The province of Alberta hasn’t been this energized in quite some time. With both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers advancing from their first-round series, the two are set to meet up tonight for a Battle of Alberta series, something the league hasn’t seen since 1991.
Given the two teams each faced in the opening round, many expected and hoped that this would happen. While it didn’t come easy for either the Flames or Oilers, they both found a way and were able to give many fans exactly what they wanted.
With the Flames having finished the season with seven more points than the Oilers, they are viewed by most as the favorites heading into this series. Despite that, these two proved during the regular season that they are quite even with one another, having split their four game season series at two apiece. By all accounts, however, if the Oilers do hope to advance to the Western Conference Finals, they will need to be at their best at all times, which may prove difficult given an injury one of their superstar players is currently dealing with.
Draisaitl Battling an Ankle Injury
During Game 6 of the Oilers’ first-round series versus the Los Angeles Kings, Leon Draisaitl was taken to the ice by Mikey Anderson and was very slow getting up. He immediately went down the tunnel, and though he did end up returning to the game, was clearly favoring what at the time appeared to be either a knee or ankle injury. He too was able to suit up in Game 7 but was very limited in terms of his mobility.
Though the team has not announced specifics, several sources are claiming that he is dealing with a high ankle sprain. An injury like that typically takes at least six weeks to heal properly, and can be much longer depending on the individual. That time period of course would also be dependent on rest, something that Draisaitl will not be able to have at this time.
Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff recently suggested that the Oilers may try and hold him out for a game or two, but general manager Ken Holland has denied that notion, making it clear the 26-year-old will be suiting up in Game 1. While him being in the lineup is obviously a plus for his team, he is clearly playing well below 100 percent, which is a huge concern.
Draisaitl’s Even Strength Play Could be an Issue
Despite his injury clearly bothering him in Game 7, Draisaitl gave the Oilers everything he had and had a monstrous 22:38 in ice time. Head coach Jay Woodcroft was likely able to push the German superstar a little bit more given that he knew a few days of rest were upcoming if they were to win the game. While they were able to pick up the win, it has hard to imagine he will be able to continue playing that many minutes every other night given how much pain comes from a high ankle sprain.
The good news for Oilers fans is that Draisaitl will likely still be a force whenever his team is on the man advantage. He isn’t often the one to lug the puck up ice on the power play, with that role generally being Connor McDavid’s. Instead, he is usually lurking around slowly in the offensive zone, looking to get open in order to release his terrific one-timer. That part of his game should remain the same.
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The bigger concern will be his play at even strength, particularly when it comes to defending. Offensively, Draisaitl is a player that slows the game down thanks to his outstanding hockey IQ. When the puck is being possessed by his team, he may prove to be fine. The issue will be when the Flames are rushing down the ice on the attack, as his lack of mobility may prevent him from being able to backcheck and clog up lanes in the defensive zone.
It appears Woodcroft may have taken this into account, as he has chosen for the second straight game to put Draisaitl on a line with McDavid, rather than having him centering his own line as he did for the majority of the season. Perhaps playing on the wing will allow him to coast around slightly more, as wingers’ roles defensively aren’t as strenuous compared to a center’s.
Injuries Unfortunate but Part of the Game
The injury Draisaitl is dealing with is not only upsetting to Oilers fans but plenty of other hockey fans around the world who want to see a great series between these two big-time rivals. That could very well still happen, though having one of the league’s best players hobbled is certainly a major blow. With that being said, injuries are a part of the game, and no one is ever playing at 100 per cent health in the postseason. You can bet these teams will be making no excuses and will be giving everything they have as they look to advance to the Western Conference Final.