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It was just two short weeks ago that Edmonton Oilers reached the highest point of what remains a promising 2019-20 season. In the midst of a 5-game road trip the club rolled to a convincing 4-2 win at Vegas, then hung tough to produce a 4-3 shootout win at Arizona just 22 hours later.

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But storm clouds were on the horizon. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missed the second of those contestss with a hand issue that would sideline him for six games. Then Zack Kassian had a back injury that would cost him three of those same games. Edmonton’s forward corps, already dangerously thin in top six-calibre players, suffered a double blow. The club would fall into a six-game slide in which they were extremely fortunate to garner 5 standings points with a 2-3-1 record.

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Thank a red-hot powerplay for all of those points, as the Oilers were outscored at 5v5 in all six of those games. But 2 powerplay goals turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win at Vancouver, 2 more PPG provided all the offence in a 2-1 nailbiter vs. Los Angeles, and a rare powerplay goal from the second unit produced the tying tally in an overtime loss against the Sabres.

Overall, a special team that has actually been special produced 6 of Edmonton’s 12 goals over that span. But at even strength the Oilers have been absolutely torched, with just 6 goals for, 17 against. Add in a shorty and 2 powerplay goals against and the net margin over the 6 games has been 12 goals for, 20 against, despite an overall +3 margin on special teams. Make it -11 at even strength, built convincingly on a shots rate of just 41%, a team shooting percentage barely above 5% and a save percentage below 90%. On a per-60 basis at evens the Oilers have scored 1.2 goals while allowing 3.5. Ugly, ugly numbers, all the way around.

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Four of those games have been at home, against teams that finished 23rd, 31st, 30th, and 27th in the NHL last season — not exactly Murderers’ Row. The Oilers scored just 2 goals in each of those games, all against teams which have allowed well north of 3 per game in both last season and this. 8 for, 14 against.

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The good news is that it’s “only” six games, and as mentioned the club has scraped out a few points against the flow of play. The bad? Edmonton’s top workhorses have collectively hit a Drai patch:

Leon Draisaitl has been a minus player in the last 7 consecutive games, and has been a net -12 over the past 11. No empty net goals in there either, in fact there have been no ENG for or against for the last 15 contests, many of which have been one-sided affairs. Over the past 6 Draisaitl has 5 points, but just 1 at even strength while being on the ice for 2 Oilers goals and 9 by the opposition. Leon was himself among the defensive culprits on 5 of those goals against by our analysis here at the Cult of Hockey.

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Connor McDavid has posted just 1-4-5 over the 6 games with a dash-4 of his own. McDavid has been a net -9 in his last 10 home games (3 wins) after posting a +9 in his first 5 (all wins).
James Neal has been goalless for his last … wait for it … 6 games, his longest drought of the season and also sports a dash-4 over that span. After an 11 goal October, Neal has struck for just 3 goals in 16 games since, with an ugly -12.
Oscar Klefbom may be the most concerning of the lot. The NHL’s top minute-muncher until recent days, Klefbom has posted just 1 (powerplay) point and a ghastly -12 over the last 6 games. Minus. Twelve. According to Natural Stat Trick the Oilers have been outshot just 56-51 during his 102 even-strength minutes (47%), but scoring chances tell a different tale at 32 for, 56 against (36%) and high-danger chances a dismal +10/-24 (29%). Our own project tagged Klefbom as a defensive culprit on 7 goals against over that period. Whether partnered with Caleb Jones, Adam Larsson, or Joel Persson, Klef has struggled.

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The Carolina Hurricanes (18-11-1, 37 pts) kick off a five-game road trip tonight when they face the Edmonton Oilers (18-10-4, 40 pts). It’s the first meeting of the year between the two teams; Carolina won both games against the Oilers last season.

Carolina Hurricanes (18-11-1, 37 pts) vs. Edmonton Oilers (18-10-4, 40 pts)

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Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 – 9:00 PM ET
Rogers Place – Edmonton, AB

Watch: Fox Sports Carolinas
Listen: 99.9 The Fan

SBN Opposition: The Copper & Blue

Follow Canes Country on Social Media

Twitter @CanesCountry
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The Canes roll into Edmonton following back-to-back wins in Raleigh. A 6-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday saw Sebastian Aho post a career-best five-point night. The 22-year-old Finn recorded his third career hat trick and added two assists for good measure.

With the offense rolling (11 goals over the last 2 games), the Canes will attempt to keep their defense on track. They’ve held their opponents to two goals in each of the previous four games, losing only once, a 2-0 shutout in Boston.

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The goalie in that shutout loss? James Reimer. Notwithstanding the loss — which can hardly be blamed on Reimer (He held the Bruins scoreless for 50-plus minutes) — the 31-year-old has been playing great. He’s made 30 or more saves in all but one of his last four outings. The only exception was a 19-save shutout against the Detroit Red Wings — so yeah, he’s red-hot.

Adding to the positive vibes, the Canes should get one of their best players back from the injury list. Rookie Martin Necas looks poised to return to the lineup. Necas and his much needed right-handed shot will bring some balance to the second power play unit, where Brett Pesce has been filling in for him. On the bad news front, Erik Haula has not made the trip out west; the center continues to rehab from a knee injury. Julien Gauthier was recalled from Charlotte and should skate on the fourth line as Jordan Martinook handles the 4th line Center duties.

Here’s how the Canes are expected to take the ice:

Nino Niederreiter – Sebastian Aho – Teuvo Teravainen
Andrei Svechnikov – Jordan Staal – Warren Foegele
Ryan Dzingel – Lucas Wallmark – Martin Necas
Brock McGinn – Jordan Martinook – Julien Gauthier

Jaccob Slavin – Dougie Hamilton
Joel Edmundson – Brett Pesce
Jake Gardiner – Trevor van Riemsdyk

James Reimer
Petr Mrazek

Injuries and Scratches: Erik Haula (knee), Haydn Fleury (healthy)

The Edmonton Oilers are full of contradictions. They lead the Pacific Division; they boast two — two! — players that have already reached 50 points this year. Yet, they’re a collective minus-73 at even strength. For comparison, the Canes are plus-23.

Needless to say, the Oilers’ special teams are what make up the difference here. Their powerplay is tops in the league, with a sizzling 32.3% conversion rate. Their penalty kill ranks second at 87%.

Those two 50-point scorers — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — will clearly need to be contained. Still, like the rest of the Oilers, they do most of their damage on the power play. Obviously, staying out of the box will be crucial for the Canes.

In net, Mikko Koskinen (11-3-2, .921 SV%, 2.53 GAA) should get the nod.

Here’s how the Oilers are expected to take the ice:

Joakim Nygard – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl
James Neal – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Markus Granlund – Riley Sheahan – Josh Archibald

It’s going relatively unnoticed because they’ve been so efficient on the power play, but the Edmonton Oilers are in a pretty bad five-on-five scoring drought.

They’ve managed just three even-strength goals in the last four games while giving up 10 against.

They’ve been able to survive it (2-1-1) because the power play scored six.

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Sportsnet Staff
December 1, 2019, 3:31 PM
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith is day-to-day with a leg injury and won’t be in the lineup against the Vancouver Canucks Sunday.

Edmonton Oilers

The #Oilers have recalled goaltender Stuart Skinner from the @Condors on an emergency basis, as Mike Smith (leg) is day-to-day.

Zack Kassian (back) is day-to-day & won’t play tonight, while Kris Russell has left the team to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.

4:10 AM – Dec 2, 2019
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Smith was in goal for Edmonton in their loss to Vancouver Saturday and allowed five goals on 43 shots. In 15 games this season the 37-year-old has a 7-7-1 record with a 2.83 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

The Oilers have recalled Stuart Skinner from the Bakersfield Condors on an emergency basis to backup starter Mikko Koskinen Sunday. The 21-year-old has a 7-5-2 record with a 3.23 GAA and a .890 save percentage in 15 games with Bakersfield.

In other Oilers news, forward Zack Kassian is also day-to-day with a back injury and Kris Russell won’t be available Sunday due to the the birth of his second child.

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The Buffalo Sabres were able to salvage their three-game Western Canada road trip on Sunday night with a 3-2 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Pace in Edmonton, Alberta. With the win, the Sabres ended their trip by going 1-1-1 and earning three of a possible six points in the standings.

After getting out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, the Oilers came back to tie the game in the second period and eventually force overtime.

It took Buffalo just 1:13 into overtime for defenseman Colin Miller to score his first goal as a member of the Sabres to give the team a much-needed two points. Miller was able to finish off a nice passing play in front of the Oilers net with a snap shot that just got past goalie Mike Smith and into the back of the net.

It was Sabres forward Kyle Okposo who got things started in the first period with his third goal of the year and second goal in as many games. Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella fired a slap shot from the point off a turnover in the Edmonton zone that found its way to Okposo’s stick and in past Smith for the first goal of the game.

After the Sabres and Oilers traded a couple of penalties back and forth, the Sabres found the back of the net again shortly after getting to even strength. This time, it was Johan Larsson giving the Sabres a two-goal lead after a shot from Jimmy Vesey left him wide open in front of the net with the puck. Larsson slipped it between Smith’s legs to give him his third goal of the season.

The Sabres ended up outshooting the Oilers through the opening 20 minutes, 11-10, and took a 2-0 lead heading into the locker room.

The Oilers took over the second period and were able to battle their way back to tie the game.

Edmonton closed the gap to 2-1 at the 8:25 mark of the period when forward Riley Sheahan was sprung for a breakaway in on Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark after a turnover in the Oilers end. Sheahan turned to the backhand and slid the puck through the five-hole of Ullmark for his first goal of the season.

Later in the period, Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian took his second penalty of the period for a hook on on Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira. In the dying seconds of the power play chance, the Oilers were able to convert as forward Joakim Nygard was able to get a piece of a Darnell Nurse shot from the point to tie the game at 2-2.

Buffalo ended up getting outshot in the period 12-4, and were lucky to be tied at 2-2 heading into the third period.

The final 20 minutes saw its chances for both teams, but Ullmark came up big, making a huge save on Connor McDavid late in the period to keep the Sabres in it.

Both teams had six shots on goal in the third, while also earning a point in the standings by forcing overtime.

At the 1:13 mark of the overtime period, the Sabres got the game-winning goal from Miller after a nice passing play with forwards Marcus Johansson and Jack Eichel. The goal was Miller’s first career overtime goal.

With the secondary assist on the overtime goal, Eichel was able to extend his career-long point streak to 13 games. In that stretch, the Sabres captain has scored 10 goals and registered 13 assists for 23 points.


Goal Summary:

First Period:

BUF: 4:08 – Kyle Okposo (3) (Marco Scandella), 10:43 – Johan Larsson (3) (Jimmy Vesey, Rasmus Asplund)

Second Period:

EDM: 8:25 – Riley Sheahan (1) (Darnell Nurse, Joakim Nygard), 15:56 – Joakim Nygard (2) PPG (Darnell Nurse, Gaetan Haas)

Third Period:



BUF: 1:13 – Colin Miller (1) (Marcus Johansson, Jack Eichel)

Penalty Summary:

First Period:

BUF: 5:22 – Brandon Montour (Tripping – 2 min.)
EDM: 7:42 – Markus Granlund (High-sticking – 2 min.); 15:26 – Connor McDavid (Hooking – 2 min.)

Second Period:

BUF: 5:40 – Zach Bogosian (Holding the Stick – 2 min.); 13:57 – Zach Bogosian (Hooking – 2 min.)
EDM: 17:31 – Joel Persson (Hooking – 2 min.)

Third Period:




Shots on Goal:

BUF: 22 (11, 4, 6, 1)
EDM: 28 (10, 12, 6, 0)


BUF: Linus Ullmark – 26 saves
EDM: Mike Smith – 19 saves

Power Plays:

BUF: 0 for 3 (0%)
EDM: 1 for 3 (33.3%)

Three Stars:

Darnell Nurse
Linus Ullmark
Joakim Nygard

What’s Next:

The Sabres return home for a matchup with the top team in the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. with the Paul William Beltz Pregame Show starting at 6:30 p.m. with Schopp and the Bulldog at (716) Food and Sport. The game will be televised on NBCSN, so the only place to hear local coverage of the game is on WGR.

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This in, a great quote from Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett, answering questions at today’s press scrum from the Journal’s Jim Matheson about why Kris Russell missed part of Wednesday night’s game against Colorado and what his injury status is.

Said Tippett: “Russell just took a bad cut on his ear last night and was sore today. I think he’ll be available to play on Saturday. He’s a tough little guy. I don’t know if you’ve ever had your ear sewed up before but that’s one of the worst spots. His ears hurt bad, and I remember I felt for him seeing him lying on the table last night, they were sewing him up and half of his ear hanging off there. So we decided to give him the day off. He earned a day off today.”

My take
There’s faction of Edmonton fans who don’t think Kris Russell is a quality NHL defender, but another faction who appreciate what he brings, an absolute determination to thwart any and all Grade A chances for opposition attackers in the defensive slot, as well as a useful package of talents when it comes to preventing said chances.
Russell will twist, battle, dart, dive, block, hack, stab and sprawl to prevent an opposition slot shot. His dark defensive arts were all on display during one brief thrilling moment for the Oilers in their loss to the Avs, Edmonton’s successful five minutes penalty kill in the second period.
That PK was a masterpiece, with Russell, Ethan Bear and Oscar Klefbom playing the lead roles. In that heroic five minutes, Edmonton constantly disrupted the Avs attack, clearing the defensive zone 10 times, including four times on the five-on-three portion of the kill.
To name names for a moment, in the three minutes of the five-on-four portion of the kill, Klefbom had one clearance, Patrick Russell had one, Markus Granlund and Jujhar Khaira combined on one, Bear and Patrick Russell combined on one, Klefbom, Leon Draisaitl and Kris Russell combined on one, Kris Russell, and Josh Archibald and Klefbom combined on one.
In the five-on-three portion, Klefbom forced a zone exit, Bear had one d-zone clearance, Archibald skated the puck out of the d-zone once, Sheahan blocked a shot, and Russell and Klefbom combined on a d-zone clearance.
After the five minute penalty was up over, however, the Oilers struggled to get it out of their own zone. They looked utterly spent. The puck came into the slot and Russell dove to block it. Avs winger Vladislav Kamenev snapped a dangerous shot, with Russell blocking the follow though of Kamenev’s stick with the side of his head, injuring his ear.
That Russell got banged up was no surprise, as he’s constantly risking his health to block bodies and shots. But neither was his returning to the game a shocker. As Tippett put it: “He’s a tough little guy.”
Russell was a major point producer in major junior hockey, and he had some OK offensive years mid-NHL career in Calgary. But in Edmonton his speciality has been in the defensive slot. In his first three years with the OIlers he was routinely asked to play on the right side, his off-wing, which limited his ability to clear the zone and move the puck. This year the left shot player has been on his natural left wide. He’s still a cautious puck mover but he’s playing the same smart, courageous and effective defensive hockey, where his primary focus is limiting slot shots.
At the Cult of Hockey we track the major mistakes inside or outside the slot that directly lead to Grade A chances against the Oilers at even strength. In his time here, Russell has always made the least or second least number of such mistakes for d-men playing tough minutes. In 2016-17, only Andrej Sekera made fewer such mistakes on Grade A chances against. In 2017-18 and 2018-19, Russell made the fewest, and he’s again making the fewest rate of such mistake this year. This year he’s played somewhat fewer minutes in a Top 4 role, but when he has been on the ice, he’s been as stingy as ever. The man will never be confused with Cale Makar on the attack, but he can still flat out defend. He’s no all-star, but that kind of effort can help a team win, as did with the Oilers in 2016-17 and is now doing again.

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Vegas Golden Knights center Cody Eakin (21) vies for the puck against Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker). AP Photo/David Becker
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Edmonton Oilers defenceman Kris Russell didn’t count the stitches that went into his left ear Wednesday night in Denver. He just knows there were several.

“I tried getting the shot blocked. I don’t if it was the puck or the follow through, [that] kind of caught me in the ear,” said Russell of the play that injured him in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche.
“When I felt the blood coming, it was obvious something was cut.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Oilers survive American Thanksgiving cutline

Russell returned to the game in the third. After missing Thursday’s practice, Russell will play Saturday night when the Oilers host the Vancouver Canucks.

“He’s a tough little guy. I felt for him laying on the table,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “They’re sewing him up with half his ear hanging off.”

Forward Alex Chiasson is also good to go after being drilled by Colorado’s Ryan Graves on Wednesday. Chiasson didn’t return to the game after getting belted early in the second period.


READ MORE: Avalanche break out in third to topple Edmonton Oilers

“Arguably one of the biggest hits I’ve received in my career,” said Chiasson. “I just had to go through the protocol the last couple days.”

The Oilers will try to avoid losing back-to-back games in regulation time for just the second time all season.

“I think that’s just come from our group growing. We’ve done a much better job this season of realizing where we’re at as a team and what we need to do to play well,” said Chiasson.

The Oilers expected lineup is:

Draisaitl – McDavid – Kassian

Neal – Gagner – Chiasson

Khaira – Sheahan – Archibald

Granlund – Haas – P. Russell

Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland happy with season so far
Edmonton Oilers claw back against Coyotes
Klefbom – Jones

Nurse – Bear

K. Russell – Larsson


Centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins won’t play this weekend as he continues to recover from a hand injury.

Catch the Oilers and Canucks on 630 CHED with the Face-off Show at 6:30 p.m. The game starts at 8 p.m.

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Edmonton Oilers centre Riley Sheahan had been down this road before in Detroit where the games and the zeroes kept piling up like sign-posts on an interminable journey: 20 games, 40 games, 60 games, 80 games.

He scored in game 82, two goals actually in that final game of the 2016-2017 season.

So, breaking through in the Oilers 32nd game Sunday against Buffalo must have felt like a speed bump for the Oilers best penalty-killer. He tucked one through the legs of Linus Ullmark eight minutes into the second period racing in alone off a nice Joakim Nygard feed.

Nygard also scored on a deflection—more on that later—as the Oiler role players were all over the scoresheet in this 3-2 OT loss while the No. 1 lines on both sides were negated through 60 minutes.

“Huge relief for sure…it’s up and down and every guy deals with it,” said Sheahan, who had two terrific chances earlier on the penalty-kill and finished with four shots, just like Connor McDavid.

McDavid didn’t speak after the loss but Sheahan had a rare chance to talk about offence.

“I dealt with a few years back in Detroit and that was really tough and I was trying to bear down and make sure it wasn’t a repeat,” he said.

Sheahan was at fault on Kyle Okposo’s tip of Marc Scandella’s shot four minutes into the game when his clearing pass ending up on the Buffalo defenceman’s stick. But he ripped a shortie off Ullmark’s blocker and got stopped in close shortly after that. No mistake in alone though.

The Oilers have the NHL’s second-best PK but haven’t scored shorthanded yet. Sheahan came close as they let him sashay into the Buffalo end in the first for an uncontested shot. A rare offensive foray for Sheahan, really. “We’ve got so many guys who can put the puck in the net on our power play and on the penalty-kill we’re just trying to do our job (stopping chances),” he said.

He got stopped there but not on his breakaway.

“I kind of had positive thoughts there. I don’t get breakaways often but I knew the move I was going to do. Great pass from Ny (Nygard) and an earlier block by Darnell,” he said.

“It’s important, the whole depth thing…every team wants that,” said Sheahan. “I think we have scored a few the last while, and Connor and Leon get a lot of ice and if we can help them out, that’s huge.”

Two-point night for Nygard
Nygard only played 8:27, but they were quality minutes. Only Gaetan Haas (7:58), who set up the Nygard deflection on the last few seconds of a power play in the second, played less. Nygard’s goal and assist came in eight shifts over 5:11 in the first 40 minutes. His first multi-point game.

“I haven’t been satisfied with my performance for a few games since I came back from my injury (ribs),” said Nygard, who was a healthy scratch in three. “I feel much better now.”

He isn’t getting much ice-time (averaging 10:18) but that’s life for first-year NHLers.

“Of course it’s harder to produce but you have to earn it (minuets),” said Nygard.

“They (McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) produce every night and we have to produce a bit too.” But when the Oilers best two players don’t get a point in the same game, the Oilers have lost 24 consecutive games, a stat that stings.

Nygard’s Swedish teammate Oscar Klefbom knows how hard it is for NHL rookies.

“Back home he’s on the power play, he has a different role on his team…but the way he played tonight, I’m really happy. He brings a lot of speed. Even though he won’t get a lot of chances himself, he’ll create a lot for his teammates,’ said Klefbom.

“And if he continues to go to the net, he’ll score more goals.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse is off to a strong start to his season. He’s on pace to approach 40 points for the second straight season while sitting second on the team in ice time per game at a little under 23 minutes per night. Suffice it to say, he’s certainly positioning himself well to land a long-term deal at a considerable raise from his current $3.2M AAV this summer when he’ll be a restricted free agent with salary-arbitration eligibility.

With that in mind, Postmedia’s David Staples argues that Edmonton GM Ken Holland should be looking to get a deal done now over waiting until the offseason where the price tag could potentially jump higher. There is a sizable list of potential comparable players and they all point to an AAV around the $6M mark, depending on the term of the deal. The Oilers already have over $57.5M committed to just 10 players for next season already but given how important Nurse is to their back end, Holland should have no qualms about adding another big ticket contract to their books.

Elsewhere out West:

Blackhawks blueliner Duncan Keith will miss Saturday’s game against Colorado due to a groin injury, head coach Jeremy Colliton told reporters, including Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Sports Chicago. He has been skipping practices lately for maintenance purposes but it appears the team will give him at least one game off to see if that helps. To replace him on the roster, the team announced (via Twitter) the recall of blueliner Ian McCoshen from AHL Rockford while winger Matthew Highmore has been sent back to the IceHogs.
Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov sustained an upper-body injury early in today’s game against Anaheim, the team announced (Twitter link). There is no timetable yet for how long he might miss. In the short term, expect Carl Dahlstrom, a waiver claim from Chicago before the season started, to draw back into the lineup.

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Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins celebrates after scoring against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson). AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian are both expected to return to action Sunday night when the Edmonton Oilers host the Buffalo Sabres.

“I feel really good,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who has missed six games after a hand issue. “It’s been a bit of a process. Felt good yesterday, even better today.”

Edmonton Oilers power play comes through in win over Canucks
Canucks topple Edmonton Oilers 5-2
“It’s only been three games, but it seems way longer than that,” said Kassian, who has been hampered by a sore back.

READ MORE: Mikko Koskinen backstops Edmonton Oilers to win over Kings

With Nugent-Hopkins returning, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid will be reunited on the Oilers top line. Nugent-Hopkins will slide back into his second line centre slot.

“I just gives our team so much more depth,” said Draisaitl. “He plays in all situations. He’s very good in all situations.”


“Nuge is significant because we need that depth at centre,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “He’s a guy who just plays in all the situations and is smart in all the situations.

“He makes other players around him better.”

READ MORE: Senators win over Oilers again in Edmonton

The Oilers went 3-3 without Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup. On Friday, they beat Los Angeles 2-1 despite being outshot 36-20.

“You look at the guts of the game. L.A. is a volume shooting team. A big percentage of those shots I wouldn’t even call scoring chances,” said Tippett. “When I watched the game here today, it wasn’t a concern of mine.”

Oscar Klefbom and James Neal didn’t practice Sunday but are expected to play against the Sabres. Mike Smith is the probable starter in goal.

The Oilers and Sabres will be on 630 CHED with the Face-off Show at 4:30 p.m. The game starts at 6 p.m.

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When you look at the numbers over the last ten games, it’s not fair, by any means, to suggest the Edmonton Oilers struggles can be blamed on any one person. At the same time, it’s hard not to look at the recent stretch of games and wonder where the offense has gone from a player like James Neal?

Neal started the 2019-20 season like a house-on-fire and skyrocketed up the NHL standings, leading the league in goals. He’s still second in the league with 10 power play markers but if you look at his recent production, it’s worrying.

Neal’s got three points in the month of December. Worse yet, this comes on the heels of a month of November where he scored four points in 14 games. Have fans been watching two different players?

What’s Happened to Neal?
There are a few explanations as to what might be going on here. First, what’s happening to Neal is happening, in a manner of speaking, to almost every Oilers forward.

James Neal Edmonton Oilers
James Neal, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
A poor goals-for versus goals-against ratio has hit the team and Neal has been arguably hit the hardest by a drop in scoring. Some of that comes with a lack of Edmonton’s top-six to shoot the puck, some of it comes with more time spent in the defensive zone and some of it comes with teams prepping for an Oilers roster that wasn’t supposed to be as good as they realized it might be after the season began.

The Oilers put some early points in the bank to start the season. They’ve settled in to what they might actually be as an organization since.

Second, Neal himself has come back down to Earth in terms of certain statistics like shooting percentage. In November, he posted a monstrous 26.2% shooting percentage but that number was cut by more than half to only 11.5% in November. So far, in December, his numbers have jumped back up a bit to 18% but he’s probably somewhere closer to the 11 than he is to the 26.

Finally, the Oilers have also used him less.

Going from over 243 minutes in October to a month of November where the Oilers dropped him to 216 minutes in the same number of games, Edmonton chose to use others where he might have been a shoe-in before. Call it the Oilers trying to balance out the lines or trying to boost certain players like Alex Chiasson, Neal has seen the consequences of those decisions.

Related: Line of the Times: The Legion of Doom

Should the Oilers Be Worried?
When you look down Highway 2 towards the Calgary area, fans are starting to see a player in Milan Lucic go on a hot streak. Lucic was the piece Edmonton moved to acquire Neal and while Lucic spent the first 20 games of this NHL season doing not much more than getting himself in trouble, the Flames and Lucic have turned things around. The natural tendency of fans might be to panic a little.

James Neal Edmonton Oilers Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings
James Neal of the Edmonton Oilers screens goaltender Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Alas, this is not to suggest the Oilers made a poor decision. No one should be second-guessing this trade. Neal is the more prolific of the two scorers, he’s already seeing a slight rebound in December and the Oilers will start to go to the well more often, deploying what they know in terms of line combinations. Coach Dave Tippett needs to rely on his trusted players to try and improve on-ice results. Neal will see more ice time as a result.

Related: Oilers History: The Importance of Jimmy Carson

He’s Still the Real Deal
Neal has already destroyed the abysmal season he had last year in Calgary. He’s on his way to his regular Neal-like numbers with plenty of season left to go.

He may not be the player that lit up the NHL in October, but he’s certainly a 20-goal man on a team that could really use a 20-goal top-six forward right about now. He’s the real deal, even if his last few games haven’t suggested as much.

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Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid scored on Calgary’s Brian Elliott on his first NHL penalty shot Oct. 16, 2016, early in his second season, but he’s gone 0-for-3 since.

He’s had the last three Oiler penalty shots: here against New York Islanders goalie Christopher Gibson and the Carolina Hurricanes’ James Reimer, and in Pittsburgh, where Penguins ‘tender Matt Murray stopped him.

The puck bounced crazily on McDavid’s penalty shot at 1:48 of the third period Tuesday after Hurricanes defenceman Brett Pesce stuck his glove on a loose puck in the crease when it was unnecessary because Reimer was in position to save it anyway. On the shot, Reimer — who was beaten by Leon Draisaitl on one when he played in Florida Feb. 12, 2018 — breathed a sigh of relief when McDavid lost the puck.

“I must have intimidated him. I really scared him. Probably saw half the net and didn’t know what to do, surprised him,” joked Reimer. “I wasn’t expecting that, that’s for sure. Luckily that happened.”

The Oilers have scored on only five of their last 15 penalty shots, and you’d be surprised with two of the successful ones: Marc Pouliot in 2007 and Andrew Miller in 2015. Taylor Hall, Draisaitl and McDavid have the others.

Edmonton Oilers winger Zack Kassian. IAN KUCERAK / POSTMEDIA

Oilers winger Zack Kassian may have taken some heat for his first-period penalty when he bowled over Martin Necas with 10 seconds left and Ryan Dzingel scored six seconds later on the power play to make it 3-0 for Carolina, but getting the only penalty for his goalmouth tussle with Reimer in the third was bogus.

When Sebastian Aho scored on the ensuing power play, Kassian cleared his throat and got a misconduct after leaving the box.

But this is why we like Kassian. His temperature rises. The Oilers could use more of what he brings, frankly.

And his two goals against the ‘Canes were, as usual, 5-on-5. He has 11 goals, all even-strength, the same number of five-on-five tallies as McDavid. All 21 of Kassian’s points are even-strength, too.

Overlooked in Oilers’ 6-3 loss to Carolina was the announced attendance of 16,175 at Rogers Place, and there were actually fewer people than that in the building.

That’s more than 2,000 under capacity at Rogers Place, and the lowest crowd count in maybe 15 years. They had a run of 549 straight sell-outs over 13 years (131 regular-season and playoffs at Rogers Place since it opened in 2016) until that ended Nov. 16 in Game 3 of the current season when the Philadelphia Flyers visited Rogers Place.

The economy isn’t good, Carolina’s not a great draw even if they made the conference finals last season, and it was a Tuesday, before Christmas, the fourth game of a homestand.

Never mind only making the playoffs once since 2006. But the Oilers have hit critical mass like so many other teams. While you can buy pretty cheap sell-off tickets online, prices for food and drink are way too high for a family.

The Oilers were chasing the game in the third period against Carolina, down 3-1 to start it, but it was still strange that Kris Russell played only three shifts and 2:32 in the last frame while his third-pairing partner Caleb Jones got seven and a half minutes in the third.

Russell finished with 11:48 of ice time and Jones 16:17. True, they were looking for some offence and Jones might provide more, but did Russell get hurt and they were holding him back?

This ’n’ that: Plus/minus is often misleading because it’s not always your fault when a goal’s scored and you’re on the ice, but Oscar Klefbom is going through a horrible stretch. He’s minus-15 in his last seven games and is minus-20 on the season. Part of that is his rotating set of partners — Joel Persson, Caleb Jones, Adam Larsson and others — but one of the game’s best two-way defenders is really struggling … In the last eight games, the Oilers have been outscored 20-8 even-strength. They are feasting off their power play (31 goals of 100 total goals) but if that ever goes cold, look out … James Neal had that incredible first month with 11 October goals but he has three in 19 games since. He’s minus-17 on the season because he has just four even-strength goals and six even-strength points. Hey, we knew he would cool off, right? … Louie DeBrusk is still ill so Drew Remenda once again was Kevin Quinn’s colour commentator for the Oilers-Hurricanes game. With the recent death of his mother Gina, Gene Principe didn’t work as Oilers TV host Tuesday and won’t Thursday in Minnesota. Sean Reynolds came in from Winnipeg for the Carolina home game and is also doing the broadcast for the Wild tilt … Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams continues to skate with retired Carolina goalie Cam Ward in Raleigh and hasn’t shut the door on a return in the New Year, even though he’ll really be chasing a train that’s left the station. “He’s pretty tight-lipped and he’s skating, which is obviously a sign, but the next month will be the tell-tale sign, I guess,” said the Canes’ Jordin Martinook … Rod Brind’Amour’s son Skyler, the Oilers’ sixth-round pick in 2017, is in his first year of college hockey at Quinnipiac. He has six points in 15 games, good for a freshman who doesn’t get to play much. “He’s definitely progressing and he’s enjoyed his time here. He’s been treated excellently by the Oilers. At every camp, he’s raved about it,” said Brind’Amour.

Brandon Manning Jersey

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Even in late 2019, it’s a little bit odd to see Brandon Manning stand up for Connor McDavid. You know, after that.

The two have been Edmonton Oilers teammates for a while now, and Manning did just that on Tuesday, dropping the gloves with Barclay Goodrow of the San Jose Sharks after Tomas Hertl delivered a controversial neutral zone hit on McDavid.

You can watch Hertl’s hit, McDavid’s reaction, and the ensuing fight in the video above this post’s headline.

The early signs are that McDavid avoided an injury (at least one significant enough to make him miss immediate action), as he finished the game. McDavid logged four third-period shifts after that incident in the second period, so that’s a decent sign that the Oilers my have avoided the bullet of a lower-body injury.

Then again, he seemingly left in a hurry after the Sharks beat the Oilers 6-3, so we’ll see.

What do you think of Hertl’s hit, though? For what it’s worth, Hertl received a minor penalty for interference on the play.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Tags: Barclay Goodrow, Brandon Manning, Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Tomas Hertl, Barclay Goodrow, Brandon Manning, Connor McDavid, Tomas Hertl