The New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers will play one another for the second and final time tonight in the 2021-22 season. The Oilers defeated the Blueshirts in overtime, 6-5, on Nov. 5. The former was playing like an elite team during the game in November while the latter was in the midst of a difficult road trip in western Canada. The Oilers have been struggling recently, while the Rangers are playing good enough to remain among the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division. Here are some storylines for both teams ahead of tonight’s game at Madison Square Garden.
2 Storylines: Edmonton Oilers (18-12-2)
Oilers Losing Ground in Pacific Division
The Oilers went 15-5-0 during October and November before going 3-7-1 in December. The Vancouver Canucks, who are surging since Bruce Boudreau was named the head coach on Dec. 5, are only a few points behind the Oilers in the Pacific Division. The Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks have taken over first and second place, respectively, in the Pacific.
The Oilers struggled to generate offense during five consecutive home games – all losses between Dec. 5-14. The team scored one goal in four of its five games, and two in the other. The organization lost to two teams in overtime – the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 31 and the New York Islanders on Jan. 1, respectively.
There is growing unrest from the fanbase with head coach Dave Tippett as the Oilers find themselves in a tailspin after a promising start during the first two months of the season. The team no longer looks an elite contender for the Stanley Cup after their struggles last month. With two stars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the team was expected to take the next step toward contending for a championship.
Tippett has not led the team to a series win in the playoffs during the first two seasons since he was hired in May 2019. The team finished second in the Pacific Division during the 2019-20 season but was upset during the postseason in the Qualifying Round by the Chicago Blackhawks. During the shortened 2020-21 year, the Oilers finished second in the North Division, but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets. The fanbase is eager for playoff success as the team only has only won one playoff series in the last 15 years since losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final during the 2005-06 season.
McDavid, Draisaitl Having MVP seasons
McDavid and Draisaitl are both having outstanding seasons for the Edmonton Oilers. The former has 19 goals and 34 assists while the latter has 25 goals and 27 assists. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has the most assists (23) after the duo while Zach Hyman is third on the team in goals with 11.
Nugent-Hopkins is third on the team with 26 points behind McDavid (53) and Draisaitl (52). The last time the Oilers and Blueshirts played one another in November, McDavid scored in what is a goal of the year candidate as he maneuvered through several players on the Rangers. The top point leaders for the Oilers are carrying the team and the other players will need to step up in order to take pressure off of the franchise’s leading duo.
2 Storylines: New York Rangers (21-8-4)
Panarin in COVID Protocol, Zibanejad Has Hat Trick Versus Lightning
Prior to yesterday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Artemi Panarin was placed in COVID health and safety protocols. Tim Gettinger received a start in the lineup in place of the Blueshirts point leader. The line combinations looked different, with Kaapo Kakko on the top line and first power-play unit with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. The second line consisted of Ryan Strome, Alexis Lafreniere and Barclay Goodrow.
Despite the absence of Panarin, Zibanejad filled the void substantially as he had a hat trick in the 4-0 victory for the Rangers against the Lightning. The 28-year-old forward has multiple points in four of his last five games and has nine points in that span including six goals and three assists. Zibanejad has shown in previous seasons he is capable of carrying the Blueshirts offense.
Shesterkin Gets Shutout, Kreider Racking Up Assists
After having unimpressive save percentages (SV%) in his first two starts back from injury – a .875 SV% versus the Florida Panthers on Dec. 29 and a .893 SV% versus the Lightning on Dec. 31 – Igor Shesterkin played phenomenal against the Bolts yesterday. The third-year goaltender stopped all 38 shots he faced against a Lightning team that has been playing like they are capable of another lengthy playoff run this year. He had several key saves in the closing minutes of the first period that left the Lighting stunned. The Rangers goaltender has had multiple games this season in which he has carried his team to victory based on his performance.
Chris Kreider, who has been impressive with his goal scoring ability this season, has been accumulating assists recently. In his last five games, he has two with three assists each and has seven total over that span. He continues to be on his way to a career year offensively in his tenth season.
Players to Watch
Oilers – Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl
The Oilers’ most valuable players will command attention from the Rangers after the prior matchup between the teams. Both players each had a goal and two assists in the 6-5 overtime victory over the Blueshirts. With Nugent-Hopkins day-to-day due to an injury, the team may be without one of the other stars on its roster. The team will continue to rely on the two stars to shoulder the offense, which they have proven to be more than capable of this year.
Rangers – Barclay Goodrow, Mika Zibanejad
Goodrow has looked rejuvenated for the Rangers in the two games he played against the team he was with before he signed with the Blueshirts last offseason. He is definitely getting his chances offensively on the top six, and he has two goals and one assist in his last two games. While he is not one of the players the team depends upon regularly for offense, his contributions would be welcome in order to take pressure off of the players the team relies on for scoring opportunities. Zibanejad is in the midst of a hot streak and will continue to get chances offensively. While he struggled to score goals earlier in the season, he is one of the Rangers top players over the last five games and has the potential for a multi-goal game when he is playing well.
The Rangers have a challenging schedule over the next two weeks with several games on the road after the matchup with the Oilers. Edmonton is looking to break out of its month long slump while the Rangers are looking to maintain their steady production in 2021-22. If the first game between the teams was any indication on what to expect this evening, it will be an entertaining game for the fans to watch.