Offensive firepower keys Oilers-Panthers matchup
Three of the NHL’s top four scorers are ticketed for Edmonton on Thursday night when the Oilers play host to the Florida Panthers.
Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau has 53 points, tied with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid for third place in the league. Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl has 54 points, which ranks second.
Despite having those two superstars, Edmonton has lost six straight games (0-4-2). The Oilers haven’t won this calendar year. They haven’t beaten anyone since a 5-3 triumph over the expansion Seattle Kraken on Dec. 18, and they haven’t tasted victory at home since defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Dec. 16.
“I’m not sure what to tell you,” McDavid said after Edmonton’s most recent loss, 6-4, to the visiting Ottawa Senators on Saturday. “I wish i had an answer.”
The Panthers — like the Oilers — come to the arena in a bad mood. The Panthers had their nine-game points streak snapped on Tuesday night in a 5-1 loss to the host Calgary Flames.
“We’re going to try to come out with a better effort in our next game,” Panthers forward Mason Marchment said. “We came out a little slow. All the boys know that.”
The Panthers lost Patric Hornqvist to an upper-body injury on Tuesday, and his status for Thursday has not been announced.
Florida started rookie goalie Spencer Knight on Tuesday, and it is likely that veteran Sergei Bobrovsky will be in net on Thursday. Bobrovsky is 19-3-3 with a 2.47 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
The Panthers have six forwards and one defenseman – Aaron Ekblad – with double-figure goals. Sam Bennett and Anthony Duclair lead the way with 16 goals each.
Florida ranks second in the NHL this season in goals scored per game (4.05); Edmonton is ninth (3.29).
Yet, the Oilers have won just one playoff series in McDavid’s six years in Edmonton. To attempt to remedy the situation, the Oilers brought in defensemen Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci this season. The Oilers also signed winger Zach Hyman, who is fifth on the team with 21 points and fourth in goals (10).
It hasn’t totally clicked yet for the Oilers, who are 10-7-0 at home this season. But they will get an opportunity on Thursday against a Panthers team that has struggled on the road (5-5-5) in sharp contrast to Florida’s league-best home record (21-3-0).
Just who will stop the pucks for the Oilers on Thursday is a question.
Mike Smith, who turns 40 in March, entered the season as the starter. But he has played only six games and has a thumb injury.
Stuart Skinner, who played in Edmonton’s most recent game, was placed on the COVID-protocol list on Monday.
Russian rookie Ilya Konovalov, a 23-year-old who has yet to make his NHL debut, got starter’s reps in practice on Tuesday.
Veteran Mikko Koskinen, 33, also practiced this week. The 6-foot-7 Koskinen hasn’t played since Jan. 3 and has lost six straight games. His last win was on Dec. 1, and he has a 3.19 GAA this season.
The Oilers were missing several forwards at practice on Tuesday, including Kyle Turris and Dylan Holloway (COVID-protocol list) as well as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (lower-body injury). But it’s possible shot-blocking defenseman Kris Russell could return from a month-long absence due to an upper-body injury.
–Field Level Media