Oh wait...This isn't the playoffs yet. But it's going to be hard to tell the difference when the Edmonton Oilers (29-24-4) take on the Dallas Stars (28-21-7). Once again this will be the Oilers most important game of the season. Funny how this keeps happening. The Oilers have the 7th best road record in the league and are looking to extend that record after suffering a loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night. The Oilers played a hard fought game with a large physical edge. They seemed to go a little over board though, trying too hard for that extra hit causing costly turnovers. Both teams were in on the physical action especially in the second period where 56 PIM were handed out. Dallas has defintely turned their season around since the All-star break. The Stars were once in last place in the western conference and have since catapulted themselves into 7th place, 1 point ahead of the Oilers. The Stars have gone 9-3-0 in their last 12 games. Aside from a 6-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks the Stars have only allowed 7 goals in their last 5 games. The Stars and the Oilers are both going to look to jump into 5th place tonight with a win.
The Edmonton Oilers Theo Peckham has been a blessing in disguise. That disguise being the injury to Offensive Dman Denis Grebeshkov. I said this in my last post and I'm going to say it again Peckham is only getting better and the Oilers have needed that physical presence. He will not shy away from anyone and will stick up for any team mate no questions asked. He was involved in a fight against the Sharks Tuesday night against Claude Lemieux. Although to myself and anyone else who watched the fight you may disagree about calling it a fight. The phrases beat down, schooling, and you-know-what kicking come to mind as Peckham absolutely hammered Lemieux into the ice with 4 consecutive uppercuts. Robert Nilsson was once again held off the score sheet but it's only a matter of time as he once again was hard nosed and gritty in the corners and was a presence all night long. Another kid who's showing alot more confidence these days and looking more and more like the player of last year is 19 year old Sam Gagner. He reads the ice perfectly and his passes are beginning to look like Hemsky's when he broke into the league. He will be an exciting player to watch in the seasons to come. With the injuries to defencemen Denis Grebeshkov and Lubomir Visnovsky the pressure on Tom Gilbert was greatly increased. Gilbert however, has answered the call and is proving why he was signed to an expensive long term contract. Gilbert has 7 points in his last 4 games and is 5th in the league among defensemen for assists with 31. He has also looked very good defensively as well, as he is +4 in those same 4 games. Dwayne Roloson, despite allowing 4 goals, had another solid night turning away 27 of the Sharks 31 shots. One other player to mention is Jean-Francois Jacques who has finished a conditioning stint with Edmonton's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons. JFJ has missed the majority of the season due to a back injury suffered last season. In 8 games with the Falcons, the 6'4" 217-pound forward scored a goal and five assists. He is a tough, gritty forward who will be a welcome addition to the Oilers lineup tonight against the Stars. JFJ also has great speed which fits right in with the Oilers, who this year seem to be all about it.
The Dallas Stars are coming off a 3-2 shootout win against the Columbus Bluejackets monday night but the bigger story is the loss of one of their top centers in Brad Richards who is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. Add this to their already injured top guys, Sergei Zubov and Brenden Morrow, and this could spell disaster for the Stars. Tonight's game against the Oilers is their first without Richards and the rest of the team is defintely going to have to step it up tonight if they want those coveted two points. Loui Eriksson is having a career year with 27 goals and 16 assists far surpassing his production of last year where the young winger had 14 goals and 17 assists through 69 games. He has 5 points in his last 3 games (2-3-5). If he can keep up his strong play of late it should help lessen the blow of the Richards injury. Rookie forward James Neal is also having a great year for the stars scoring (18-11-29). Although his production has slowed in the last 5 games (2 assists) the Stars will be looking to this young rookie to pick up his game and make an impact tonight against the Edmonton Oilers. Goaltender Marty Turco's play has defintelyi picked up lately allowing 13 goals in 6 games. He is showing flashes of what made him a runner-up for the Vezina trophy winner in 2002-2003.(Won by New Jersey Devils Goalie Martin Brodeur).
This game is pivotal for both teams as they are seeded 7th and 8th and could move solely into 5th place (Dallas) or tied for 5th (Edmonton). This will be a hard fought game with a definite physical edge. Neither team will want this game to go into OT so look for both teams' dmen to jump up into the play when the opportunity arises. Once again this game will have a playoff feel and is the most important of the year for both these teams. The Oilers in 8th trying to climb their way up and put some distance between them and the oncoming Minnesota Wild and Los Angelos Kings. The Stars in 7th trying to prove they can win without their star center Richards, and wanting to continue their strong play as of late.
Oilers keys to the game:
Another strong performance from Roloson. Another hard-nosed physical hockey game from Peckham and the team's big bodies. Offensive production coming from the top line, who were held off the scoresheet in the last game to the Sharks.
Stars keys to the game:
Turco will need to be on top of his game as the Oilers are going to come out flying. Their young players will have to fill the offensive void left by Brad Richards' injury. The Stars defence will need to continue their strong play as of late and try to shut down the Oilers young forwards.
I'd like to thank my fiancee for spell-checking and proof-reading this as I am horrible at it.