This is the first meeting between the Anaheim Ducks and the Edmonton Oilers this year. While previously, it was easy to hate the team for really no fault of their own – Justin Schultz’s decision to join their ranks instead of the team who drafted him – I find the wake-up call of divisional alignment makes me pity them far more. They are a young team who has begun playing better of late, but being in the Pacific Conference means they were probably done after the first 10 or 15 games.
The Oilers have been understanding their new head coach’s system better, as they have been a much tougher team to play against in recent weeks. This isn’t a game the Ducks should take lightly. With the Oil coming off a thrashing against the Vancouver Canucks, and the Patos having sat since playing the Minnesota Wild last Wednesday, it may take some time before our guys get their feet working – but Edmonton is on the road, so strong play for a full 60 minutes should wear them down.
Keys to the Game: David Perron is the Edmonton Oilers’ best player at the moment. A questionable trade in the offseason, he’s been one of their better players up front all season. The organization had hoped to bring in someone with a stronger game off the puck than their many number one picks have shown a willingness to play, and he has proven himself. His team-leading 14 goals don’t hurt either.
The biggest weakness for Edmonton is their lack of defense. While the Ducks have seen surprisingly good play from youngsters Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm, the aforementioned Schultz hasn't been quite the difference-maker the team had hoped. Adding Andrew Ference gave the club a bit of a veteran presence on the blue, but they still need a much more solid top pairing guy to help them out in the stacked Pacific.
As such, the Ducks need to test the Oilers defense early and often to establish the pace of the game. Instead of trading chances with the talent Edmonton has up front, dictating play with offensive zone time and neutral zone dominance is important. An open game, even with all the speed on the wing the Patos possess, would likely benefit the Oilers. Let’s hope the guys work over the weaker defense instead.
What Can We Learn From this Game: Although Edmonton is pretty much done for the year, they are already playing for the future in a more desperate way than anyone on Anaheim’s roster is. I don’t see this game as the same "trap" game that I feared against the Islanders, because any divisional opponent has to be taken more seriously as is – the points earned matter more. Furthermore, the team has had a few more days to practice and hasn’t been running around everywhere due to travel. That being said, practice isn’t game-speed, so the Oilers could come out flying. Their desperation could be tough to handle. I want to see how the Ducks respond to it.
Fearless Prediction: Dustin Penner is going to have a calm, rational discussion with Schultz about the follies of choosing Edmonton over Anaheim, accompanied with a gloved punch to the helmet.
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