Russell — Barrie
Broberg — Ceci
Lagesson — Bouchard
Vegas: Eichel, Karlsson, Patrick, and Martinez are on IR while Amadio is in COVID protocol.
Pacioretty — Stephenson — Stone
Marchessault — Roy — Smith
Carrier — Brooks — Dadanov
Janmark — Howden — Kolesar
Hague — Pietrangelo
McNabb — Theodore
Hutton — Whitecloud
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edmonton: Tippett pointed out that he liked how McLeod played with Puljujarvi in their short stint so far. McLeod has been doing well as the 3rd centre, especially defensively. Meanwhile, Puljujarvi might benefit from being more of a primary playmaker on a line, and some production out of this unit would be fantastic, if only for the short term. Reuniting McDavid and Draisaitl will ensure at least one line has something going, and with Hyman-RNH-Yamamoto reunited we should see a big win if the 3rd line gets going as well.
The Russell-Barrie pair is really a testament to the Oilers depth, or at least GM Holland’s strategy of filling those spots with experience. Both are reliable in their own ways and at least bring different skill sets to the table. The talk of the town is about Broberg right now, logging huge minutes with Ceci and looking effective in multiple areas of the game. Bouchard isn’t leading the charge like I guessed, but that’s quite alright. He’s shown a lot of skill and poise already this season and we know he will be a big part of this team headed forward.
With Mike Smith still a ways away from a return, there’s a lot of time to evaluate Skinner. At the very least he’s proven that there’s no need to push Koskinen past a certain usage rate. It’s been nice to see Tippett trust him with some big games, but he hasn’t passed Mikko on the depth chart yet.
Vegas: Until Eichel returns from injury it’s a bit of the same old song and dance from the Golden Knights (it’s been a good one) with Chandler Stephenson centring the 1st line and leading the team with 19 points in 20 games, even without Stone or Pacioretty on his wings for most of that time. Roy and Brooks are not Karlsson and Eichel, but both have strong wingers to lean on as well, where Dadanov has been fitting in nicely. The trend not entirely absent from the 4th line either, as Janmark and Kolesar could easily fit onto a 3rd line.
The defence is much closer to full health, and is a very strong unit, stacking up against some of the best across the league. Yes, we know about stars like Pietrangelo and Theodore, but both Hague and Whitecloud have been vital parts of that strength going back to last season. The Vegas management group clearly values the trait of size in defencemen. and both Hague and Whitecloud are archetypal Golden Knights in that sense.