Draisatl Oilers heritage lookahead tv sunday

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers hope to look back on the 2023 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic against the Calgary Flames at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, SN, TBS, MAX) as an early turning point to their season.

The Oilers (1-5-1) enter the outdoor game having lost four straight (0-3-1) following a 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers at Rogers Place on Thursday. It was Edmonton's second straight game without captain Connor McDavid, who sustained an upper-body injury in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 21. The following day, the Oilers said McDavid would be out 1-2 weeks, but he has not been ruled out of playing in the Heritage Classic.

“I can tell you as a coach you look at that as two points that are on the table," Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said following the loss Thursday, "and right now, we’re in search of two points. Not one point, not zero points -- two points.

“The way I always thought of that game (Heritage Classic) is that I would deal with it when we came to it. The first seven games of the season are done and our focus is on Game 8. It is outdoors, there is going to be a lot of excitement in the city, it’s something different.

“Our hope is that maybe that is something that jump-starts us, that gets us all on the same page here in working together to try and find those two points.”

The Oilers were considered a Stanley Cup contender entering the season, making few changes to the roster that finished 50-23-9 last season, good for second place in the Pacific Division, two points behind the eventual Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights. Edmonton was the highest-scoring team in the NHL led by McDavid, who won the Hart Trophy voted as League MVP, and center Leon Draisaitl. McDavid won the scoring race last season with 153 points (64 goals, 89 assists) -- each an NHL career high -- in 82 games and Draisaitl finished second with a League career-high 128 points (52 goals, 76 assists) in 80 games.

So far this season, Draisaitl has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in seven games and McDavid has eight points (two goals, six assists) in five games. The Oilers are seventh in the Pacific, 11 points behind the first-place Golden Knights, who eliminated Edmonton in six games in the Western Conference Second Round last season.

“We obviously know the outdoor game is a spectacle, but our focus is to win the hockey game,” Edmonton center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “That’s the only thing that matters to us and that’s what we’ll be thinking about [Friday] and Saturday.”

The Oilers and Flames each practice and will take part in a family skate on the outdoor rink at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday in preparation for the game Sunday. Calgary (2-5-1) also is struggling and has lost four straight, outscored 15-4, following a 3-0 home loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

“If you don’t use this as an opportunity, then I don’t know what we’re doing,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “This is a great opportunity here. We’re going to have a skate on Saturday and bring our families out and kind of just take a step back and enjoy it for what it is. It’s a great opportunity and we need to pounce on it.”

See Day 9 of the rink build in Commonwealth Stadium

The 2023 Heritage Classic celebrates the 20th anniversary of the first NHL regular-season outdoor game, also held at Commonwealth Stadium. The Oilers lost 4-3 to the Montreal Canadiens on an extremely cold November evening, with temperatures dipping down to minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sunday will mark Edmonton's third outdoor game; the core of the current roster played in the 2016 Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 3-0.

Calgary is playing in its third outdoor game as well. The Flames lost 2-1 in overtime to the Jets in the 2019 Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan. Calgary defeated Montreal 4-0 in the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

“I think we’re just focused on our group and if we play our best game and we play the way we know we can play, the rest takes care of itself,” Oilers forward Zach Hyman said. “There are 75 games left, but at the same time, we need to find our game. We know what our game is, we know our identity and we have to get back to that.”

With all the events surrounding the Heritage Classic on Sunday, the entire weekend was expected to be an enjoyable one for all involved. But right now, neither team is having much fun, each attempting to gain some traction in the early going.

“When you’re in a funk the way we are right now, it isn’t fun, it’s not fun,” Woodcroft said. “But that’s OK. I think the big thing is that you want to stick together and you’re finding answers and solving problems together.

"It’s going to be different to play outside and we’re also playing our biggest rivals. They're coming into our city to play and usually that brings the best out of us.”