EDMONTON — It’s another experimental night for Dave Tippett and his Edmonton Oilers, as he goes with the backup goalie, a new third line and gives taxi squad veteran Patrick Russell a game on right wing.
This is the luxury of having clinched a playoff berth with six games left on the schedule. Beginning Saturday however, we should start to see the Oilers playoff lineup for the final four games.
“As we go on here, you’ll see less fluctuation in the lineup after tonight’s game,” confirmed Tippett, who has no plans to sit Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl or Darnell Nurse no matter how locked into second place in the North the Oilers are.
“(McDavid) wants to play, and wants to make sure his game is ready for the playoffs. We won’t overtax him, but we won’t abnormally hold him out or keep his minutes down either,” Tippett said. “There are parts of the game that he wants to work on, and there are parts of the game our team needs to work on. He’ll play accordingly.”
It’s not the ‘80s anymore, where you might give a couple of guys a night off and send them out on the town to blow off a little steam the night before.
“The days of resting guys (are past). Guys don’t want days off. They want to keep playing,” Tippett said. “You have to keep your team engaged and playing. I’m not a big fan of resting guys. If you think you’re just going to pick it up again in the playoffs, that’s not the way it works.
“You’ve got to keep pushing ahead, and every day you work on your game so when you go into the playoffs you feel good about your game. We’re not going to sit here and rest guys, allow our team to go flat, and then try and pick it up again.”
This is a team with something to prove in the playoffs after falling flat in the bubble last August. There’s no comparing the two, said defenceman Adam Larsson.
“I think this year is completely different. You have the whole regular season behind you, you’re not coming off a three-month break. You can just continue with the good things you’ve done all year, with no break,” said Larsson, who has really found his game this season. “The will, the belief… It’s such a unique group. The sky’s the limit, but I also know that the page turns in the playoffs. It’s time to go to work.”
Here’s how the Oilers line up tonight, as they try to win their fourth straight game and their sixth in eight meetings with Vancouver this season.
Draisaitl, McDavid, Puljujarvi
Kahun, Nugent-Hopkins, Yamamoto
Neal, McLeod, Chiasson
Archibald, Khaira, P. Russell
Zack Kassian (lower body) is back skating, and could find a game before the regular season is out. Defenceman Kris Russell (lower body) will begin skating on Friday.
Playing It Out
Across the way, Travis Green has a depleted lineup with very little to play for in the standings. That doesn’t mean he has zero expectations, however.
“The expectations are high. No matter what,” Green said. “We want guys who love winning. Our compete level, our work ethic… We want guys to pay attention to detail. We’ve been playing a lot of games, and physically our guys might be a little tired some nights. But you can still win when you’re tired.
“We want guys who are mentally sharp, and part of that is being excited to play,” he continued. “We’ve got a lot of guys in that room who have a lot to play for, as far as the future. Our leaders and our vets, they understand that they’ve got to set an example as well.”
“We’ve just got to stay positive and try and get a win tonight.”
Vancouver lines up with the identical 20 players that lost 4-1 to the Oilers in Vancouver two nights ago:
Pearson, Horvat, Lind
Hoglander, Miller, Boeser
Vesey, Boyd, MacEwen
Highmore, Graovac, Hawryluk
The only drama left around this team is if McDavid can get to 100 points in this 56-game season. He enters game No. 52 tonight with 93 points. He has 31 goals and 62 assists, and McDavid has more helpers this season than 883 of the 890 NHLers who have played a game have points.
It’s the best season anyone has had since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr went off in 1995-96, a quarter century ago now.
“He’s really good, I don’t need to tell you (media) guys that,” said Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes. “He’s so fast, but at the same time his hand speed can keep up with that. And his brain too.
“He’s going to do his thing tonight, and we’ve just got to try and contain that.”
The 100-point plateau has become a thing that McDavid does not wax on poetically about. His teammates do more of the talking when it comes to a race that has taken on an air of inevitability, with McDavid having registered two or more points in eight of his last nine games.
“We would like to help him as much as we can. It would be cool for him to reach 100 points in a season like this. We’ll try to help him out here,” said Larsson. “We would like to get our game in place. We have a strong group with a big belief system. If he just keeps playing like he is I’m pretty confident he’ll get it.”
“As a person as a player he’s more worried about helping us, helping the team win,” added penalty killer Josh Archibald. “The points just come along with that.
“He’s looking at the big picture, and we are too.”