EDMONTON, AB - It'll be a team effort on the blueline in the absence of a big contributor.
The Oilers were handed some heavy injury news following their 2-1 shootout victory the night prior over the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Before the Oilers players took to the ice for Friday's morning practice, the club announced that defencemen Darnell Nurse andSlater Koekkoek were being placed on Injured Reserve with injuries sustained in Thursday's victory.
Head Coach Dave Tippett revealed post-practice that Nurse will miss two-to-three weeks with a broken finger he sustained blocking a shot late in Thursday's contest. Koekkoek left the match with a lower-body injury in the middle frame and is expected to be on the shelf for three-to-four weeks.
Additionally, Mike Smith was transferred to Long-Term Injured Reserve with a lower-body injury that's impacted the goaltender since leaving during the first period of a 6-5 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 19. The veteran is "at best" considered week-to-week in his recovery after he departed the club's previous five-game road trip early to return to Edmonton and be re-evaluated.
The loss of a leading left shot in Nurse is a big blow to the blueline, with the Hamilton, Ont. product eating up 31:21 of ice time for the Oilers on Thursday and averaging a team-high 26:06 TOI this season.
Video: PRACTICE | Injury Updates
There will be no straight swap; replacing the Doctor's shifts will be a collective effort.
"The cliché thing to say is not one guy is going to take the minutes. We're going to have to spread it around a little bit," Tippett said. "He takes a big chunk of the game for us, but we're going to have to have people step up and do a little more."
In addition to leading the team in ice time, Nurse is a leader in the physicality department, while being an all-situations contributor for the Oilers. The rearguard suffered his broken finger blocking a shot while killing a Connor McDavid double-minor late in the game, and has 11 assists in 16 games this season - five of which have come on the power play.
Those are big shoes to fill if you're a part of the Oilers defensive group, to which they're making a note of adding more physicality to their game in the absence of Nurse.
Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 11.19.21
"I think even before he got hurt we could do a better job being a little more physical," defenceman Tyson Barrie said. "Nursey is kind of the leader in that area for us, and we're going to miss a lot of the things he did. He's physical, he drives the play, he gets the puck moving the other way quick, and shuts things down. It's going to be really important for us as a d-core to just be extra mindful of being physical and trying to push the game a little bit."
Not lost in the injury news are the corresponding call-ups of Philip Broberg and William Lagesson for the Bakersfield Condors, with the former first-round pick in 2019 beginning to find his footing in North America with 10 assists in 13 AHL games.
The 20-year-old Swede has been serving in a workhorse role in Bakersfield after a good showing at Oilers Main Camp before the onset of the 2021-22 NHL season, and will be put to the test in Edmonton with plenty of minutes there to be occupied on the blueline.
"We're going to find out how his progress has been," Tippett said. "I've watched some games in the American League, and he's playing in all situations and playing big minutes down there.
"He's played better than he did in camp. I think in camp, he came over and he was okay still getting used to the timing, the size of the rink, and some stuff like that. But he's gone down there and played a tonne, which has been good for him. He'll come up and we'll see what he can do."
Video: RAW | Tyson Barrie 11.19.21
The potential return of Kris Russell to the lineup also adds more backup on the blueline.
"Russell is ready to come back from a small injury, so we've got people who just have to step up and take the extra minutes that are available," Tippett added.
How the defensive pairings will line up for Saturday's clash with the Chicago Blackhawks remains to be decided after only five defencemen took part in Friday's practice, but Tippett alluded to plenty of tinkering as situations unfold during the game.
"I think you'll see it more balanced all the way through, but a lot of it will depend on special teams stuff and how much special teams are in the game," he said. "You've got different players that play in certain situations, so for (Assistant Coach Jim Playfair), there'll be pairs that start the game, but there'll be some tinkering in the game as it pertains to situations."