HomeSportsFinal few positional battles affected in Oilers' high-scoring loss to Canucks

Final few positional battles affected in Oilers’ high-scoring loss to Canucks

To borrow a line from country singer Brad Paisley, they looked like a bunch of guys who caught all the fish and drank all the beer the night before. 

After a day off spent fishing for sturgeon in beautiful British Columbia, the Edmonton Oilers took 10 penalties, were shorthanded eight times, surrendered three clean breakaways (at least), and somehow came within an eyelash of forcing overtime in a 5-4 loss to the Vancouver Canucks

In their penultimate preseason game, played in Abbotsford, B.C., goalie Stu Skinner stopped all the breakaways — two on Bo Horvat and one on Elias Pettersson. But Skinner couldn’t handle Pettersson on the power-play, where he scored twice on a pair of nifty snipes. 

“Not a lot of rhythm. A special teams game for a lot of it. We’ve got to be sharper,” said Zach Hyman, whose team has taken 40 minors in seven preseason games. “It’ll clean up. It’ll get a lot less sloppy when the regular season comes around.” 

The results are far less intriguing than the battles, with one final home game against Seattle on Friday left on Edmonton’s docket. There aren’t many positional battles here, but two were affected by Wednesday night’s performances. 

(The NHL produced neither an official game sheet or event summary from Wednesday’s game. So we’re winging it beyond points, penalties and shots on goal.)

Markus Niemelainen v. Philip Broberg 

Niemelainen is trying to steal the left-side third-pairing job that has been advertised as Broberg’s to lose at this camp. So far, the Finn has been better than the Swede, and on Wednesday he added two assists and a shot on goal to Broberg’s stat line of all zeroes — except for being minus-1. 

Look, it’s probably easier for Niemelainen to impress than Broberg, because the big Finn’s game is simpler, while we want to see Broberg take the puck and skate with it. But Niemelainen has brought his physical game to the table in every appearance this preseason, and he has defended better than Broberg, in our opinion. 

If he starts outscoring Broberg as well, this battle is over. 

His shortcomings usually arrive when Niemelainen has the puck on his stick, but he’s adapted well and makes the safe play. If he were to be paired with Tyson Barrie when the regular season starts, that would be a nice safety valve for a young D-man. 

That battle may come down to Friday’s game against Seattle. Neither require waivers to go down, but even though the bonus structure on his contract may have Broberg here on Opening Night, that doesn’t mean he’ll have won the job. 

Jesse Puljujarvi v. Dylan Holloway 

Yes, we know, one is a right winger, the other a lefty. 

But we’re betting there is only one spot in the Oilers’ Top 6 for these two players. With the third line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between Warren Foegele and Ryan McLeod seemingly set, your guess is as good a mine where the loser of this battle plays (or doesn’t play) on Opening Night. 

After watching Holloway notch a hat trick and four points in the previous game, we expected this to be Puljujarvi’s best effort of the preseason. It may have been, but that tells you how little he has accomplished this fall. 

Puljujarvi was tepid at best, with zeroes across the line Wednesday — no points, no shots — and continued his aversion to possessing the puck for longer than the split second it takes to move it along somewhere. In four preseason games, Puljujarvi has six shots on goal and an assist. 

One point while playing against various collections of AHL players. It is a disappointing preseason by any measure. 

Holloway went pointless as well Wednesday, but had a pair of shots on goal and was around far more chances than Puljujarvi. In his five preseason games, Holloway has four goals, six points and 17 shots on goal. 

With one game left in the preseason, it’s hard not to say this battle hasn’t been won by Holloway. 

Mattias Janmark v. Expectations 

You’re never going to notice Janmark much. That’s not who he is. 

Here in Edmonton, he’s going to be a guy you mention when he is killing penalties, and playing a staunch, veteran fourth-line role. And in those games where the big boys just don’t have it, perhaps he and Derek Ryan will chip in one of the 15-to-18 goals they’ll share this season. 

On Wednesday Janmark was trusty on the PK, made the smart, correct play/read more often than not, and simply plied that veteran trade that guys like him bring to the table. With Janmark on Line 4, you can keep younger players in the minors longer, and hang on to leads better. 

My guess is the fancy stats set will not like Janmark much, but the Oilers coaching staff will. 

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