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Edmonton Oilers Game Day: The return of Ralph Kreuger

Buffalo Sabres forward Conor Sheary (43) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson (6) battle for position during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Buffalo N.Y.
Buffalo Sabres forward Conor Sheary (43) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson (6) battle for position during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Buffalo N.Y.

Buffalo Sabres vs Edmonton Oilers

6 pm. TV: SportsNet. Radio 630 CHED

Five Things to Watch For:

1. Ralph’s Return

Ex-Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger is running the Sabres bench and this is his first time back since he was let go for Dallas Eakins after the 48-game lockout season in 2012-2013. He coached current Oilers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner. Krueger spent five years as chairman of Southampton FC in the British Premiership, then came back to the NHL in Buffalo. He did a bang-up job with the young Oilers like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle here, first as assistant to Tom Renney.

2. Who’s leading scoring race now?

While Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were centring their own lines, you only saw them together on the power play but they’re back on the No. 1 line for the Sabres. So the battle rages on. Draisaitl had two points against LA and leads the NHL with 53 points, one more than McDavid, who set up an Alex Chiasson goalmouth score on the PP. McDavid can’t get past Draisaitl because he has points in 18 of his last 21 games.

3. Welcome back Nuge

The Oilers have been without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for six games are a 3-3 without their No. 2 centre, also a big part of their power play. Without him, they tried Sam Gagner in the second line C spot and had Draisaitl there for a stretch. Without Nugent-Hopkins (hand), it magnified how important he was in the grand scheme of things. When healthy, coach Dave Tippett can play Draisaitl with McDavid 5-on-5 along with the league’s best power play, and Nugent-Hopkins can do the heavy lifting on the second line.

4. Power play, what Power play?

The Sabres have the worst PP in the league since Nov. 1, clicking (well not exactly) at 6.3 per cent, scoring just four times on 51 tries. That’s hard to believe with centre Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinsert up front but apart from rookie winger Victor Olofsson, usually the fourth forward who who has seven PP goals, this is an achilles heel for Buffalo. If there’s a run of powerplays, clear advantage to the No. 1 ranked Oilers unit, which scores one out of every three times.

5. Leon vs Reinhart?

In the 2015 draft, the Sabres were picking second and the Oilers third. Buffalo took Sam Reinhart at No. 3 because of his high hockey IQ and play-making ability and the Oilers took Draisaitl at three before Calgary got Sam Bennett at No. 4. Reinhart was a centre in Kootenay and a driver of play for the WHL club but he’s playing RW these days with Jack Eichel. He’s a solid NHLer with 227 points in 361 games including a career-high 65 last season but Draisaitl has 365 points in 382 games.

Big Matchup

Connor McDavid vs Jack Eichel

Always linked as the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2015 draft with the Oilers winning the draft lottery and taking McDavid. Eichel, of course, is hardly a consolation prize. The Sabres captain had three assists in Saturday’s 6-5 loss in Vancouver and has a point in 12 straight games and was sixth in NHL scoring with 42 points and fifth in goals with 18. McDavid, who has 21 points in his last 11 games, is second in NHL scoring with 52 points, one back of buddy Draisaitl.

Special Teams

Oilers: PP 29-90, 32.2 per cent, 1st. PK 84-97, 86.6 per cent, second

Sabres: PP 17-94, 18.1 per cent, 19th. PK 66-89 74.2 per cent, 29th

Sick Bay

Oilers: Matt Benning

Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin, Vladimir Sobotka, Matt Hunwick, Tage Thompson

Game Day Lines

Oilers (projected)

Leon Draisaitl-Connor McDavid-Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-James Neal
Markus Granlund-Riley Sheahan-Josh Archibald
Joakim Nygard-Gaetan Haas-Alex Chiasson

Darnell Nurse-Ethan Bear
Oscar Klefbom-Joel Persson
Kris Russell-Adam Larsson

Mikko Koskinen
Mike Smith

Sabres (projected)

Victor Olofsson-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Jeff Skinner-Marcus Johansson-Rasmus Asplund
Jimmy Vesey-Casey Mittelstadt-Conor Sheary
Zemgus Girgensons-Johan Larsson-Kyle Okposo

Brandon Montour-Rasmus Ristolainen
Marco Scandella-Henri Jokiharju
Jake McCabe-Zach Bogosian

Carter Hutton
Linus Ullmark

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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