EDMONTON — They are the one “Canadien” team that has had the Edmonton Oilers number this season, and Montreal takes a 5-1 record into their two-game set here in Northern Alberta this week.
“We haven’t really played our ‘A’ game against them yet. So that’s more on us than it is on them,” offered Draisaitl. “But they’ve also done a good job of staying above us and limiting our chances off the rush. Obviously, we’re hoping to get them back.”
Head coach Dave Tippett wouldn’t bite on the question, stating that each game stands alone. He would not allow that there is a pattern at work here, but with four of Edmonton’s final 13 remaining games to be played against Montreal, we’ll all be able to judge for ourselves — starting tonight.
Tippett is sticking with a top line that includes both of his superstars, but likely won’t play Draisaitl for 27:08, as he did in Winnipeg.
“We had more powerplays (six) than we usually do, and we used him for some faceoff stuff as the game went on. It was a little deceiving,” Tippett said. “That was a bit of an anomaly. You get into games and you use the people you think you can win with, and sometimes that happens.”
With just 12 games in the past 34 days the Oilers have barely played, especially compared to some other teams. Now they have two games in an eight-day stretch — not exactly taxing.
It is helpful? Would they like more game action?
“It depends on how we play the next game,” chuckled Draisaitl. “Sometimes it’s nice to be rested, but sometimes it’s nice to get into a bit of a groove and have the rhythm of playing every other night.
“This year is special, and it’s no different for us. We’re just looking to do the best we can and make sure we secure a playoff spot.”
As Edmonton’s best faceoff man, Draisaitl finds himself taking some shorthanded draws — especially with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out. He’ll go over the boards as often Tippett asks, but isn’t expecting more minutes than Darnell Nurse very often.
“Maybe not 27 minutes a night. Eventually there would be a little bit of a drop-off,” he said. “But, we’re professional athletes and it’s our job to be in good shape and be ready for whatever is thrown at us," he said.
"McDavid and I, we’ve done it for multiple years now. We’ve shown that we can handle the workload, and it’s not any different this year.”
Edmonton sticks with the same lineup that shut out Winnipeg on Saturday. With just two games this week — tonight and Wednesday against Montreal — fatigue won’t be an issue. We could see Smith playing both games between the pipes. We could also see Nugent-Hopkins (concussion) return on Wednesday, if all goes well.
Draisaitl, McDavid, Puljujarvi
Kahun, Haas, Yamamoto
Archibald, Khaira, Chiasson
Nygard, Shore, Kassian
Edmonton won’t have six-foot-three call-up Ryan McLeod into their lineup until perhaps the April 28 game in Winnipeg next Wednesday. He is serving a quarantine that expires on Sunday, after coming up from Bakersfield, California.
“He is an intriguing player because of his size, speed and ability to create offence. We’d like to get him in some games here down the stretch to see where he’s at,” Tippett said.
“Ideally you have a practice with him and he can practice on a line that he’s going to play with. Give him more comfort going into the game.”
Here is how the Habs line up tonight:
Tatar, Danault, Anderson
Toffoli, Suzuki, Armia
Drouin, Kotkaniemi, Byron
Lehkonen, Staal, Perry
Montreal has five players with four points each in the five games against Edmonton this season: Tatar, Petry, Danault, Byron, and the injured Brendan Gallagher. Price’s numbers versus the Oilers are nearly perfect: a 0.98 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage.
On Guard Nygard
Joakim Nygard has played 60 minutes and change this NHL season through just seven games played. An hour of hockey — that’s like Saturday morning hockey with my group — and now he’s got a stretch run audition for Tippett.
“We’ve liked what he’s done, he just hasn’t had much opportunity as he probably should have,” Tippett said. “We were looking at other people ahead of him, but we got to the point where we wanted to improve some things in our game and some of those improvements are geared towards the player that is.
“He’s a quick player who takes time and space away. He’s a good forechecking player,” Tippett assessed. “We decided to give him some opportunity, and the first game back he was pretty good.”
Nygard stepped in against Winnipeg on Saturday and was effective, given just 8:44 in ice time. With 13 games to play and limited call-ups from the taxi squad — plus McLeod on his way — this is Nygard’s window to stake a claim to a full-time job here.
“I don’t get a lot of minutes, but that’s my role here now,” he said. “I’m with Kass and Shorsie — the minutes that I play I have to do something that shows I want to stay in the lineup. Skating, be hard on the forecheck, win some pucks and draw some penalties. Of course I want to produce more, but I just want to help the team win. That’s the No. 1 priority.”
What’s he done on the taxi squad for all these weeks?
“You try to work on parts of your game,” the 28-year-old said. “Working on rims, being strong on the puck, working on my shot… Every little detail. When you are on the taxi squad you have time to work on that.”