EDMONTON — First, the Edmonton Oilers lost defenceman Adam Larsson for two months after Game 1 of the season. Now, six games in, it’s speedy depth forward Joakim Nygard, gone for two to four weeks with a rib injury.
When the depth begins to get tested, it can go one of two ways for a National Hockey League team. This is where the teams that fall apart fall apart, and where teams that succeed succeed.
“That’s a good way to put it,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “Our two young defencemen (Ethan Bear and Joel Persson) have gone in there and stabilized things. Now … we’ve had forwards that are itching for a little more (ice) time.
“Everybody has to contribute in some way. Injuries happen to every team … we still have to win every night.”
Nygard isn’t a key player, but improved penalty killing and team speed have been two big factors in Edmonton’s 5-1 start. He does both of those things, and chipped in a goal during the first six games of his NHL career, coming over from Sweden.
Wednesday night, with the Philadelphia Flyers in town, we’ll see a new Oilers second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between right winger Alex Chiasson and the red-hot James Neal, who’s moving over to the left side.
Chiasson had 22 goals last season, spending time on Connor McDavid’s right wing. This season he’s been relegated to the Bottom 6 — until tonight.
“It’s time for me to get goin’,” said Chiasson, who was out with the flu when the season opened. “With what happened the first 10 days of the season, being out a little bit, it felt like the last two games was a step in the right direction for me. But it’s time to get going here — play on the inside, play around the net. Do what I do best.
“We should be a hungry line tonight,” he said. “For me, (he has to be) good on the forecheck, good on retrievals … Everything below the goal line, that’s usually where I help out my line.”
Teams that make the playoffs tend to look back on the season and talk about how they overcame injuries. “Next man up,” and all of that.
Teams that miss the playoffs, often, point to players who went down, and how they never seemed to recover from the loss.
“Everybody has to step up,” depth winger Josh Archibald said. “(Nygard) is a fast, quick forechecker. Guys have to try and fill those shoes a little bit. But we’ve got guys sitting out who want to get in. I know they’ll do their best.”
The Oilers’ depth is clearly improved under new GM Ken Holland, evidenced by the fact they can deal with an injury to Nygard by promoting a player who had 22 tucks last season. Chiasson re-signed in Edmonton (two years, $4.3 million) over the summer because he saw something he liked here.
Now, he’s got a chance to be a bigger part of that package.
“There is a reason why I wanted to come back here,” said Chiasson. “I think this group is special. We’ve got a bunch of good people, and I think it shows on TV. I’ve had a few people reaching out lately who (saw a club) where everyone is playing as a team, and everyone is pulling together. It goes a long way.
“The game in Chicago (a 3-1 loss), it wasn’t our best game, but at the end we were right there, right in it.”
“We’re trying to get Chaser a little bit more engaged,” admitted Tippett. “With Nygard being out, we’re looking for another left winger. We put Nealer over there, and we wanted to get a look at (Chiasson) with Nuge.
“He’s been around some chances lately, hasn’t capitalized. Hopefully he goes up there and grabs the opportunity.”