OILERS @ FLAMES IN EXHIBITION..... WE ARE BACK!!!!
Well the time off just flew right by right... he said sarcastically.
We are back my friends! After months of turmoil, frustration, and suspense we have actual NHL hockey between two teams tonight. It may only be an exhibition game but the fans are going to have playoff level excitement to watch their respective team play once more.
I had massive doubts throughout these past few months that the NHL was going to be able to make this work, or if it was the safe option to do so. I'll admit I am so impressed with how the league has handled both bubble cities. Yesterday it was announced that with thousands of tests done, no new cases were found. As leagues like the MLB are floundering their way through their re-open, the NHL is the league doing things right.
Tonight's game represents the beginning of a new mini season for the Edmonton Oilers as its impossible to use what happened four months ago as reference. Athanasiou's struggles or Yamamoto's break out mean nothing now. It's a fresh start for everyone... for better or worse. No players on the Oilers should be dealing with any lingering injuries either. McDavid, who spent the entire summer in rehab was able to fully commit to his training regime and his teammates and media alike are saying he has gotten faster once again. James Neal and Joakim Nygard who also were dealing with maladies should be 100%.
- no word yet on who is starting in net for the Oilers. Koskinen has looked like the better option in camp but Smith and Tippett go way back. Personally I would want to see each goalie get a half game tonight.
4 KEYS TO VICTORY
1.) MANAGE INTENSITY - As exciting as it is to watch another Battle of Alberta, each team is already looking past this game. It is an exhibition game meant to shake off the rust and get in some game like action. We won't see Kassian and Tkachuk face off. No one wants any injuries.
2.) STEP BACK INTO THE SPECIAL TEAMS - A huge reason the Oilers were as successful as they were this season were their special teams. Their top unit PP and second overall PK were key to this team and Tippett will want to see both in mid season form tonight.
3.) WHO'S IN NET?!! - Koskinen has better season numbers and has looked sharper in the scrimmages than Mike Smith and yet it is likely Tippett will go with the guy he knows... but if Smith starts tonight and let's in two quick bad goals will he go to Koskinen? Managing his net minders could make or break the Oilers this post-season.
4.) ROOKIE ENERGY - The likes of Ethan Bear and Kailer Yamamoto jumped into their roles and became established NHLers this season. Normally it isn't uncommon to see rookies struggle in the post season but of course things are not normal right now. Everyone is starting in a similar spot and players like this with youthful energy could have a much larger impact.