Edmonton Oilers' injury list, fans' rage at officials both on the rise after high-intensity series vs. Habs

Article content

Thursday is a mandated off day for the Edmonton Oilers, meaning little in the way of official news from the club. While the team is slated to return to the ice on Friday, they have the weekend off from game action, then play their final 11 games of the regular season in a 20-day span. (Dangerously assuming no more postponements.)

Despite being their second lengthy break in less than a fortnight, the current four-day respite comes at a relatively good time. The Oilers are coming off an extremely intense two-game set with Montreal Canadiens which produced plenty of bumps and bruises, and more importantly a pair of injuries to two power forwards. Jujhar Khaira left Monday’s game early in the first period after absorbing a heavy hit from Montreal’s Alexander Romanov, then Zack Kassian departed Wednesday’s contest even earlier in the first period after his own hit of Montreal’s Shea Weber went wrong. One bodycheck each way (of over 150 official hits in the two games) that each left the Oilers short staffed for the rest of the night, and now potentially without the services of Khaira and Kassian for a while.

Advertisement

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Early word on Khaira was positive, even as it would seem prudent for the club to give him plenty of time to recover after leaving a game with spaghetti legs for the second time in five weeks. He was cleared of actual concussion protocol after the first injury, incurred when he absorbed a hard punch from Calgary’s Brett Ritchie, and returned to action just five days later after missing two full games and most of a third. But the sight of him being held upright by a teammate and a referee after the Romanov hit was not a pleasant one.

As for Kassian, he banged up his left leg on the Weber hit and put no weight on it as he glided back to the Oilers bench and was helped down the tunnel. Charleyhorse? Something more sinister? No word as yet; all Dave Tippett said post-game was that Kassian would be going for tests today.

The Oilers sure could have used Kassian on Wednesday night, and Khaira too for that matter, in a rough-and-tumble affair where the boundaries of the rulebook were not much in evidence. To say that it was an erratically-officiated game would be an understatement; zebras Eric Furlatt and Kendrick Nicholson had an atrocious performance that left pretty much all of Oil Country seething with rage. (Check out this poll by my Cult of Hockey colleague David Staples and the representative sampling of comments in the replies.)

Advertisement

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Oilers stars Connor McDavid and especially Leon Draisaitl were hacked, whacked, bruised and abused all night long, yet it was they who wound up making trips to the penalty box in the third period with the Oilers trailing 2-1 and the game hanging in the balance. McDavid was whistled for roughing Corey Perry, whose head-snapping embellishment was both obvious and infuriating. Then Draisaitl — who was knocked to the ice more often than in a typical month, notably by a series of Shea Weber crosschecks that all drew a blind eye — took an interference penalty for a heavy body check on a man playing the puck that left him shaking his head in disbelief. Montreal scored a game-changing goal on the powerplay that followed.

Tippett, a man who chooses his words carefully, singled out that call in his post-game remarks, then bit his tongue before saying what he really felt. Maybe prudent in the long run; on the other hand, after the series of hits, hooks and hacks his stars absorbed without a whistle, maybe that might have been a timely occasion for the coach to clear his throat.

This on a day that ESPN senior hockey writer Greg Wishynski had reported the NHL was going to start cracking down on crosschecking made it all the more difficult to process. (Wishynski issued a clarification on Thursday morning that the would-be crackdown was nothing of the sort, just an “education/refresher about current standards”, which is to say, business as usual.)

Advertisement

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

To their credit, the Oilers battled it out to the end, scoring twice with Mike Smith on the bench to cut a 4-1 Habs lead to 4-3 and make things tense right to the final buzzer. Indeed, of the 7 goals Edmonton scored in the two-game series, 6 of them came in the last 10 minutes of the third period. The home team’s determination down the stretch of a pair of mean-spirited games was a major positive, even as they came up short in the second of those.

The problem going forward is how does the team replace the injured forwards, which include Khaira, Kassian and Joakim Nygard, who finished Monday’s game but was unavailable to play on Wednesday. No word on the nature or severity of his injury. Not only do they not have a surfeit of power forwards, as the injury list grows there is precious little cap space left to activate replacements.

Veteran James Neal drew in on an emergency basis on Wednesday night, and gave it his best effort with 3 shot attempts (none on net) and 4 hits in 11 minutes of action. For now he and Nygard can be freely moved back to the taxi squad, possibly making room for recent call-up Ryan McLeod who will bring size and speed to the equation, but is shy on experience and brings little reputation for hard-nosed play.

Another option at another position who certainly brings the last two attributes is recently-acquired defenceman Dmitry Kulikov who joined the team on practice ice this week and will likely make his Oilers debut in Winnipeg, be it Monday or Wednesday next week. Although that possibility raises another question, who comes out of the line-up? If ice time is our guide, that is likely to be Caleb Jones, even as the youngster advanced his cause with a terrific stretch pass that sent McDavid in alone for the 1-1 tally.

Advertisement

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

One bright spot on the power forward front has been the continuing emergence of Jesse Puljujarvi, who currently has scored 4 of Edmonton’s last 11 goals, and has done so in a variety of ways. His plus size, leverage and mobility complements a strong work ethic and willingness to engage in the battle. J.P. has become a fixture on McDavid’s wing this season and is expanding nicely into the role. His power game becomes increasingly relevant as the NHL undertakes its annual late-season regression to “Hudson Bay Rules”.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

LEAVINS: Player grades from Oilers’ 4-3 loss to Habs

STAPLES: RNH back with Draisaitl and Yamamoto

McCURDY: How likely are Oilers youngsters to play down the stretch

LEAVINS: The Oilers recall Ryan McLeod

STAPLES: The keys to the Oilers beating the Habs

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Latest articles

Related articles