In six weeks, the Edmonton Oilers have fallen from atop the Pacific Division to needing a win to maintain hold of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference standings.
As the Oilers kick off a four-game homestand by playing host to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, they will look to keep pace in what has become a tight divisional race without the services of left winger Zack Kassian.
Kassian, who sits fourth on the team with 13 goals — a huge benefit of playing on the top line with the NHL’s leading point producer in Connor McDavid — was handed a two-game suspension on Monday for his reactionary attack on Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Flames.
Kassian received a double-minor and 10-minute misconduct at the time, and watched from the penalty box when the Flames scored the game-winner on the ensuing power play. (Coincidentally, the first game Kassian is eligible to return is against the Flames.)
With the loss in Calgary, which snapped Edmonton’s three-game winning streak, the Oilers ended a five-game road trip with a 3-1-1 mark.
“We’ll take the seven out of 10 points,” McDavid said. “This was a big game for both sides and we wanted to find a way to get a big win here, but we’ve been on the road 11 or 12 days here, we have a good chance to go and get four points before the (bye week and All-Star) break.”
McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lead the NHL points race and have become the first teammates to reach 70 or more points in 47 or fewer games since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it with Pittsburgh in 1996-97.
The Predators arrive in Edmonton riding a two-game winning streak, the latest a 1-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, and looking to claim their first three-game winning streak since October. The wins could be a sign Nashville has turned its fortunes after John Hynes became head coach following the firing of Peter Laviolette last week.
“The most important thing is the players on the team, these guys are very good players, smart players,” Hynes said.
“They’ve picked up the concepts that we’ve done, but they’ve executed it. … They came to the rink focused. They were ready to play, and they’ve been very attentive in meetings. We’ve tried not to overwhelm them, but they’ve had the mindset to be all-in and buy in, and they’ve done a good job.”
The Predators sit four points behind the Oilers with three games in hand, so shrinking the gap is a focus, but another quest is to find the form that made them an early season favorite. Continuing to execute the way Hynes is preaching would go a long way in that regard.
“It’s not like we did a full overhaul of everything,” forward Matt Duchene told the Nashville Tennessean when asked about the process.
“We have some obvious strengths to our game and maybe tinkered with some stuff we weren’t (so good at). He’s done a great job so far. Our team’s done a great job buying in and being smart and learning things quickly.”
–Field Level Media