There is nothing worse than going into a hockey game without your full roster intact. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers who have been routinely among the NHL leaders in injuries every season. On Sunday, Edmonton squares off against another team who currently understands the difficulty in moving forward without your lineup as originally designed. Both the Buffalo Sabres and the Edmonton Oilers are hurting thanks to some injuries, especially the Sabres, who are missing a number of their key players.
That said, it isn’t always players out of the lineup that require concern. Edmonton may have an issue with one of their most important defenders. The extent of the problem is unknown (if there is, in fact, a real problem), but Adam Larsson has been sidelined from practice in what the Oilers are calling “a maintenance day”.
The Sabres are missing Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, both of whom went down with longer-term injuries. It’s a shame that fans won’t get to see the Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel matchup that comes with being drafted number one and number two in the same draft year. More importantly for the Sabres, is that these two injuries leave Buffalo a much less powerful team at the forward position.
Buffalo isn’t the only team hurting. Every team around the NHL deals with injuries. Sidney Crosby is missing in Pittsburgh, Bergeron is out in Boston and the Montreal Canadiens are missing Carey Price.
Edmonton is currently missing Brandon Davidson (upper body and out indefinitely), Iiro Pakarinen (lower body and out three-to-four weeks), Drake Caggiula (undisclosed and out day-to-day) and Matt Hendricks (lower body and out three-to-four weeks). Last year, McDavid was gone for most of the season, the Oilers were forced to start 2015-16 without Jordan Eberle and one of Edmonton’s best defenders in Oscar Klefbom was missing for an extended period of time. Injuries are something the Oilers are used to.
To start the 2016-17 season, the Oilers started to worry that this year was going to be another repeat of seasons’ past. Preseason wasn’t kind to the Oilers as injuries kept hitting the roster. It was almost on a game-by-game basis that another player was being knocked out of the lineup. In the regular season, the injuries seem to be a continued concern. For example, in Edmonton’s latest game, McDavid took a stick to the face but was able to return. He shouldn’t miss any action, but it goes to show that injuries can affect a team in a moment’s notice.
One person to watch is Adam Larsson. He missed practice on Saturday and while coach Todd McLellan called it a maintenance day and Larsson will be in the lineup tonight against the Sabres, it’s something the Oilers should keep any eye on. Right now Larsson seems fine, but if the trend continues, it might be time to get a bit concerned if he misses two practices so early into the season.
Larsson has been one of Edmonton’s most steady defensemen in their first two games and him missing any real time could hurt the Oilers who were already being outshot in each of their first two contests. His pairing with Oscar Klefbom has come exactly as advertised and his early play, along with the fact the Oilers have won two in a row, have helped ease the pain that came with the Taylor Hall trade that brought Larsson to town.
Oilers practicing at the Community Rink. Looks like everyone on the ice except Larsson.
— Reid Wilkins (@ReidWilkins) October 15, 2016
Talbot starts as Edmonton looks for its 5th straight win vs Buffalo. Likely same lineup vs Sabres as Friday at CGY–Larsson is fine.
— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) October 16, 2016
Larsson brings a defense-first mentality to the Oilers. He’s not expected to produce a lot of offense, but in two games he’s averaging over 20 minutes per game, he’s a plus-two in terms of plus/minus and he’s got an assist. There is a steadiness to his game that the Oilers haven’t had in a defenseman in some time and it’s a positive change from the Oilers blue lines of the past.
The Oilers can’t afford further injuries. For a team that doesn’t have a top-tier blueliner, but is trying to stop the opposition by committee, it is imperative Edmonton keeps this strong start going. They have nine favorable games in their schedule to start the season and after that, the games get harder. The more wins early, the better chance Edmonton has to finally make the playoffs after a decade on the outside looking in.
Edmonton can only hope whatever is going on with Adam Larsson isn’t serious. If it’s a matter of minor bumps and bruises, a maintenance day is harmless. However, if something in nagging the Swedish defenseman, it could problematic for the Oilers. Larsson’s ability to play a ton of minutes and provide better defense is critical to the Oilers success. Not having him would create a definite weakness for the team.
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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