The Oil had better hope for a high-flying shootout with the Bruins on Thursday night.
The Bruins have won three in a row, while missing six core players from their lineup. The Oilers are trying to wrap up a five-game home stretch at Rexall Place at 3-1-1 as they dig out from their giant standings hole. Taylor Hall has five goals and seven points in his past three games for Edmonton, and the Oilers offensive boasts the kind of speed and skill combination that’s given this year’s Bruins team fits of bad hockey this season.
Hall and Jordan Eberle are the kind of players that could really expose an older, slower Bruins defensemen corps.
It will be an interesting matchup of strength vs. skill with the Oilers boasting most of their lineup’s pieces, and the Bruins seemingly due for a clunker after playing reasonably well vs. Toronto and Calgary through adversity.
“I’m one of those guys that still think it’s going to be a matter of time [with Edmonton]. We’re just waiting for them to explode,” said B's coach Claude Julien. “We’re not good enough right now to start looking at the standings, and decide how we’re going to play with our effort. We need to be ready to play, and come with that kind of effort.”
The Oilers would be second-to-last in either one of the Eastern Conference divisions given their 25 points this season, so it might be easy to overlook them heading into the game. It will be up to Julien and the remaining healthy core players to make sure that doesn’t happen.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Brad Marchand had a few steps in the right direction, but he’s got one assist along with five shots on goal in four games in December. The line is clearly in flux with Loui Eriksson pushed out of the lineup with his second concussion in the past two months, and that’s part of the problem. Another issue was the James Neal knee to the head of Marchand last weekend, although it seems that the winger was completely fine in the aftermath. Still, Marchand has also been incredibly inconsistent, and is now disappearing a bit at the beginning of December in an up-and-down season.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “If you lose respect for any team because of their record, then you’re in the wrong business. There’s a lot of talent here, and you’ve probably heard every coach in the league say the same thing. We have enough of our struggles to make sure we’re to play a team that has a lot of speed, a lot of skill and a lot of talent.” –Julien, paying respects for the Edmonton Oilers.
KEY MATCHUP: The Oilers are 29th in the NHL while allowing 3.4 goals per game, so it should be a bountiful night for the Black and Gold’s offensive players. Those of them that still boast good health, anyway. The David Krejci-Milan Lucic-Jarome Iginla line has goals in each of the past three games, and is heating up in December after an ice cold November. The B’s need a big effort from that line, with so many other bodies banged up or missing, and that should continue against Edmonton’s suspect defense and goaltending.
STAT TO WATCH: 2-1-1 – the Oilers’ record on a five-game homestand that concludes against the Bruins on Thursday night. This has a chance to be an extremely good home stretch for the Oil with an Edmonton victory.
INJURIES: Dougie Hamilton (lower body) and Daniel Paille (upper body injury) were out for Tuesday night against Calgary. Chris Kelly (fractured right fibula), Loui Eriksson (concussion) and Adam McQuaid (groin) are on injured reserve, and also out for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was fighting the effects of the flu on Wednesday, and there’s some question as to whether he’ll play on Thursday night.
Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry (head) is back in the lineup, but center Boyd Gordon (shoulder) is questionable. Left wing Ryan Smyth (neck) and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov (neck) are out indefinitely with their injuries.
GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Rask was back in the saddle against Calgary, where he kept the Bruins in the game for the first 40 minutes until they turned it on for the third period. Rask actually played in place of Chad Johnson, who was scheduled to play his first back-to-back games of the season before the flu knocked him out Tuesday night. Now Rask is battling flu symptoms, and is a question mark Thursday night.
One would expect to see Devan Dubnyk manning the pipes for the Oil given the injury to Ilya Bryzgalov, and Dubnyk has struggled with a 3.27 goals-against average and .892 save percentage this season.