Jets and Oilers meet in desperation bowl

- December 23rd, 2013

EDMONTON — The angst levels are high for both the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers as both teams play their final game before the Christmas break.

And in the spirit of the U.S. college football bowl season, this tilt might be dubbed the Desperation Bowl, with the Jets back to a game below .500 and the Oilers looking to snap a six-game losing streak.

Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins has created a bit of a media firestorm here in Edmonton after basically calling the fan who tossed a jersey on the ice after Saturday’s game a “quitter.”

Some folks have taken offence to Eakins’ comments but what they seem to be forgetting is that he applauded the other 99% of the fan base for sticking together and remaining in the battle.

The other thing some folks who haven’t played hockey at a relatively high level may not know is how sacred hockey people consider the jerseys that teams wear.

Inside the dressing room, game jerseys are never supposed to touch the floor and are to be treated with respect at all times, since it’s a privilege to wear one.

So that may provide a little insight into why the act bothered Eakins so much.

I’m not 100% sure that’s what set Eakins off this morning while answering the final question of his availability today, but his comments on Twitter prior to the game would suggest that was indeed the case.

“Clarity. Today my passion for our Jersey was clearly on display. Our Jersey is sacred and the passion for it will never calm,” Eakins wrote. “My comments were intended to show that we will continue to try and emulate our city’s hard working, blue collared approach. We will continue to fight to get better… No matter the circumstance.”

Many folks are wondering how the Oilers are going to respond, but the only thing they need to worry about responding to is the 6-0 defeat.

“It’s up to us in here, there’s no one else that can really do anything about it,” said Oilers forward Taylor Hall. “It’s a mentality that we have to change in this room.”

Before the jersey-gate storyline was created, Eakins challenged his players to be better.

“This is a game where we need our guys to stand up and be counted,” said Eakins.

As for the Jets, I’m curious to see how they react after playing a pretty strong game but falling 2-1 to the Vancouver Canucks.

The Jets did almost everything right except for scoring on Eddie Lack after he replaced Roberto Luongo with 3:30 left in the opening period with a suspected groin injury.

It was an optional skate for the Jets today, so I’m not 100% sure if Chris Thorburn will start with Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi or if Eric O’Dell will be up there.

O’Dell finished the game on the third line, so it’s possible he’ll be tried there in an effort to bring some offence to that unit.

Otherwise, Mark Stuart (who left Sunday’s game in the third period with a lower-body injury) declared himself ready to play after testing it out during the pre-game skate, so the defence corps should be the same.

Eric Tangradi stayed out for some additional skating, so it appears he remains firmly planted in Jets head coach Claude Noel’s doghouse.

Count me among those mildly surprised that Ondrej Pavelec is back in goal for the Jets tonight instead of backup Al Montoya.

Pavelec’s numbers when playing on consecutive days have been awful — 3-15 with a 4.11 goals against average and .870 save percentage if our math is correct — but there are a few things to remember in this situation:

1) Pavelec was strong in the 2-1 loss to the Canucks and it wasn’t an overly taxing game for him, as he made 23 saves in the contest.

2) Because of the 5 p.m. PT start and a short, one-hour flight from Vancouver to Edmonton after the game Sunday, the travel was pretty easy.

3) It’s the last game before the break and the Jets don’t play again until Friday (the 27th).

4) The Jets are facing an Oilers’ club that is in the midst of an awful slump, so you can understand why Noel wants to use his No. 1 guy when points are so tough to come by for this club.

Will the decision work out for Noel?

Who knows.

The Oilers are going back to Ilya Bryzgalov after he got shelled on Saturday night.

What was the rationale behind that decision?

“Get him right back in there, let’s go,” said Eakins. “(Bryzgalov) wasn’t happy with his play, but that loss was certainly not on him. It was 3-0 before anything went sideways for him. He’s a veteran guy, he’s not rattled by the last game. He wants to get back in the game and give us a chance to win.”

Other things to watch in this game:

Both Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba scored in the season opener here at Rexall Place as the Jets rallied to win 5-4, thanks to an inspired comeback in the third period.

Scheifele is carrying a six-game point streak (3G, 8P) into this game and he’s slowly creeping his way among the top rookie scorers in the NHL.

I asked Noel this morning how much Scheifele’s game has grown since the season opener?

“Oh goodness, that first game of the year here was way different,” said Noel. “He scored in that game here, coming down the wing on a power play, but he’s changed a lot. He’s matured. He’s more comfortable, his speed is more evident, he’s stronger on pucks, he’s making better decisions. He’s changed a whole lot, but that’s what happens with a young player. We’ll take it game-by-game and see where it goes with his game because sometimes (young players) hit bumps in the road as you go forward.”

Here’s how I expect both teams to start on Monday:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Michael Frolik
Chris Thorburn-Olli Jokinen-Devin Setoguchi
James Wright-Eric O’Dell-Anthony Peluso

Toby Enstrom-Zach Bogosian
Adam Pardy-Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

Oilers

Taylor Hall-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-David Perron
Jesse Joensuu-Sam Gagner-Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth-Boyd Gordon-Ales Hemsky
Luke Gazdic-Anton Lander-Nail Yakupov

Andrew Ference-Justin Schultz
Anton Belov-Jeff Petry
Nick Schultz-Corey Potter

Ilya Bryzgalov (Devan Dubnyk)

 

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