Oilers Weekly Preview: Senators & Canadiens Are Very Different Opponents

It’s a relatively light week ahead for the Edmonton Oilers, with only three games on the schedule. The team performed well at the start of February and will look to get back to that trend after Saturday night’s loss to the Calgary Flames. Injuries haven’t been a big factor, other than in net, where the question marks continue to swirl, and the team’s best offensive players have been clicking. 

Connor McDavid,Mikko Koskinen
Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen celebrates a victory with Connor McDavid (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

However, the defence has had issues, but that’s to be expected in a year without a preseason and fewer days available for practice. The Oilers have shown they can play a tight game, evidenced by their first matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that sort of performance requires an attention to detail that has been hit or miss for the club in 2020-21.

Review of Last Week’s Results

Edmonton won the second game of their series, 4-2, against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, to string together two wins against a single opponent for the first time this season, and three in a row within their Scotia North Division. In the three-day CBA-mandated break that followed, the Oilers lost yet another goalie to waivers when Troy Grosenick was reclaimed by the Los Angeles Kings. The team’s 3rd-stringer had finally completed his mandatory quarantine but didn’t see any game action as an Oiler before he was waived and reacquired by his former team.

Milwaukee Admirals Alexandre Carrier Troy Grosenick
Goalie Troy Grosenick ended his Oiler career without a single NHL start when he was reclaimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Kings. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

In the highly anticipated matchup against the Flames on Saturday, the Oilers started well. However, the end result was a regulation win for Calgary, and the Oilers will need to regroup. The good news is Matthew Tkachuk didn’t get under anyone’s skin, other than with the odd body-check. Instead, the feisty winger took four minutes in penalties.

It was a recipe for success on most nights, but unfortunately, the Oilers’ goaltending wasn’t up to the task. A 6-4 defeat sent Edmonton to the dressing room down 0-1 in this season’s Battle of Alberta. The good news is there will be plenty of chances for revenge with nine more meetings on the agenda.

Upcoming Schedule

The Senators make their third and fourth appearances against Edmonton on Monday, Feb. 8 (5 pm MT) and Tuesday, Feb. 9 (5 pm MT) in Ottawa. The Oilers will hope to pick up where they left off against the league’s worst team. The Senators have a young roster, and that has shown through since the beginning of the season. The Oilers are familiar with being the free bingo spot on the schedule, and they should know that it’s easy to underestimate an opponent you are expected to handle with ease. The Montreal Canadiens were reminded of this last week when these same Senators defeated them on the back of a three-point night from their impressive rookie, Tim Stützle.

Tim Stützle Ottawa Senators
Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators, first NHL game Jan. 15, 2021 (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Oilers will try to take both games in Ottawa before their grudge match with the Canadiens on Thursday night (5 pm MT). This eastern road trip has Edmonton playing in the early slot for all three games, and they’ll have a tough battle against the soaring Canadiens.

In a high-scoring division, Montreal’s 48 goals lead the league, and they’re in the top half of the rankings when it comes to goals-against as well. General manager Marc Bergevin could be in the running for GM of the year if his team continues this pace, as it is his offseason acquisitions that are lighting the lamp more often than not. Former Oiler Jeff Petry is having a great season, leading his team in points with fourteen. Edmonton could easily get behind on the scoreboard without a strong start.

Injuries and Player Updates

Backup goaltender Mike Smith will make his first appearance of the season against the Senators on Monday night. Mikko Koskinen leads all NHL goalies with 12 starts this season, and the waiver merry-go-round shows how difficult it is for clubs to keep enough backups on hand in case of injury.

Head coach Dave Tippett would likely prefer to have his starting goaltender in net against the Habs, so splitting starts against the Senators is the wise route. Smith had an up-and-down season in 2019-20, and he is a bit of a question mark this year. No preseason and an injury before he played any games are concerning for the ageing netminder.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith of the Edmonton Oilers could see his first game of the season this week. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Gaetan Haas showed up on the injury report for the second time this season, as did Ethan Bear. Bear should be back this week, while Haas’ injury status is up in the air as of this writing. Unlike some other divisions, the North has had no COVID-19 outbreaks to date, and although players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have contracted the virus, the protocols in place seem to be working. Regardless of that fact, the league has instituted additional measures across the board.

Related: Oilers’ Early Returns On Puljujärvi Are Positive

The light schedule should mean Edmonton can work on their systems, which is sorely needed. At the same time, a week with only two starts should refresh starter Mikko Koskinen. His impact on the win/loss column this season can’t be understated, and he has a history of flagging when overplayed. McDavid and Draisaitl still sit atop the league scoring ranks and must be chomping at the bit to face the Senators twice in a row. The Oilers need to be wary, though, as they aren’t in a place to take any game for granted. Four more points could give them a little breathing room in the playoff race and some confidence as they head into Montreal.

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