Tonight’s game will feature a team with unsettled backup goaltending, frustrating losses, an MVP pick who isn’t at the very top of the league in scoring, a defense not getting it done...And hey, I’m just talking about the Edmonton Oilers so far.
What a surprise the first few weeks of the season have been, as what looked like a dynamite early season matchup instead sees the 2-5-0 Oilers limp into Pittsburgh as an offensively impotent team (their 14 total Goals is 30th in the league so far). Add in the fact that Connor McDavid is doing his part with 8 points in 7 games and a big problem emerges for the non-#97 players on the team.
Help could be on the way, Leon Draisaitl has missed the last 4 games, but could return from a concussion as early as today. That obviously would add a lot of firepower and help for McDavid and the Oil.
Edmonton Oilers (2-5-0) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (5-3-1)
Puck drop: 7:08 PM Eastern, AT&T Sportsnet, 105.9 The X
SBN Blog: Copper N Blue
Expected lines (from practice Monday)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Conor Sheary
Bryan Rust - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Carl Hagelin - Riley Sheahan - Patric Hornqvist
Tom Kuhnhackl -Greg McKegg - Ryan Reaves
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Ian Cole / Justin Schultz
Olli Maatta / Chad Ruhwedel
—Tonight will be the first game as a Penguin for Riley Sheahan, acquired Saturday from Detroit for Scott Wilson and an exchange of draft picks. Sheahan’s immediately adding depth to the center spot which is perfect timing because...
—Just about an hour after it was announced Pittsburgh had added Sheahan, they lost center Carter Rowney during the game when he hurt his hand blocking a shot. He was placed on IR so will be out until at least Saturday (no official update from the team as of yet).
—Antti Niemi was waived yesterday, and Casey DeSmith was called up. The undrafted 26-year old has no NHL experience, but has been one of the best goalies in the AHL since the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
Last time out: Edmonton lost 2-1 to Philly. Come on, man.
Lines: (per Left Wing Lock)
—However the potential return of Draisaitl throws a huge monkey-wrench into the above. If Draisaitl is able to play tonight, the lines may be scrambled or Edmonton may simply decide to plug him into the 1st line and scratch 18-year old 2017 first round pick Kailer Yamamoto.
—It’s weird looking at the above lineup and wondering why so many preseason prognosticators made Edmonton among the Cup favorites. McDavid is clearly a special player and special players can do a lot, but other than him (and Draisaitl, to be fair) the rest of the team listed above looks more “meh” than “contender!”
—McDavid just did this a few days ago in Chicago (against Duncan Keith, no less) and this is the stuff of nightmares. A little taste of how opponents have felt knowing that Sidney Crosby could do this on any shift. It doesn’t feel great!
—McDavid is such a monster coming through the neutral zone with speed. Just saying “with speed” doesn’t do justice, as he’s likely the best and fastest skater in the entire league right now, and he can do it with the puck on his stick. Given how slack (to be charitable) that the Pens have been defensively as a team to allow little to no resistance their opponents easy entries and passage through the zones, this is borderline terrifying. Hopefully this special challenge will have the team’s attention and get them to buckle down and actually put in a decent effort, because otherwise McDavid’s going to put them on the highlight reel.
Sid vs. Connor
Ok, so what everyone wants to see (or at least what the national media wants to talk about). It’s Crosby vs. McDavid. Here’s a history of the meetings so far:
2015-16: none! Due to McDavid’s injury that had him out from Nov-Feb, we didn’t get 87 vs. 97 in the first opportunity.
2016-17: Nov 8: It was election night in America, the Pens hosted the Oil and won 4-3 with Conor Sheary scoring a goal in the 3rd period for the win. McDavid recorded 3 assists in the loss.
March 10: the Pens won 3-2 in Edmonton in a shootout. Both Crosby and McDavid scored pretty shootout goals, but the difference was Phil Kessel adding another won to tip the balance.
Interesting Thought: This schedule is so weird. The Pens start their annual trip to the northwest this Saturday. So add in the Jets game and Pittsburgh will play Edmonton and Winnipeg each this week and next, and never again the rest of the season. Plus there’s back-to-back games coming up on Saturday-Sunday then Wednesday-Thursday of next week. Weee!