Rangers gear up for marquee matchup with … Oilers?
The best team in the Western Conference is coming to Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, and it's the … Edmonton Oilers?
That's not a misprint; through the 10 games, the Oilers are 7-2-1 and it's not outlandish to think that their game against the 7-3-0 New York Rangers is a potential Stanley Cup Final preview. Sure, each team has 72 games remaining and the calendar just flipped to November, but this is the marquee matchup on the NHL schedule.
The Oilers are coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday night, one that saw budding superstars Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews go head-to-head for the first time. McDavid who entered the game as the NHL leader and points, was held off the scoresheet.
He was also the object of Leafs coach Mike Babcock's passive criticism of his usage; Oilers coach Todd McLellan gave McDavid 22:46 of ice time, the second-most minutes he's played this season and an unusually high amount for even an elite forward like McDavid.
“No, no. If you keep your shifts short and all that, I feel like I'm in pretty good shape,” McDavid said to ESPN. “I feel like I can do that. It is what it is.”
McDavid played a season-high 23:27 in a season-opening 7-4 win in Calgary and had two goals and an assist. He has been held pointless over the past two games, so Thursday against the Rangers could reveal he's in a slump or show he was due for a breakout game.
This is also a homecoming for goaltender Cam Talbot, who was a backup goaltender for the Rangers for two seasons before joining the Oilers last season. He is among the league leaders in goals-against average (2.14) and save percentage (.932) and should get the start Thursday.
“I feel pretty confident,” Talbot said to the Edmonton Journal. “It's going to be a good test for us, two good teams, it's going to be a battle out there. I have to be ready to bring my 'A' game and give us a chance to win.”
“There's not much to say about it,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said to the Edmonton Journal. “We watch him every night and he's played tremendous. It's not even alarming for us — that's just how he plays night in and night out.”
Talbot may have to bring something more than an 'A' game against the Rangers, who lead the league with an average of four goals per game. In their past two matchups against the Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues — two perennially quality teams — they have scored 11 goals and allowed one.
The most encouraging part of that two-game stretch was Henrik Lundqvist making 35 saves in a shutout of the Blues. Lundqvist had a .901 save percentage in October but used one outstanding start to get to .917 and perhaps remind people he's still an elite goaltender.
He will need to be sharp again with McDavid and the Oilers — who are seventh in scoring with 3.10 goals per game — looking to show they are the real deal in a tough road matchup.
“Obviously you see (McDavid's) highlights every night,” Dan Girardi said to the Daily News. “He's making big plays every game. He's a big-time player. Obviously we're going to have to pay special attention to him. But their whole team is playing well right now, which is helping.”