After Joel Persson was injured in a preseason game last season, the next day at practice Dave Tippett skated up to Ethan Bear and said, “Knock knock.” It was in reference to the opportunity Bear would have with Persson going down. Bear proceeded to score two goals in his next preseason game against Winnipeg, and then when Adam Larsson got injured on opening night, Bear was promoted to the top pair with Darnell Nurse and stayed there all season.
He took advantage of the opportunity, and tonight his teammates have an opportunity to make life much more difficult and demoralizing for the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks sit fifth in the North Division.
They are three points back of fourth place Montreal, but the Canadiens have five games in hand. After tonight the Canucks will have played 41% of their season, and a loss tonight would put them eight point behind the Oilers, who would have two games in hand. Canucksarmy.com writer Stephan Roget had a great article outlining how well the Canucks need to play down the stretch if they hope to make the playoffs. Oilers fans can relate to playoff hopes being almost evaporated one month into the season. You are an expert on the topic.
But this season, the Oilers are in a position to crush the hopes of opposing teams and their fanbases. A stellar 9-2 run since January 30th has moved the Oilers into second spot in the Canadian division, and presented them with the opportunity to only look ahead and not worry about teams in their rearview mirror.
The challenge will be making the most of that opportunity. They won’t win every game against teams below them in the standings. The Maple Leafs are first in the North and they’ve lost to Ottawa twice and were shutout by the Flames last night. While Vancouver is struggling — 3-8-2 in their last 12 games — they won’t just give the Oilers two points.
Vancouver will be desperate, and the Oilers will need to match their desperation, like they did in two games against Vancouver. If they do, the Oilers’ skill and improved defensive structure should give them a great chance to win.
RNH – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Kahun – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Ennis – Khaira – Archibald
P.Russell – Haas – Chiasson
Nurse – Barrie
Russell – Larsson
Jones – Bouchard
Caleb Jones plays his first game since January 31st, and it looks like Patrick Russell will draw in for James Neal. It will be Russell’s second game of the season and first since January 26th. Jones needs to mirror what Jujhar Khaira, Tyler Ennis and William Lagesson did when they got back in the lineup: They played so well that Dave Tippett had to keep them in. Often the player will decide his fate, by how he plays on the ice, and if Jones plays well then his odds of remaining in the lineup will increase. Lagesson jammed his wrist last week, but he is feeling better.
Mike Smith and his .940Sv% gets the start. That is a bit of a surprise considering how well Koskinen played on Saturday, but Tippett’s lineup decisions have all paid off lately and with both goalies playing well I’m not sure there is a wrong decision.
James Neal is not on the trip, and Russell was recalled on emergency basis, so Neal has some sort of injury or ailment.
Pearson – Horvat – Hoglander
Miller – Pettersson – Boeser
Roussel – Sutter – Gaudette
MacEwen – Beagle – Virtanen
Edler – Schmidt
Hughes – Benn
Juolevi – Myers
Thatcher Demko will start for the fifth time in seven games.
He is 1-5 in his last six starts posting a Sv% of .967, .852, .947, .885, .811 and .875. In two of his previous three starts he’s played very well. The Oilers fired 46 shots against him on January 14th, and he stopped 41 of them. He kept the Canucks in the game.
When he’s on he is really good, but he’s also been inconsistent so there is an opportunity for Edmonton to exploit that early.
The Oilers lead the NHL with 28 first period goals. Columbus is second with 22. Edmonton has outscored teams 28-18 in the first frame, while Vancouver has been outscored 21-19. Edmonton has done a good job of getting leads early in games.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
At the time of this writing, and following a two-game sweep at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, the Vancouver Canucks sit with a record of 8-12-2.
On the one hand, that means that the Canucks are only four wins away from .500 hockey, and they’re also a scant three points out of a playoff spot. But the Canucks have also played the most games in the league, and said playoff spot is currently held by the Montreal Canadiens, a team with five games in hand on the Canucks.
By the time the Canucks complete their next three two-game series, they’ll have hit the halfway mark on the season. Which means, as some are already pointing out, that it could already be well past do-or-die time in Vancouver.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Until the ball stops rolling I’ll stick with Oilers winning their 10th game in 12 starts, and they win four in a row for the first time this season with a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Draisaitl moves into sole possession of second place in NHL scoring as he picks up at least one point.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Last year on December 1st, 2019, Patrick Russell scored a goal in Vancouver, but it was reviewed and ruled no-goal for goalie interference. He has played 28 games since then, and is now up to 52 NHL games without a goal. He ends his drought tonight and scores his first NHL goal.