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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.”
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.