Preview: St. Louis Blues vs. Edmonton Oilers

Oilers captain Connor McDavid (97) wrestles off Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo (27). (Photo courtesy: Jeff Curry, AP Sports)

St. Louis, MO – The Edmonton Oilers (32-33-7) come to town to face the St. Louis Blues (37-27-8) at 7pm tonight at Enterprise Center. The Blues went 1-1-1 on their most recent road trip and will open their first of two final homestands, looking to rebound from a shootout loss to Buffalo on Sunday. Edmonton will wrap up a three-game road trip, coming in after a 6-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Despite a recent 4-game win streak, the playoff window is rapidly closing for Edmonton as they sit seven points out of a playoff spot.

The Blues are hanging onto a solvent 3rd spot in the Central Division by the skin of their teeth, only two points ahead of Dallas. The Oilers will meet the Blues for the third and final time this season; Edmonton took a shootout win and St. Louis struck back with a 4-1 win, both of those games in December. Blues’ star forward Vladimir Tarasenko is also expected to return to the lineup after missing five games with an upper-body injury.

AN OLD FRIEND

Coach Ken Hitchcock will be back in St. Louis again after coming out of retirement in late November to assume the head coaching role of the Oilers. “Hitch” was head coach of the Blues for almost six seasons, getting them to the Western Conference Final in 2016, and took the Jack Adams award for best head coach in his first season with St. Louis. Hitchcock won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999, and with his tenure in Edmonton, reached third all-time in wins as an NHL coach.

The train ride in Edmonton, however, has been rough: The Oilers are 23-23-6 since firing Todd McClellan and sit 12th place in the Western Conference. The Oilers are 21st in goals for, 24th in goals against, and 30th on the penalty kill. They also traded a lot of assets this season to try and rebuild a franchise around the biggest name in hockey, Connor McDavid. Ryan Spooner, Cam Talbot, and Drake Caggiula were among the biggest roster casualties this season. Despite McDavid and Leon Draisaitl having 90+ point seasons before hitting 24, the Oilers will have a lot of questions to answer in the offseason to turn the team around.

MIKKO KOIV- ER, KOSKINEN TURNING AROUND?

The Oilers have a potential silver lining in their goaltending situation: 30-year-old Mikko Koskinen signed as a free agent with Edmonton in the offseason after having just four NHL games under his belt. Since then, the Finnish goaltender is 22-17-4 through 46 games played with a .909 save percentage. He is now signed until 2022 with a $4.5 million AAV and will look to bring his team back to relevance between the pipes after Calm Talbot was traded.

DEPTH PERCEPTION

The Blues went five games without top goal-scorer Vladimir Tarasenko and top blue-liner Joel Edmundson. Ryan O’Reilly has hit a slump in his game with just two goals in his last twelve, while the defense has put up a league-high 43 goals from the blue line. That leaves the bottom 9 to get the job done on the scoresheet, and the last couple games have seen improvement.

Although David Perron was slotted in the top line in Tarasenko’s absence, he already has a goal and an assist in his two games back from injury. Pat Maroon has two goals in as many games and Oskar Sundqvist got his first in seven against Pittsburgh. Altogether, the Blues forwards whose names didn’t end in Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Schenn or Perron posted nine total points in their last two games. In the three games before that (Ottawa, Arizona and San Jose), they put up two. The Blues’ depth has been starting to contribute with more than just zone pressure or setups for their high-scoring D-men, and it’s exactly what the Blues will need to get into and anywhere in the postseason.

The Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues face off at Enterprise Center at 8pm ET tonight, with Vladimir Tarasenko expected to return to the lineup. Live coverage of tonight’s game is provided by:

STL: FSMW, KMOX 1120

EDM: SN1, CHED 630

PROJECTED LINEUPS:

ST. LOUIS

FORWARDS:

10 Schenn – 90 O’Reilly – 91 Tarasenko

57 Perron – 21 Bozak – 18 Thomas

20 Steen – 70 Sundqvist – 17 Schwartz

62 MacEachern – 49 Barbashev – 7 Maroon

DEFENSE:

27 Pietrangelo – 29 Dunn

55 Parayko – 19 Bouwmeester

41 Bortuzzo – 42 Del Zotto

IN GOAL:

50 Binnington

EDMONTON

FORWARDS:

44 Kassian – 97 McDavid – 29 Draisaitl

16 Khaira – 93 Nugent-Hopkins – 89 Gagner

39 Chiasson – 12 Cave – 22 Rieder

27 Lucic – 28 Brodziak – 43 Currie

DEFENSE:

6 Larsson – 77 Klefbom

4 Russell – 25 Nurse

83 Benning – 2 Sekera

IN GOAL:

19 Koskinen

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