After a hot start, the Edmonton Oilers have been struggling of late amidst a five-game losing streak and just eight points in their past ten games. Health is at least one factor taking its toll on the club and with a big match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, not to mention five consecutive games against division opponents up coming, the Oilers need all hands on deck. They took a big step closer to that goal today, announcing that veteran defenseman Duncan Keith has been activated from the injured reserve, making his return to the lineup for the first time since he suffered a back injury on November 23.
Keith, 38, was brought in this off-season to provide a stabilizing force on the Edmonton blue line with his extensive experience and solid defensive play. Keith hasn’t been asked to do too much; the two-time Norris Trophy winner is just third in average time on ice and isn’t facing excessive defensive zone usage or the most difficult match-ups. Keith also has just five points on the year and is not being used on the power play at all. Yet, he is still a vital piece of the puzzle for the Oilers, who have lacked balance in recent years. Keith’s confident defensive play helps to keep Edmonton’s run-and-gun style from catching up with them and his locker room presence helps to keep the club focused on winning games rather than just creating massive scoring totals. Keith’s return could be exactly what the team needs to shake off their current rut, especially if he is fully healthy.
As a corresponding move to Keith’s activation, the Oilers have reassigned young blue liner Philip Broberg to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. Edmonton has also promoted forward Brendan Perlini from the minors. The 25-year-old reclamation project has been held scoreless through 13 games this season, but was once a 30-point player in his sophomore campaign and remains an intriguing option for the high-flying Oilers.
However, the most interesting move made today was not on the roster, but behind the bench. The team announced that head coach Dave Tippett would not coach on Tuesday night as a precaution. The Oilers did not disclose any other details, but with Ryan McLeod landing in the NHL COVID Protocol earlier today, it is safe to assume that Tippett is facing a close contact concern or inconclusive test that made it in the best interest of both he and the Edmonton players and staff to stay off the bench for the time being. With COVID running rampant through the league right now, the Oilers should be commended for being proactive in this case.