The Oilers finished their March Death March™ road trip on a high note shutting out (thanks to a cheesy interference call) the Colorado Avalanche. Tonight they play at home in front of the Rexall faithful who have been on a Roller-coaster ride of emotion as they watched their club struggle then pull it together on the Road.
The Darkest part of the Oiler schedule is over and by some miracle the Oilers are only 4 points behind a playoff spot and it’s Detroit they are fighting with to make the postseason. Keep in mind though that they are also only 1 point ahead of last place in the West and 5 points up on Florida. As a side note, with Kris Versteeg done for the year I’d say the Panthers are primed to finish the season dead last. Nonetheless, the Oilers find themselves in the unenviable middle ground. They are neither in the NHL bottom 5 nor are they particularly well situated to be firmly in the playoff hunt. This is no man’s land and the trade deadline approaches swift.
The Oilers are going to attempt to keep the ball rolling and get their first 3 game winning streak of the season. As Jason Gregor noted on his radio show the other day, has there ever been a playoff team that didnt have a 3 game streak in their season? I think we would be hard pressed to find one. The next 2 games are both against teams that are fighting each other for the final playoff spots, so two regulation wins or two regulation losses will go a long way into determining the Oilers’ fate this season.
The Red Wings have been battling injury and the Flu. Howard ended up missing the Calgary game due to illness and Gustavsson played in his stead. The result was horrendous and I expect the Red Wings will play much more focussed and try to shelter whichever netminder is called to action tonight. The struggles of their club, though, are magnified because their best two players (Zetterberg and Datsyuk) are going through a dry spell that makes Nuge’s struggles look like a walk in the park. Zetterberg has just 1 goal in his last 20 games. Only 2 points in his last 8. Datsyuk hasnt had a goal in 11 games. With those two going dry and others injured it will be difficult for the Red Wings to overcome a quick start by any team.
Oilers Keys to the Game
1) The Myth of Horcoff Continues
With the team responding to Horcoff’s presence as it has the myth of his importance to the team can grow into legend if an honest to goodness winning streak can coincide with his re-insertion into the lineup. I am still leery of pinning the quick turnabout in play all on Horcoff, but he is playing well and has allowed for a balance in the line combinations. RNH can thrive on slightly weaker opponents when possible and Krueger can REALLY take advantage of that at Home moreso than on the Road. If there’s any night when we can see the difference he makes it should be now when the Coach has last change.
2) Whitney Rebounding
Whitney’s play over the last week and a bit has been more of what the Oilers hoped 6 would bring to the table. David Staples has a good little write up in the Journal about it. I agree with him in his assessment that he is playing with confidence again. It’s almost as if he forgot he had a very good shot and was capable of jumping up into the play. Now we’re seeing more action from him coming down a bit from the point. Against Colorado he was rewarded with 28 shifts and 20 minutes of Ice time. I still think the Oilers should trade him, especially if the recent good play can attract more suitors. I like Whitney in the sense that he seems like a good guy, but his play is so unreliable. This week he’s good but what will next week bring? I wish he could have been playing this well weeks ago because the Oilers cant let people walk for nothing as Free Agents. They have to get something for their assets.
3) Magnus is Magnus
Paajarvi has been given the opportunity to show his stuff with some more skilled players and he has really shown his worth. MPS has been a bit of a project to date because he was drafted so high but struggled so mightily in his 2nd year. Like many drafted where he was he has many tools that make him look on paper like a lock as an NHL regular, but offense doesnt come naturally to Magnus. The good news for him is that Defense really does. He has always had good defensive instincts, that combined with his wicked speed really makes him a good bet to have a long career in the NHL, even if this recent scoring dries up. But, while he’s playing well the Oilers would be better off to capitalize on it and continue to get secondary scoring and good defensive play from the Swede. He leads the Forwards in Plus/Minus right now with a +3 rating and I hope that number continues to climb. He has the speed and the smarts to play as the clubs 2LW for now and the future as I expect one day the top RW spots will be held down by Yak and Eberle.
Puck Drops at 7:38 PM Mountain Time. Game On!
Beware the Ides of March!