Edmonton Oilers v Los Angeles Kings

Oilers claim they’re making “progress”

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If you look at some of the Edmonton Oilers front office’s moves, there’s a strange sense of “keeping the band together” even though they’ve mostly hit foul notes. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the team told Robin Brownlee of The Canadian Press that they’re making progress (and not just toward another lottery pick, one would assume).

“I think we’ve already made progress to tell you the truth, regardless of what happens,” Shawn Horcoff said. “We’ve had great leaps and strides forward with our young guys and we’re going to get another good (draft) pick. We’re going to be older and a little more experienced next year. I think experience goes a long way.”

After finishing 30th overall in back-to-back seasons with 62 points, the Oilers face the Ducks in their final home game with a record of 32-39-9 for 73 points. At worst, the Oilers will be 11 points better when they’re done with the Ducks and the Canucks.

While it’s reasonable that the Oilers continue to build around an improving nucleus of young offensive players, re-upping with flawed veterans such as Andy Sutton and Ales Hemsky* seems a bit perplexing.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are cemented in last place in the NHL – the Oilers’ former cozy home – so technically some progress has been made. Still, in a salary cap age full of rapid turnarounds (particularly with teams who stock up on high-end draft picks), Edmonton seems relegated to the New York Islanders category of baby step improvements.

Much like the Islanders, the Oilers’ front office has its strange quirks, as GM Steve Tambellini has made his fair share of strange decisions.

Still, when games open up to allow Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall to take over, it can be a beautiful sight. Let us know in the comments if those brief moments of glory – not to mention Sam Gagner’s historic run – are just a mirage or are instead a sign of better things to come.

(And be specific about how much better, if you don’t mind.)

* – I like Hemsky and I know he isn’t that old, but he’s basically a poor man’s Marian Gaborik because of his near-constant presence on injury reports. It’s a bit surprising that Edmonton’s brass wants to deal with more of that IR drama.

Bruised Blackhawks will be without Seabrook, Toews vs. Rangers

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 13: Brent Seabrook #7 and Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks
celebrate a second period goal by Seabrook against the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on February 13, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Scott Darling isn’t the only member of the Chicago Blackhawks who will be asked to step up with key players out of the lineup.

The Blackhawks have already ruled out Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, as CSN Chicago notes.

This will mark the eighth consecutive game Toews is missing, although the bright side is that Joel Quenneville didn’t dismiss the possibility of Chicago’s captain playing on Sunday.

Seabrook is considered day-to-day after being shaken up by this awkward spill from Wednesday:

A few days ago, Patrick Kane called upon others to step up with Toews out. That message can now apply to Chicago’s defensemen with Seabrook banged up.

Pre-game reading: Laine better than Matthews?

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks NHL and the Olympics. The Board of Governors is meeting today in Palm Beach, but don’t expect any decision until January.

— TSN’s Gary Lawless believes Patrik Laine will end up being better than Auston Matthews. “Laine is the rarest of talents. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in the NHL and he is well ahead of just about every player in the world right now at the age of 18.” Yep, it’s basically Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby all over again. One’s a winger, the other’s a center. The prevailing hockey wisdom says the center is more valuable, because a center can make more of an impact at both ends of the ice. And, of course, Crosby’s backers can say he’s won two Stanley Cups. But Ovechkin has scored 537 goals in just 864 games, and that’s incredible in this day and age. We’ll have to wait and see who wins a Cup first between Laine and Matthews, assuming one wins one at all. Connor McDavid will probably have something to say as well. (TSN)

— Here’s Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill on why some NHL owners are reluctant to send players to the Olympics: “February is one of our biggest months and it’s hard to shut down for three weeks. First of all, you are shutting down your business. Period. And there is the risk of injuries and everything that goes with it. So it’s a tough situation. And the other part of it is, we’re not competing against the NFL at that time. We’re not competing against baseball at that time. It’s really just us and the NBA. So it’s really kind of our time. February, it’s hockey time in these types of markets.” (Postmedia)

— Another impassioned plea to change the NHL’s points system and award three points for a win. “A three-point regulation win gives coaches and teams much greater incentive to win in regulation, and discourages teams sitting back in the third period of close games playing just to guarantee their point and hope for two in the extra frame. This would immediately improve the 60-minute NHL product, especially in the third period of tied and close games.” We couldn’t agree more, but the league has shown no appetite for such a change, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it. (Metro)

Matt Duchene remembers former Avalanche teammate Marek Svatos, who died last month of a drug overdose. “Svats, I hope people don’t judge him on that because he was an outstanding guy. He had a tough go — a lot of injuries, a lot of surgeries. As an athlete, it’s hard to not be a little depressed at times. For him, the amount he went through, it’s sad and all I can do is send my condolences to his family and hopefully they can stay strong. We’re all praying for them.” (Denver Post)

— Sean McIndoe has a list of 10 lies all hockey fans tell themselves. We particularly enjoyed Lie No. 5: “Our prospect pipeline is stacked.” Because general managers are guilty of this too. The way the NHL is set up, it’s basically impossible to have zero prospects. Writes McIndoe: “Every team has prospects. Some of those, by definition, will even be the team’s best prospects. But it doesn’t mean they’re any good. And just pointing out that they exist doesn’t mean the future is bright.” (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

Price, Weber will be key to Canadiens’ survival without Galchenyuk, Desharnais

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens congratulates Carey Price #31 for their victory over the Boston Bruins during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens were already starting to wobble. With just four wins in their last 11 games, now the Habs will be forced to play without centers Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais for the next six to eight weeks.

It’s a heck of a challenge for any team, let alone one that endured a horrendous collapse last season when Carey Price was lost to injury.

Galchenyuk is the big loss now. The 22-year-old is Montreal’s leading scorer with 23 points (9G, 14A). He’d developed great chemistry with Alex Radulov, who is likely to skate now with Tomas Plekanec on the first line.

To be sure, the Habs still have Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, and Andrew Shaw to provide scoring. Shaw can also play center. So can Phillip Danault, the 23-year-old who came to Montreal in February in a trade with Chicago.

But above all, they’ll need Price to be Price. The best goalie in the world (sorry, Bruce Boudreau), Price can keep the Habs in any and all games, even ones where they’re outshot badly.

Given the standings, the Canadiens just need to survive this next month or two without a full-on collapse. They’ve already built a nice playoff cushion. They don’t have to worry if they lose a couple here and there, which they’re bound to do given their situation.

This is also where Weber’s leadership will be tested. GM Marc Bergevin traded away a pretty popular player to get Weber, whom he called a “tremendous leader,” as well as a “complete and reliable defenseman.” Bergevin made that move for times like these, when the heat in that hockey-mad market goes way up.

Montreal starts a four-game home stand tonight against New Jersey. Looking ahead on the schedule, there’s a six-game road trip after Christmas, with stops in Tampa Bay, Florida, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Dallas and Toronto.

If they can survive that trip, they can survive anything.

It should be fascinating to watch them try.

Goalie nods: Oilers give Gustavsson shot at cooling off Flyers

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Jonas Gustavsson #50 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up before the home opener against the Calgary Flames on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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With six straight wins, Philly is one of the NHL’s hottest teams — and tonight, the Flyers will look to make it seven as Edmonton and backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson come to town.

Gustavsson hasn’t been used much this season, but has fared well when called upon. He made 31 saves in a 2-1 OT loss to the Wild this past Sunday and, on the year, has posted a 2.00 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Of course, those numbers have come in a small sample size. The Monster has just five appearances this season, and only three of them were starts.

Now, he’ll be thrown into arguably his biggest test of the year at Wells Fargo. The Flyers are rolling, Steve Mason has been lights out and the team continues to get terrific production from Wayne Simmonds, who has four goals in his last two games (and 15 total on the year, to lead the club).

Of note, tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Oilers — they play in Minnesota tomorrow — so Gustavsson goes in Philly, while regular No. 1 Cam Talbot faces the Wild on Friday.

Elsewhere…

Calvin Pickard gets his first start since Nov. 29 when the Avs take on the B’s in Boston. No word yet on a Bruins starter.

— The red-hot Jake Allen, who has won his last eight starts, will be in for the Blues. The Isles will counter with Thomas Greiss, who draws in after Jaroslav Halak performed well over the last three contests.

Roberto Luongo has lost three of his last four, despite posting a stellar .928 save percentage over that span. He’ll be in for the Panthers tonight as they host Pittsburgh. Matt Murray is in goal for the Pens.

Ryan Miller‘s back in goal for Vancouver, after Jacob Markstrom got last game in New Jersey. Miller will face Ben Bishop, who gets the nod for the host Lightning.

— Marquee matchup in Montreal, as Cory Schneider and the Devils take on Carey Price and the Habs.

Henrik Lundqvist gets a night off after starting four straight, as Antti Raanta will face the Jets. Winnipeg is likely to go with Michael Hutchinson, who occupied the starter’s net at practice this morning.

Pekka Rinne will look to beat the Stars for the second time this season. Dallas has yet to name a starter.

— To nobody’s surprise, Chad Johnson will be back in goal when the Flames take on the Coyotes in Arizona. Johnson has won seven of his last eight. For the Coyotes, Mike Smith is in goal.

Jeff Zatkoff, who made 25 saves in a win his last time out, looks to be the Kings starter. No word yet from the ‘Canes, but Cam Ward was in for last night’s 6-5 shootout loss to Anaheim.