It was a light week games-wise for the Oilers last week, and the extra rest paid off – they picked up wins over the Red Wings and the Stars as they hit the midway point of a stretch of six games away from Rexall Place.
Goalie Jeff Deslaurier bounced back from a shaky start against the Canucks with a solid 27-save performance at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday. Patrick O’Sullivan broke out of a bit of a funk scoring twice, and Robert Nilsson scored a highlight-reel goal in his return to action after almost a month out of action.
On Saturday afternoon, Lubo Visnovsky and Ladislav Smid scored for the Oilers in a 3-2 shootout win in Dallas.
The Oilers wrap up a six-game road trip with three games this week – first up they’re in Florida, then it’s Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
The team is riding a two-game win streak and will be playing all teams with similar records (Florida 27 points, Tampa 30 points, St. Louis 29 points).
Oilers @ Panthers
Monday Dec. 7th – Pre game: 4pm, Puck drop: 5:30pm; 630 CHED
-Despite having goalie Tomas Vokoun back between the pipes on Saturday, the Florida Panthers lost in a shootout – their seventh loss in their past eight games (three of those by shootout). Seven of their last 10 games have been decided by one goal, so you know they’re able to keep a game close. The trio of Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Steve Reinprecht lead the Panthers offensively, with 25, 24 and 23 points respectively. As always, it’ll be important for the Oilers to stay out of the box, but the Panthers have a low-ranking power play – if they can get Florida taking some penalties, Edmonton’s 12th-ranked power play could take advantage of a low-ranking penalty kill.
Oilers @ Lightning
Wednesday Dec. 9th – Pre game: 4pm, Puck drop: 5:30pm; 630 CHED
-As of Monday, the Lightning had lost four-of-five, but were coming off a shutout win over the NY Islanders. They’ve got one game before they meet up with the Oilers, at home to the Capitals, and then they’re on the road for six. The Lightning have been a real up and down team this season, much like the Oil, but they’ve been pretty solid at home, going 7-2-4 in their first 14 games at the St. Pete Times Forum this season. Second year forward Steve Stamkos leads the Tampa power play with 14 points (tied for third in the league), and also leads the team in scoring, along with Martin St. Louis at 30 points. Stamkos and Ryan Malone have 17 and 16 goals, the only Lightning players with more than 10 goals.
Oilers @ Blues
Friday Dec. 11th – Pregame: 4:30pm, Puck drop: 6pm; 630 CHED
-The Blues came into this season with high hopes, and those hopes seemed to be affirmed when they swept the Red Wings in two games over in Europe – since then, they’ve had a pretty disappointing campaign. As of Monday, St. Louis had won two straight though, against San Jose and LA, which you know will have them playing a more confident brand of hockey. Before they play the Oilers, they’ve got Colorado and then Detroit (who they are 2-0-1 against this season) – it’ll be good for Edmonton if those two game don’t go well for the Blues, who are about as good at home as the Oil are on the road. Young defenseman Erik Johnson leads St. Louis in scoring with a modest 19 points, and this is a team that’s had contribution from a lot of its younger players, again – much like the Oilers.
Lubomir Visnovsky - The veteran defenseman has been the main constant in the last few weeks for the Oil, putting up nine points in his last nine games, including goals in two straight games. He’s also a +6 in his last four games, which is far better than some of Edmonton’s other key players (Penner, Gagner -2; O’Sullivan, Souray -4, for example).
Jeff Deslaurier – The young goalie, who is the starter until Nikolai Khabibulin’s back gets better, has won back-to-back starts after letting in four goals on 11 shots last Saturday against Vancouver. In both those wins he made at least 27 saves, allowing one and two goals. To this point, he has a 5-4-2 and has looked like a rookie at times – but he looks more and more confident with each start. That needs to continue.
What to watch for:
The injury situation – Marc Pouliot should be close to coming back, which could be another lift for an Oilers club that has been battered by injuries this season. Ryan Stone and Robert Nilsson made immediate impacts when they returned to the lineup against Detroit, so they’ll be looking for Pouliot to do the same when he does get healthy. Defenseman Taylor Chorney was skating last week, but is now listed as “out indefinitely,” which is obviously bad news. Even worse for the Oilers though, is the status of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin going from “day-to-day” to “out indefinitely” as well. How long is he sidelined with a back injury? Who knows. Not having that veteran presence between the pipes down the stretch could be a key loss.
Team confidence – Head coach Pat Quinn talked about how his club’s confidence is sometimes there, but sometimes not. If they want to string together some wins, the team needs to come together and play with confidence. The best way to do that is to try and win a few more games in a row and put some goals on the board. Their success against Detroit came from getting pucks on net and driving the net – simple, but effective. They’ve got two straight wins, a couple more and we could see the team make some big steps.