As the Oilers get to take on the Calgary Flames on Saturday, Edmonton is looking at finally getting a win and not go 0-4 in the season series. There are a number of storylines that have developed over the season and just hours before puck drop.
Where is James Neal? How will Connor McDavid respond after feeling Mark Giordano’s hit wasn’t necessarily clean? Will the Oilers take offense to David Rittich’s stick flip and who’s hot for Edmonton coming in? Will they stay hot?
Here are a few of the notable items:
No James Neal Again, Benson In?
It appears James Neal will sit his second game in a row. Neal was removed from the Oilers roster Friday night just minutes for Edmonton was set to face the St. Louis Blues. There wasn’t much in the way of clarification on how he was hurt or why it took so long to announce he’d miss the game but he was a last-minute scratch thanks to a foot injury.
The Oilers have hinted the injury isn’t serious, being classified as day-to-day right now.
Instead of Neal, it appears Tyler Benson will get his first taste of NHL action even though that hasn’t been officially confirmed. Benson said, “They just told me to be ready” and coach Dave Tippett said Benson will be a game-time decision.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Have Big Game
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been on a roll. His month of January was fantastic and in the last 10 games, he’s got 16 points (6-10-16). His chemistry with Leon Draisaitl (on a 10-game point streak) and Kailer Yamamoto (eight points in 10 games) is clicking and to boot, Nugent-Hopkins has played well against the Flames this season.
Look for Nuge to keep the ball rolling and he’ll likely enter the game with some energy having gotten into a scrap last game with Sean Monahan. Everyone should be up for this match-up but perhaps Nuge more than most.
The Rittich Stick Flip
Not much has been made about it but you have to assume the Oilers weren’t fans of the stick flip by goaltender David Rittich at the end of the shootout in the Flames and Oilers last meeting. Rittich made one save and got help from two posts but acted as though he’d stoned the Oilers during the shootout. While it was likely more than enthusiasm after a big win, Edmonton will want to stick it to Rittich quickly.
In the head-to-head goaltender match-ups, Rittich has played better than the Oilers netminders. Edmonton will need to score early to shake his confidence. It’s safe to assume his stick flip is the new fuel keeping the flame of the Battle of Alberta lit.
Will the Fireworks Continue? McDavid to Carry Load
The last contest was full of action. A game with a playoff-like vibe, this fourth meeting between the two teams shouldn’t disappoint. Zac Rinaldo wants a piece of Zack Kassian, Connor McDavid likely hasn’t forgotten the missed call from the Mark Giordano clip and players like Sam Gagner, Josh Archibald, Darnell Nurse and Jujhar Khaira are looking to get physical and will play a factor.
Something tell us McDavid is going to have a whale of a game. He had one assist against Calgary and no points in the St. Louis game. McDavid is already coming into this game with an attitude. Imagine what he’ll play like knowing he’s due for a breakout in offensive production? Let’s set the Over/Under at three points for the Oilers captain.
Related: The NHL 600-Goal Club
The Goaltending: Smith or Koskinen?
Despite a really strong game, the Oilers are going with Mike Smith in net on the back-to-back. Smith has played well but been prone to some key giveaways when playing the puck recently. Expect Koskinen to be ready in the event Smith struggles early.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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