Tuesday January 25 - Vancouver Canucks at Edmonton Oilers - 7 p.m. PT
What a difference a week makes!
There is celebration in the streets on Tuesday over the news that Spencer Martin has been cleared from Covid protocols. He'll get the start against Connor McDavid and company as the Canucks close out their homestand against the Edmonton Oilers.
Martin, of course, held his own very successfully against the Florida Panthers last Friday, making 31 saves and limiting the second highest-scoring team in the NHL to just one goal through 65 minutes before the Canucks fell in the shootout.
In the Oilers, he'll be catching a club that finally showed a pulse on Saturday night, earning its first victory of 2022 with a 5-3 comeback win over Calgary in the Battle of Alberta.
Leon Draisaitl had two goals and an assist in that contest, and currently sits in a tie with Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Huberdeau for top spot in the NHL scoring race, with 58 points. With one assist, Connor McDavid is three back in fourth spot, with 55 points.
In the Oilers' six games since Jan. 1, Draisaitl has seven points. McDavid — who missed one game while in Covid protocol — is tied with Brendan Perlini and Duncan Keith for second in team scoring in 2022, with three points. In his case, they've all been assists. Despite a couple of recent seven-shot efforts against the Rangers and Ottawa, McDavid last scored in a two-goal outing in New Jersey on New Year's Eve.
Is he due?
In the Oilers' previous visit to Rogers Arena this season, McDavid put nine shots on Thatcher Demko on Oct. 30, but was held to a single assist.
J.T. Miller has also been cleared by the Canucks, and will return to action after missing the last two games. It sounds like he shouldn't miss a beat.
But yes, now Tanner Pearson is absent. That's unfortunate; his 10 points in 16 games since Bruce Boudreau took over tie him for third in team scoring over that time, with Bo Horvat. Miller, of course, is first with 16 points in 14 games, and Quinn Hughes is second with 12.
In his pre-game availability, Boudreau also said that Jaroslav Halak and Conor Garland should be able to join the club for the beginning of its four-game road trip in Winnipeg on Thursday, and Horvat's on track to return against Calgary on Saturday. No timeline yet for Thatcher Demko.
After getting the start against St. Louis on Sunday, Mikey DiPietro will back up Martin against the Oilers. It was a low-event night for the Blues, who were outshot 39-17 by Vancouver but got a tour-de-force performance from Ville Husso in their net to earn the 3-1 win.
Much maligned Mikko Koskinen earned the win for Edmonton on Saturday against the Flames, and has been confirmed as the Oilers' starter against Vancouver. Forced into a larger role than anticipated this season due to ongoing injury issues for Mike Smith, Koskinen is now at 22 games played, with a record of 13-8-1, a goals-against average of 3.31 and a save percentage of .898. According to MoneyPuck
, he's at a grim minus-8.3 goals saved above expected this season, which puts him near the bottom of the league. So the ire he has drawn from Oilers fans and even from coach Dave Tippett, at times, is somewhat understandable, even though he has been asked to do his best under very difficult circumstances.
I'm curious to see if the Oilers have a little more swagger on Tuesday, after finally snapping their winless streak — and while going up against a still-shorthanded Canucks group. Without having to face his usual shadow, Bo Horvat, will that help McDavid get his groove back? Or will Boudreau have some tricks up his sleeve? He certainly has experience coaching against McDavid and the Oilers, from his time in Minnesota and a year in Anaheim.
Overshadowed by all this personnel drama — this is a crucial four-point game in the standings. The Canucks have played four more games than the Oilers, but the two clubs are deadlocked at 40 points — tied for sixth in the Pacific and four points back of Calgary, which is back in the second wild-card spot after an impressive 7-1 win over St. Louis on Monday.
Dallas and San Jose are also tied with the Flames, with 44 points, but have played more games. And Winnipeg is also in the mix, with 41 points.
The Sharks and Flames are idle on Tuesday, while the Stars visit the Devils and the Jets host the Panthers.
And to wrap up today: I wrote about Jim Rutherford's hiring of new assistant general manager Emilie Castonguay this morning, for Forbes:
Castonguay was very impressive in her introductory press conference — as someone who played the game at a high level and has both business and law degrees to augment her experience as a player agent. And as she talked about her past business interactions with Rutherford, I became curious about how they might know each other. Looks like the common thread is 23-year-old Penguins defense prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who was a Castonguay client along with his brother, Mathieu.
She took over representation of the Josephs, former Canuck Antoine Roussel, and a handful of other clients after their previous agent, Christian Daigle passed away last year. Of course, she is best known for having represented Alexis Lafreniere as he was selected first overall in the 2020 NHL draft, and she has a superstar client on the women's side in Marie-Philip Poulin.
Castonguay has a strong emotional connection to Vancouver, and seems to have a terrific grasp of the human side of the game. After Jim Rutherford talked up his interest in hiring a more diverse staff when he first came on board, I'm thrilled to see that he was able to bring in someone who is seen as a real rising star in the business.
Enjoy the game!