UNIONDALE, N.Y. — After watching Leon Draisaitl play over 26 minutes in each of the Edmonton Oilers‘ opening two games of the season, the arrival of trusty centreman Riley Sheahan to the lineup ought to take a bite out of those minutes — at least on the penalty kill.
Sheahan signed a one-year, $900,000 free agent deal with Edmonton over the summer, then watched the first two games while under concussion protocol.
“Being on a new team and siting out the home opener isn’t the way you want to start,” Sheahan said after the morning skate on Long Island. “Definitely looking forward to tonight.”
The Oilers are light on good faceoff men, with both Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sub-.500 in their career, which was why new general manager Ken Holland acquired Sheahan. But with him out, the load was left to Draisaitl, who piled up five points while playing nearly 53 minutes of hockey over the first two games.
“Those guys are beasts up front,” Sheahan said of Draisaitl and McDavid. “We need them expending their energy offensively, scoring goals for us. I think I can take some defensive zone draws, some penalty killing, and let them do their thing offensively.”
Sheahan was a first-round draft pick of Holland’s Detroit Red Wings back in 2010, and played five seasons in Detroit before moving on to Pittsburgh, then Florida. Holland was a huge reason why the 27-year-old chose Edmonton while a UFA this summer.
“At the pre-training camp meeting we had with the whole team, Kenny spoke for a while,” said Sheahan, to whom the words were familiar. “He preaches his meaning well, and gets his message across to the guys. There’s a will to play for him, and he treats everybody fairly, with loyalty. He’s easy to play for.”
Tonight Sheahan will be playing for new Oilers coach Dave Tippett, who really liked a training camp line with Jujhar Khaira on the left side, Sheahan in the middle and Josh Archibald on the right. Archibald (flu) went on I.R. Tuesday, but could be ready for Thursday’s game in Newark against New Jersey. Patrick Russell will play right wing on that unit Tuesday.
“(Sheahan) is a glue guy on a line like that. Good on faceoffs, good penalty kill guy,” said Tippett, who will use Draisaitl less than 26 minutes this evening, we’re betting. “There were times when I had Leon take a (shorthanded) faceoff and come off quick, but there were times when I wanted him to stay out there (or he couldn’t get off right away). It’s a feel for how the matchup goes, who (Draisaitl) is playing against, the way the team is playing, the way Sheahan is playing tonight…
“It’s always a feel — you get into a game where you’re trying to find a way to win.”
Speaking of feel, Tippett loves this trip back into the old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum — now known as NYCB Live. The Islanders will play 28 of their home games in this arena, with the remaining ones slated for Brooklyn.
Tippett once scored two short-handed goals in this rink, and has played some wild playoff games here as well over his 721-game playing career.
“In the early to mid-80s, this was a phenomenal building to come into. They’d just come off their dynasty‚ there was a real aura in this building,” Tippett said. “You love all the amenities of the new buildings, but I like the atmosphere of the old buildings. Chicago Stadium, Maple Leaf Gardens, Montreal, Boston, the (Philadelphia) Spectrum… Even Buffalo (The Auditorium) — it was small in the neutral zone. The dressing rooms were awful, but it was the character of the game.”
Goalie Mikko Koskinen gets his first start of the season tonight for Edmonton, opposing Semyon Varlamov in the Islanders net. Young defenceman Noah Dobson appears to be making his NHL debut tonight as well for New York.
Here are the rest of the expected lines: