Caleb Jones in the spotlight as Edmonton Oilers battle injury bug on the back end

Edmonton Oilers defencemen Caleb Jones (82) is chased by Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher (11) at Rogers Place on Jan 16, 2021. Photo by Perry Nelson /USA Today Sports

Article content

Game Day 21: Edmonton at Vancouver

Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland took a lot of heat earlier this season, and not without a degree of justification, for his unwillingness to keep a third goalie on the active roster. It bit the GM hard when Plan A for the organizational #3, Anton Forsberg, got claimed off the waiver wire on the eve of the season, immediately followed by Mike Smith getting hurt in the pregame warmup of the season opener. Trouble ensued. Mikko Koskinen was forced to carry a heavy workload as Smith recovered, while a string of stoppers from developing stoppers Stuart Skinner, Dylan Wells, and Olivier Roy, to waiver pickup Troy Grosenick to a pair of anonymous EBUGs (Emergency Backup Goalies) who were stashed in hotel rooms in Toronto and Winnipeg during the Oilers’ first road trip of the season.

But there was some method to Holland’s apparent madness. He had a number of young(-ish), cheap, waiver-vulnerable defencemen who he didn’t wish to expose. Gradually his 23-man active roster evolved to a point that it contained 3 extra d-men, none of whom were exposed on waivers at any point. Forwards were a different issue, as many were waived, none were chosen. At times the roster was reduced to exactly 12 forwards, with coach’s decision shuttling in and out of the line-up directly from and to the taxi squad.

Fast forward a few weeks and the worm has turned. Smith has returned to action and the two-goalie system is back. But now it’s the defence that is getting banged up.

Remember those three “extra” d-men? Ethan Bear took a puck in the noggin in Game 10 and hasn’t played since. William Lagesson jammed his wrist in Game 17 and remains sidelined. Then in Game 20 Slater Koekkoek got drilled with a heavy check on his first shift and exited with a broken collarbone, done for the rest of the regular season. And lest we forget, Oscar Klefbom, last year’s top minute muncher who led both special teams in ice time, is out for the entire season.

Bear and Lagesson are relatively close to returning, but until they are cleared the Oilers are down to the minimum six healthy defencemen. Among them, Caleb Jones, who last played back on Jan 31.


Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Jones’ primary sin, apparently, was a couple of mistakes on the penalty kill, each of which resulted in a goal against. Both times, he failed to fill the shooting lane. He was apparently forgiven for the first of those, in which Auston Matthews scored the game-winning goal for Toronto in Game 9, but when he made a similar error against Ottawa’s Drake Batherson just two games later the hammer came down. Hard.

Not that Jones is normally considered a main member of the penalty killing crew. In both games he was the #5 choice, ahead of Tyson Barrie for those occasions that another Edmonton d-man was in the box — which was the circumstance for both of those goals. In the 50 games Jones has played over the past two seasons, he has logged less than 6 minutes on the PK.

But once Evan Bouchard was inserted in Game 12, Dave Tippett found himself running short on penalty-killing defenders. Sure, he had mainstays Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson, and (usually) Kris Russell on the unit, but once Lagesson went down his choice for the fourth man in the rotation defaulted to Koekkoek. Now he’s out as well.

Leaving, potentially, just the six healthy d-men. They’re listed here in order of shorthanded ice time per game.

  • Adapted from

See the problem? With the current rash of injuries there’s no obvious fourth guy. That problem is compounded by the fact that Nurse (9), Larsson (6) and Russell (3) lead the d-corps in minor penalties taken, which of course makes them unavailable for the subsequent kill.


Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

It’s a dicey situation which the coach is juggling as best he can. He’s been leaning heavily on Nurse and Larsson as his top PK duo; each played a massive 6:47 in Saturday’s big win over Calgary. But he’ll have to cycle in at least one of the three men at the bottom of the list until one of Bear or Lagesson are ready to return — and both stayed out late after this morning’s game-day skate, usually a sign that they won’t be suiting up for the game itself.

Neither will winger James Neal, who did not make the trip for unspecified reasons which may or may not involve a lingering battle with the after-effects of COVID. In his place will either be LW Joakim Nygard or utility forward Devin Shore, either of whom will need to be activated from the taxi squad.

Mike Smith has been confirmed as tonight’s starting goaltender.

Tonight’s line-up

…remains a work in progress. We will update as it becomes available.


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Latest articles

Related articles