EDMONTON â€” The Edmonton Oilers beefed up their top line Tuesday as they prepared for a second round NHL series against the Anaheim Ducks, a series that centre Connor McDavid says will feature more hits, bodychecks, bruises, and ice packs.
“San Jose was a team, they didn’t want to engage us physically (in the first round) and they didn’t want to get some of our big guys emotional and get that going,” McDavid said after practice just before the Oilers flew out to southern California.
“I feel like Anaheim isn’t going to shy away from that kind of game.”
To that end, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan has reunited McDavid and winger Leon Draisaitl with forward Patrick Maroon in the last two days of practice.
That trio drove the Oiler offence in the regular season.
All three had more than 20 goals. McDavid won the NHL scoring race with 30 goals and 100 points, and Draisaitl was eighth (28 goals and 77 points).
Maroon was dropped down the lineup as the Sharks series progressed in favour of the smaller, speedier Drake Caggiula.
But in practice the six-foot-three, 227-pound left winger was back on the top line.
The line is expected to get a heavy diet of Duck centre Ryan Kesler and wingers Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg when the series opens Wednesday night at the Honda Center.
Kesler, a finalist for the Selke award this year for top defensive forward, is considered the league’s prototypical uber-pest, all sandpaper and Stickum, jamming an opponent, limited his space, and trash talking in his ear.
McDavid was brief when asked to assess Kesler.
“He’s been up for the Selke for how many years in a row. That obviously speaks for itself. He obviously understands his defensive role,” said McDavid.
McLellan, asked for his assessment, was more concise and even more vague: “He’s an experienced checker. He’s got a lot of skills he uses in games.”
Draisaitl is expected to continue to build on his strong play in the last two games of the Sharks series and on the six goals he scored in five regular season games against the Ducks, a veteran team headlined by veterans Chris Getzlaf, Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Corey Perry.
Maroon said while Draisaitl and McDavid face a tough match-up, they continue to create more time and space for themselves on the ice.
“They’ve been finding ways (to break through) in the regular season and they’ll find ways to do it in the playoffs, too,” said Maroon.
The Oilers won three of five games against Anaheim in the regular season but finished two points back of the Ducks in the standings.
The Ducks aren’t strangers to the physical game or the penalty box. Only the Calgary Flames averaged more time in the penalty box per game in the regular season than the Ducks’ 11.4 minutes.
While McDavid duels with Kesler, it’s expected the second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and Milan Lucic will line up against Getzlaf.
Getzlaf was 13th in league scoring (15 goals and 73 points), and added three goals and two assists in the Flames series.
The line of Getzlaf, Patrick Eaves, and Rickard Rakell shredded the Flames for 13 points in that series, but on Monday, Getzlaf and Eaves were skating with 21-year-old Nick Ritchie on the other wing in practice.
Notes: Oiler defenceman Oscar Klefbom, hit with the flu bug that forced him to miss the third period of the deciding game against San Jose, was back skating in practice Tuesday and is good to go for Game 1. Klefbom said he felt ill in the third period, but didn’t want to tip the Sharks by leaving for the dressing room. Instead he just sat on the bench. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t go out just to play (the) hero and make a mistake,” he said.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press