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GENE'S BLOG: Thanks for the Tip-pett

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about the lineup shuffle the Oilers experienced Sunday versus Vancouver

by Gene Principe /

Dave Tippett walked out of his pre-game meeting with his team and divulged details on the club's lineup before Sunday's game against Vancouver.

Some coaches tell you something, others prefer to tell you nothing when it comes to who is in, who is out, what the lines will be or the choice of a starting goaltender. Tippett wasn't shy at all when it came to unveiling injuries and departures for personal reasons. It was a hat-trick of absences before the game even started: Zack Kassian (back), Mike Smith (leg) and Kris Russell (baby being born). 

Despite a juggled forward group, an under-manned defence unit and a rookie backup netminder, the Oilers gutted out a 3-2 win over the Canucks to split the weekend home-and-home.  

"We knew it was going to take a full team effort," explained Tippett, "and so we had to grind out a win. I like the way we dug in. Our guys competed hard. It was a good two points."

Already down some men, the Oilers proceeded to lose Matt Benning during the game. A shot off the stick of Josh Leivo struck him right in the helmet. Bad enough on its own but with Benning just back after missing five games from another blow to the head (Evander Kane high stick) this just compounded the problem.

They already were without Kris Russell, who flew to Vancouver with the team Saturday night had maybe a few hours of sleep before returning right back to Edmonton. His wife Casi was ready to deliver child number two. Off he went for daddy duties while the rest of the blueliners took care of defenceman duties. 

"That's a part of the game. You never know what's going to happen when it comes to injuries and other things," said Oscar Klefbom. "But I had full confidence in our D corps."

The one area not directly impacted was netminding because Mikko Koskinen started, finished and played as well as he has all season long. It made the loss of Mike Smith digestible at least for one game. It also meant one game, his first, in the NHL for Stuart Skinner. The Edmonton kid drafted by Edmonton's NHL team in 2017 with the 78th-overall selection. 

Video: OILERS TODAY | Post-Game at VAN 12.01.19

"I just got called into the office by (Condors Head Coach) Jay (Woodcroft). I didn't hear anything (regarding the Smith injury)," explained Skinner. 

"I had no idea. I was kind of curious why I got called in. Jay said it's the best part of the job when he tells players they are getting called up. I was in awe for a bit and so excited. I just shook everyone's hands (coaching staff)."

It wasn't planes, trains and automobiles but a plane and a few automobiles. After playing in Bakersfield on Saturday night, Oilers Assistant GM Keith Gretzky drove him two hours to L.A. on Sunday morning. After a two-hour flight, he landed in Vancouver, got to the hotel by cab and an hour later on the bus and to the rink he went. Skinner made it even if his sticks didn't for his first game in the National Hockey League.

"I just noticed how hard working and how tough it is," said Skinner about what he saw from his spot on the Oilers bench. "There are a lot of great hockey players. Pretty amazing to get a look at what it takes."

You may or may not know that Skinner is the youngest of nine kids, all of whom have names that start with an 'S'. When he got called up, he called his parents, Sam and Sue, and they proceeded to let his three brothers and five sisters know the baby of the family was getting a chance in the NHL.

They'll get a chance to congratulate him in person as Skinner flew with the team to Edmonton after Sunday night's game. An eventful time for a youngster and a team. We can hardly wait to see what Dave Tippett has to say Wednesday morning about his lineup for Ottawa.

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