Despite all the recent injuries to their defence, the Edmonton Oilers strolled into December with a 15-5 record and are now atop of the Western Conference. They have a busy schedule this month with 15 games, but here are three games that stand out as must-watch matchups.
The Return of Ethan Bear
The Carolina Hurricanes roll into Edmonton on Saturday night, Dec. 11, for a nationally televised event on Hockey Night in Canada. The teams only play each other a couple of times a season, but hostility still lingers from their battle in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
However, this season, there’s more anticipation with the return of Ethan Bear. The fifth-round pick from the 2015 NHL Draft played 132 regular-season games with the Oilers and put up eight goals and 25 assists while averaging 19:08 of ice time (TOI). Unfortunately, the last play he made with the club led to the tying goal in Game 4 against the Winnipeg Jets in the 2021 Playoffs. The game went into triple overtime, and Kyle Connor scored the game-winner to knock Edmonton out of the playoffs.
On July 28, 2021, the Oilers traded Bear to the Hurricanes for tenacious forward Warren Foegele. In 20 games with Edmonton, the Markham, Ont. native has two goals and eight assists while averaging 13:04 TOI. He’s found a home on the third line, and his speed, forechecking ability and offensive bursts have been a welcome addition.
In 16 games with the Hurricanes, Bear has a goal and five assists and averages 18:08 TOI. He’s been out of the lineup since Nov. 22 due to COVID protocol, but he’ll likely return in time for this game. This matchup should bring out the best in both Bear and Foegele, who will be motivated to show their former teams that they made a mistake letting them go.
Oilers Host Toronto Maple Leafs
When the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Rogers Place, the blue and white jerseys tend to outnumber the batch of orange and blue. That shouldn’t be any different when these teams face-off on Dec. 14 in Edmonton. They played each other nine times last season in the North Division; Toronto won six contests.
This is a must-see game not only for the animosity that’s developed over the last year but also for the star power. Between Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, this game features some of the league’s elite players. Expect them to raise their level of play to outdo one another in this matchup.
This will also be the first time Zach Hyman faces his former club after he signed with the Oilers. In six seasons with the Maple Leafs, he played 345 games, scoring 86 goals and 185 points. Toronto didn’t have the cap space to re-sign the workhorse, and he earned a hefty deal from Edmonton, seven years and $38.5 million. He’s been a fantastic fit with his new club, spending most of his time on McDavid’s left wing, scoring 11 goals already this season. This will be an exciting game between two juggernauts, who sit atop both conferences.
The Battle of Alberta
The Oilers beat the Calgary Flames 5- 2 in their only matchup of the season on Oct. 16. Their next game will be a classic meeting between a potent offence and a stingy defence. As of this writing, the Oilers are fifth in the league in goals for (80), while the Flames have given up the fewest (43).
Edmonton’s power play has cooled since their hot start when they were scoring on almost half of their chances, but they are still the best in the league converting on 36% of their attempts. However, the Flames’ penalty killing is fifth, and the goaltending tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar leads the NHL in combined shutouts (7).
We’ll see whether the Flames can contain the high-powered offence led by McDavid and Draisaitl. With both teams firing on all cylinders and sitting atop the Pacific Division, Alberta is in for an entertaining night on Dec. 27.
The Oilers are coming off an inspiring 5-2 win over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night and now sit atop the Western Conference. They’ve been resilient in their “next man up” approach to defence, despite battling significant injuries to their blue line. Still, December is a big month for the Northern Alberta team, which includes an eight-game road trip starting on Dec. 22 against the Los Angeles Kings.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.