It’s Round 4 of the Edmonton Oilers versus the Calgary Flames on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada. Just hours before puck drop, there’s no shortage of interesting news and rumors items worth noting:
James Neal Out, Benson In?
With a foot injury, James Neal will sit his second game in a row on Saturday. Neal was removed from the lineup just minutes before the Oilers faced off with the St. Louis Blues. The Oilers have hinted the injury isn’t serious, being classified as day-to-day right now.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, Tyler Benson might get his first NHL game under his belt.
Benson spoke with the media on Saturday morning and when asked if he was going to get in the game on Saturday, he said he wasn’t sure, only that he was told “to be ready.”
Benson is tentatively being slotted in on the Oilers third line tonight, playing alongside Riley Sheahan and Patrick Russell. That means Josh Arichbald to get the bump up to the top line where he played extremely well in a limited showing.
Jujhari Khaira Needs to Have a Good Game
Could this be one of the last chances for Jujhar Khaira to really impress coach Dave Tippett and Oilers GM Ken Holland? He’s in the lineup, likely because he’s tough and can handle a rougher game if it turns into that. Still, he’s not contributed offensively and the Oilers are expecting him to.
If he doesn’t make a statement tonight, one has to wonder how quick the Oilers will be to put him back into the lineup or how active they are in trying to move him before the trade deadline on February 24.
Nugent-Hopkins Line on a Roll
Individually and collectively, the line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamomoto and Leon Draisaitl has been on a run. Nugent-Hopkins has 16 points in his last 10 games (6-10-16), Draisaitl is on a 10-game point streak and Yamamoto is clicking since being called up, giving the Oilers pause when it comes to feeling the need to add another top-six forward.
The player to watch of the group might be Nugent-Hopkins who has to be feeling a little extra ready after his scrap with Sean Monahan the last time these two teams met.
A Game Within a Game: Rittich Keeps the Battle Alive
While likely not premeditated, the stick flip by goaltender David Rittich is getting all sorts of attention and for all intents and purposes, keeping the Battle of Alberta hot and heavy. Most are calling Rittich’s celebration a matter of being caught up in the moment, while some are seeing it as a game within a game and that Oilers are well aware of the messaging.
At the end of the day, Edmonton is probably thinking, if you’re going to do that, you’d better back it up. Expect the Oilers to come out and try to get to Rittich early. A quick goal, getting in his crease or making his life tricky with an insane amount of shots may be the approach.
Zac Rinaldo Out of the Lineup
One of the Flames tough guys in Zac Rinaldo said he wanted to be the next man up to fight Zack Kassian after Kassian fought with Matthew Tkachuk. Rinaldo pointed at Kassian and told him “I’m next” but he won’t get the chance to square up with Kassian because he’s not in the lineup for the Flames.
McDavid Ready for a Breakout Game
If you asked Connor McDavid how he’s going to approach tonight’s game, specifically in respect to his thoughts on the Mark Giordano clip, he won’t likely give you much to work with as a member of the media. Instead, McDavid will try to do his talking on the ice. And, considering he’s got only one point in the past two games, he might speak loudly.
The Oilers are playing well because they’re getting contribution from a number of players. That doesn’t mean McDavid isn’t ready to dominate a game and what better game than the fourth meeting between these two teams and in a series the Oilers have yet to win one?
Smith Gets The Call Over Koskinen
That Mike Smith get the net on Saturday for the Oilers shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering the Oilers are playing the second game of a back-to-back. That said, Koskinen has sat a lot in the month of January and played quite well against the St. Louis Blues on Friday in a win for the Oilers. He could have gotten the start tonight and few would have questioned the decision.
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