ST. LOUIS, MO - The Oilers will inject a little more size into their lineup tonight as they open a four-game road trip against the St. Louis Blues, a squad that has enjoyed plenty of success in recent years by using their size to their advantage.
Fresh off a four-game homestand that saw them post wins against the Islanders and Blackhawks and losses to the Red Wings and Panthers, the Oil are on the road for four, starting tonight against the Blues. The lineup changes for Edmonton see Luke Gazdic in for Matt Fraser, as well as Rob Klinkhammer on a different line, as the team looks to bulk up to battle the heavy opponent.
Klinkhammer (+1 with an assist since trade from Pittsburgh) bumps up to play on a line with Anton Lander at centre and Teddy Purcell on the left side, while Gazdic draws back in on the right side with Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks.
“Against a team like St. Louis, we wanted some heavier bodies in the lineup,” Coach Todd Nelson said following Oilers morning skate at Scottrade Center. “Luke’s going in and we’re going to put Rob up with Anton and Teddy. (Rob’s) speed will hopefully create some opportunities for Teddy and Anton to create something.”
Tonight will be Gazdic’s 14th game of the season, his last action coming on Jan. 2 in Denver in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The 6’4”, 233-pound winger played 67 games as a rookie with the Oil last season (four points, 127 PIM) and continues to battle for more consistent action this year.
“It’s exciting,” Gazdic said. “It’s been a little bit up and down here trying to find a spot in the lineup, but I know I can play here on a regular basis. I’ve shown that over the last year and a half. It’s going to be exciting to get back out there. Big, heavy team in St. Louis, I’m looking forward to these types of games.”
“I’m confident in my game. I know that I can do more than just be a tough guy in this league. I know I can skate, I can get in on the forecheck, get my checks and get pucks out — all those little things that help guys play in the league for a number of years. I’m not looking past tonight. I just want to prove that I can be back in this lineup as a regular player."
Coach Nelson, who frequently coached against Gazdic as bench boss with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons while Luke was with the Texas Stars, provided some straight-forward advice for the burly winger.
“Play a simple game, play within your means and finish checks,” Nelson said. “He has to keep on improving his game, in the aspects of puck management, and everyone falls in that category. Just continue to work hard and get better every day."
SPEED & AGGRESSION
For the team’s top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, which doesn’t possess the same size as many of their Blues counterparts, success will come from using their strengths of speed and an aggressive forecheck and cycle.
“They come at you in waves,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who has 25 points this season and will represent the Oilers at the 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus. “Every line plays the same. They’re a big, fast hockey team, and we’ve got to expect that tonight, especially in their home building... We’ve got to be ready to match that tonight.”
“We’re still not a huge team, but we definitely have some size. It’s not like we just go out there and get pushed around, but we’re fast team and we have to use that speed to our advantage. When we’re playing good, we’re playing aggressive and using our speed.”
The Oilers will have their hands full tonight against a red-hot St. Louis squad that has won four straight games, scoring a whopping 25 goals during that span.
“They’re a very good rush team and they go and transition real quick, so we’re going to have to manage the puck well,” Nelson said. “We have to force them to play in their own end and also play stingy defensively. The biggest thing is puck management. If we are able to manage the puck well, we’ll have opportunities to go on offence and maybe create something.”
Between the pipes, it will be Ben Scrivens for the Oilers squaring off against Jake Allen for the Blues. Edmonton has earned points in five of Scrivens’ last six starts, and the 28-year-old has surrendered two or less goals during four of those half-dozen games.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (10-24-9) at BLUES (26-13-3)
TV: SNW, FS-MW
Season series: The St. Louis Blues defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in overtime in the first game between the two teams on Nov. 28. T.J. Oshie had a goal and two assists; Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored the game-winner, and Alex Pietrangelo each had a goal and an assist for St. Louis.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton is coming off a four-game homestand in which it went 2-2-0. The Florida Panthers defeated the Oilers 4-2 at Rexall Place on Sunday. "I don't think we played bad," forward Taylor Hall told reporters after the game. "Just some costly errors at bad times was our downfall." Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot scored for the Oilers on Sunday, and Pouliot's goal made it a 3-2 game but a turnover resulted in the Panthers' fourth goal and ultimately, Edmonton's 14th regulation loss on home ice, the most in the NHL. Edmonton, which is last in the Western Conference standings, begins a four-game trip Tuesday against the Blues. The Oilers have lost eight of nine games in St. Louis dating back to 2009-10.
Blues team scope: For the second time in as many weeks, the NHL's First Star of the Week came from the Blues roster, and after Oshie won the honor last week, captain David Backes was rewarded the honor Monday. Backes scored five goals (four in one game Jan. 6 against the Arizona Coyotes) and eight points in three games. "I'm the beneficiary of some great play all around me," said Backes, who last won the award in 2009. "I'm honored by the mentioning, but you're not out there alone. There's a lot of guys making great plays all around me." The Blues have won four straight, including a 5-4 shootout victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, a game in which the Blues overcame three deficits. The Blues have outscored their opponents 24-8 in the past four games. Goalie Jake Allen, who won in relief of starter Brian Elliott with 19 saves on 20 shots Saturday, will start Tuesday.