Following an underwhelming trade deadline that saw the Winnipeg Jets unable or unwilling to add a big name to their roster, they faced an Edmonton Oilers team – who substantially added to their roster – in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. In splitting the two games with the home team taking victory each time, three takeaways came from this set. The moves each team made before the March 3 deadline played a role in these games, and while the offense was over the top with 21 goals between the clubs, there was also one big defensive take of some note.
Before puck drop, the Oilers and Jets held the two wildcard playoff spots in the Western Conference, and both were looking to work their way back into their respective division races. While two noteworthy takeaways deal with newly acquired players, the third is that the Jets were able to do something almost no other team has done this season, prevent Connor McDavid from scoring.
The Oilers Got Better After the Trade Deadline
Newsflash, the Oilers can score. They scored 11 goals in the two games, winning at home 6-5, then dropping a 7-5 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg. They are fast and come in waves, but they needed size and depth and got it when general manager (GM) Ken Holland acquired Nick Bjugstad and 6-foot-6 centre Cam Dineen from the Arizona Coyotes and veteran defenseman Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds.
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The Oilers have trouble keeping the puck out of their net, and that’s why Ekholm was a key acquisition. While they gave up seven goals on Saturday, you could see the size and influence from Ekholm’s presence fit well with the likes of Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard. He is an imposing specimen who will clear the front of the net and can move the puck efficiently out of the defensive zone. In a game they lost 7-5, he was a plus-1 with three blocked shots. He is going to be a valuable asset to the Oilers.
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Bjugstad’s physicality and stature will create space for his Oiler teammates. He takes faceoffs and gets to the net, precisely how he scored his first goal with his new club in Saturday’s contest. He won the draw cleanly and then headed to the front of the net, where the point shot found its way onto his stick and in the back of the Jets’ net to bring the Oilers to within one goal in the third period.
Jets’ Acquisitions Made an Impression
The Jets acquired forwards Nino Niederreiter from the Predators and Vladislav Namestnikov from the San Jose Sharks. Both players had an impact in these two games. The latter didn’t play on Friday as he was still travelling to Winnipeg, but Neidereitter played in both and looked to have some immediate chemistry with centre Mark Scheifele.
Scheifele scored a goal in each game, with Neiderreiter assisting on both. The pair were flanked on the wing by Kyle Connor, and you can see how Neiderreiter’s size and physicality will free up some space for his linemates in the neutral and offensive zone.
Namestnikov came to the Jets via the Sharks, which was but a stopover from a trade involving the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he played in 57 games for the defending Eastern Conference champions. He has experience playing all three forward spots and will add depth to the bottom six of the Jets, which desperately need the help.
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In his debut on Saturday, he contributed an assist, was a plus-3 and had a blocked shot. His line with Morgan Barron and Adam Lowry looked solid, considering they had only met earlier that day. Barron and Lowry each scored a goal, and for the first time, it looked like the Jets had three lines that could add to the offensive output. That hasn’t been the case this season. The Jets have lacked scoring depth in 2022-23 and it appears these two may fill that gap nicely.
Connor McDavid Didn’t Score
The Oilers lit the lamp 11 times in the two-game set, but McDavid did not. It’s not news that the Oilers score more proficiently than anyone else, but it’s rare for him not to be involved in the barrage. He had three assists on Friday and one on Saturday, so it’s not like he was a non-factor, but it’s a small victory for the Jets to shut him down in back-to-back contests. He had 10 shots on goal in the two games, three coming on the power play, and to keep him from scoring when he has a shooting percentage over 18 percent and scored 10 goals in the previous five games was a victory in itself for the Jets.
Leon Draisaitl, on the other hand, scored five times in the two games, with the hat trick coming in Winnipeg. The Oilers have a scoring duo the league has not seen since perhaps Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri, and while keeping one off the board is good, preventing both of them from scoring is almost impossible.
Related: Jets’ Play Put the GM in a Tough Spot Ahead of Trade Deadline
The Jets got outworked badly on Friday but redeemed themselves on Saturday. Both teams are hoping these two games initiate a resurgence for both teams. They potentially could face each other in a conference final, and with a Western Conference as wide open as it is this year, that may sound improbable, but far from impossible. The Oilers are fourth in the Pacific Division but only four points out of first. The Jets are currently in third place in the Central, one point ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, who have three games in hand on everyone ahead of them in the standings, and seven behind the first-place Dallas Stars.
The difference between first and eighth in the Western Conference is eight points. The final 20 games of the season will dictate how the playoffs will unfold, and the team that gets hot at the end of the season may have a bearing on post-season success. Jets fans hope Saturday’s game will initiate an upswing from their recent woes. They can defeat everyone in the West; perhaps the new depth may be the boost they need to get the job done down the stretch.