Well, the Hawks certainly won’t be able to say that they weren’t the beneficiaries of a bit of good fortune during whatever this so-called playoff push might become, as word just before press time leaked out that Connor McDavid will miss 2-3 weeks with a thigh bruise, which certainly puts him out for tonight’s tilt in Edmonton, and may very well keep him out of the lineup for the UC rematch the first week of March.
It is absolutely no secret that this iteration of the Oilers is one of the most top heavy the modern NHL has ever seen, with the aforementioned McDavid, and Leon “The Ladies’ Man” Draisaitl currently slotting in at the top two spots on the league’s scoring leaderboard with 81 and 85 points respectively. However, given the paucity of scoring depth elsewhere considering that McDavid and Draisaitl spend the majority of even strength time together, this loss could have exponential ramifications even further than missing a 2 time Art Ross winner normally would. Early indications out of Oilers camp today are showing Leon now centering the top line between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto, which while it isn’t a helpless line, it certainly becomes the focal point of the opposition with McDavid out, as everything beneath that isn’t exactly imposing. The newly rich and always dunderheaded Zack Kassian gets a chance to show he’s worth the money away from McDavid from the third line with Josh Archibald and Riley Sheahan, while Feather’s Guy Sam Ganger and Alex Chiasson flank Gaetan Haas. Colby Cave has been recalled to take McDavid’s roster spot, and will be on the fourth line with Jujhar Khaira and Alex Russell.
On the blue line, Oskar Klefbom and Adam Larsson form a very Swedish but otherwise innocuous top pairing that doesn’t turn the ice over nearly as much as it probably should given its mobility and the frequency with which they play behind McDavid, Leon, or both. Perpetual future Hawk if only in the minds of this website Darnell Nurse just got a bridge deal that’s likely overpriced despite still flattering to deceive for now seemingly the 14th year in a row, and he’ll be paired with Ethan Bear, the Oiler’s most consistently together and consistently above water unit in this group. Matthew Benning and Caleb Jones have paired nicely since Benning’s return from injury, but have played a total of 48 even strength minutes together, and will now be tested without McDavid alleviating pressure throughout the lineup.
In net Mike Smith figures to get the start tonight fresh off his most recent Oscar nomination on Sunday, and is currently sporting a .901 both at evens and overall. Mikko Koskinen has been slightly better with a .913 at evens and .909 overall, but the Oilers still remain in search of stable reliable goaltending even with Dave Tippett’s goalie friendly system in front of them.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, with them not having their skate yet at press time, as well as morning skates now all being OPTIONAL but INTENSE, it remains unclear whether Adam Boqvist will draw back in, in all likelihood in the place of Nick Seeler if he does. And the Hawks had better hope that’s the case, as the power play in Winnipeg looked like a complete goat fuck and was fortunate to only give up one shorthanded goal. While the power play had not been scoring with any kind of regularity while Boqvist helmed the first unit, that was far more of a function of stationary forwards and their shot selection. It’s clear that Boqvist is a natural in quarterbacking a power play, as he gets them into their stuff and holds the line with an ease and poise that belies his 19 years, but still should not have to be relied upon as much as it clearly has been. Because without Boqvist it’s whatever dadaist interpretation of the job Erik Gustafsson can come up with on the first unit, and Olli Maata, offensive dynamo, somehow getting time on the second. The indignities truly never cease.
In net it appears that Lehner will get the front end of the back to back after Crawford’s red-ass routine in Winnipeg, even if only one of those goals was his fault.
Given how clogged the drain is of the Western Conference Playoff Toilet at the moment, any and all regulation wins against the teams they’re in direct competition with on this roadtrip are necessary. And with McDavid out, there are no excuses to be found. Yes, Leon is a force on his own, but if the Hawks a team that’s serious about playing in April and serious about showing management they’re worth investing in as the deadline approaches as they’ve all tried to tell us, then a 60 minute win tonight is the only acceptable outcome. Let’s go Hawks.