Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois will not play for the Winnipeg Jets against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round at Rogers Place on Wednesday.
Ehlers missed the final nine games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. Dubois sustained an undisclosed injury in the Jets’ regular-season finale Friday. The forwards took part in the Jets’ morning skate but each wore a non-contact jersey.
In their absence, forwards Andrew Copp and Kristian Vesalainen will play on the second line with center Paul Stastny, and Mathieu Perreault will move to the third line with Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton.
“Copp and Perreault and Stastny, the guys that I would move around the most, they do it without thinking,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “With a couple of really key guys out of your lineup, we’ve got other players that can come in and move around.”
Ehlers tied for third on the Jets with 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists) in 47 games. Dubois scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 41 games with the Jets after being acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 23.
The Oilers will have forward Zack Kassian in the lineup after he missed 11 games with a lower-body injury. Kassian scored five points (two goals, three assists) in 25 games.
Here are 3 keys for Game 1:
1. Oilers’ 1-2 punch
Oilers forward Connor McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the NHL with 105 points (33 goals, 72 assists) in 56 games, the third time he’s lead the League in scoring in his six NHL seasons.
His teammate, forward Leon Draisaitl, was second with 84 points (31 goals, 53 assists) in 56 games. The order was reversed last season, with Draisaitl leading the NHL with 110 points and McDavid second with 97.
Their impact isn’t just being felt offensively. Draisaitl led the Oilers with 56 takeaways, and McDavid was second with 36. Draisaitl also was a plus-32 in even-strength goal differential, after he was a plus-3 last season. McDavid, who was third in even-strength ice time (17:52) among NHL forwards, was plus-25 after he was a plus-2 last season.
“I do think his defensive game, he took it to another level this year as well,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of McDavid. “Obviously his points speak for themselves. I definitely think he took a big step up in that (defensive) direction.”
2. Edmonton power play
The Oilers led the NHL at 27.6 percent on the power play, and that proficiency could tilt the balance of the series.
Edmonton scored an NHL-high 48 power-play goals while averaging 4:50 of power-play time per game, tied with the Jets for 13th in the League.
McDavid led the NHL with 37 power-play points, and Draisaitl scored a League-leading 15 power-play goals.
The Jets’ were 13th in the NHL on the penalty kill at 80.5 percent; it was 70.4 percent in nine regular-season games against the Oilers.
“[We] certainly want to limit their opportunities on it,” Jets forward Blake Wheeler said. “You don’t want to give their best players free looks and ample touches to find their hands or find their confidence. The more we can play 5-on-5, hopefully that can give us a boost.”
The Jets’ power play also could be a potent weapon in the series. Winnipeg was seventh at 23.0 percent and was keyed by forward Kyle Connor‘s Jets-leading 10 power-play goals. The Oilers were ninth on the penalty kill at 82.5 percent.
3. Focus on goalies
The goalie matchup will be an intriguing one.
Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets, who won the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL last season, was 24-17-3 with a 2.58 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and four shutouts in an NHL-high 45 games. Those numbers are close to what he posted last season (2.57 GAA, .922 save percentage, six shutouts in 58 games).
This will be the fourth time in six NHL seasons that the 28-year-old will play in the postseason.
Mike Smith had a rebound season for the Oilers, going 21-6-2 with a 2.31 GAA, a .923 save percentage and three shutouts in 32 games (30 starts); last season he had a 2.95 GAA and a .902 save percentage in 39 games.
At 39 years old, Smith will play in the postseason for the fifth time in 15 NHL seasons. He’s also the second oldest goalie in the playoffs, after Craig Anderson of the Washington Capitals, who turns 40 on Friday.
Oilers projected lineup
Dominik Kahun — Connor McDavid — Jesse Puljujarvi
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Leon Draisaitl — Kailer Yamamoto
James Neal — Ryan McLeod — Zack Kassian
Josh Archibald — Jujhar Khaira — Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse — Tyson Barrie
Dmitry Kulikov — Adam Larsson
Slater Koekkoek — Ethan Bear
Scratched: Tyler Ennis, Kyle Turris, Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas, Patrick Russell, Evan Bouchard, William Lagesson, Caleb Jones
Injured: Kris Russell (lower body)
Jets projected lineup
Kyle Connor — Mark Scheifele — Blake Wheeler
Andrew Copp — Paul Stastny — Kristian Vesalainen
Mathieu Perreault — Adam Lowry — Mason Appleton
Jansen Harkins — Nate Thompson — Trevor Lewis
Josh Morrissey — Dylan DeMelo
Neal Pionk — Derek Forbort
Logan Stanley — Tucker Poolman
Scratched: Dominic Toninato, Ville Heinola, Sami Niku, Jordie Benn
Injured: Nathan Beaulieu (hand), Nikolaj Ehlers (upper body), Pierre-Luc Dubois (undisclosed)
With Dubois and Ehlers out, Copp and Vesalainen will play on the second line, with Stastny at center. … Koekkoek will play after returning to the lineup for the regular-season finale against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. He had been out 35 games because of a collarbone injury sustained Feb. 20.