BOSTON, MA - They’ve proven they can string consecutive wins together on home ice, and now the red-hot Oilers will look to continue their streak on the road as they open a four-game trip tonight in Boston.
Edmonton is riding the wave of its first perfect homestand of five or more games since 1987, and only the third in franchise history. The Oil opened their five-game streak with a 3-2 OT win vs. the Bruins on Dec. 1 and proceeded to rattled off victories over Dallas, Buffalo, San Jose and New York within the friendly confines of Rexall Place.
Boston’s rink has been the complete opposite of friendly for the Oilers, as they’ve gone winless there since the 1996-97 campaign and haven’t earned a point since 2001-02. They are, however, on a two-game winning streak vs. the Bruins.
The perfect homestand bumped the Oilers record at Rexall Place this season to 9-5-1, but they’re only 4-10-1 on the road, so they’ll look to get that mark closer to .500 on this trip.
“Our home record is pretty good, on the road not so much,” said centre Leon Draisaitl. “Now is a good time for us to show we can be as good on the road as we are at home.”
“The task gets a little harder,” added Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We’d like to continue winning, but more importantly we’d like to play the game properly and then look up at the end of the night at the score.”
After Anders Nilsson started seven straight games between the pipes, posting a 6-1-0 record, Cam Talbot will make his first start since Nov. 27 in Detroit. Coach McLellan said he wants to give the big Swede an extra day of rest after logging so many minutes over the last two-plus weeks.
“We have to do what we think is right for the team,” the coach said. “(Nilsson) had faced a lot of rubber and played a lot of games. With the travel day and day off, it gives him a chance to work with (Oilers goalie coach Dustin Schwartz) and get some practice time in, which he didn’t have a lot of during our homestand because he was playing so much. We want to keep him up and running.”
Talbot is 3-8-1 on the season with a 3.17 GAA and .889 save percentage, but his last start vs. Detroit was more of a solid one. The 26-year-old turned aside 28 of 32 shots in a 4-3 OT loss to the Red Wings. McLellan said he hopes tonight’s game can be a confidence-builder for the puck-stopper.
“Settle in, feel good about himself and make sure that he’s alert and sharp early,” McLellan said. “As the game goes on, I think he’ll feel even better. Just get his confidence up. I can’t tell you how much we believe in him. Obviously, he hasn’t played lately, but we've ran the hot goaltender. We have a tandem moving forward that we think is going to be real important to our future.”
Talbot, meanwhile, is anxious to get back in the crease and build some personal momentum.
“I’m just excited to get back out there,” he said. “I’ve had some time to work on my game and build off the good things I did in the last start I had. I’m excited to play against a good team and hopefully keep the streak going.”
HALL SECOND STAR
Thanks to a red-hot showing of six points in two games, including two game-winning goals, Oilers winger Taylor Hall was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on Monday. His 34 points on the season slots him fourth in League scoring, trailing only Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
While Hall is, of course, proud of the individual honour, he said the team success that has gone along with it carries significantly more value.
“From a team standpoint, five in a row is a great streak, and it’s put a lot of energy back into our fan base and into our team,” said Hall, who has been lighting it up alongside Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell. “With that comes individual success, and our line is playing really well.”
Nikita Nikitin will play his first NHL game since April 2 after starting the season with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors and earning a recall from the Oilers last Thursday. The big Russian blueliner scored a goal and eight assists in 14 games with the Condors to open the campaign.
“We would like to see how he performs,” McLellan said. “He’s been playing in the minors and has some games under his belt. He had an opportunity to practice yesterday. We think that, losing Klef with Klef running the power play, he gives us that option a little bit with his shot on the back end… And then after that, we want to see where he’s at as far as five-on-five play goes.”
Nikitin, who has 75 points in 248 career NHL games, makes his return to the lineup due to Oscar Klefbom not travelling with the team after leaving Friday’s game vs. NYR with an injury. President and GM Peter Chiarelli said following Sunday’s practice Klefbom’s ailment should be considered minor and he may even rejoin the Oilers on their road trip.
Also on the injury front, defenceman Andrew Ference was activated from IR on Monday but won’t be in the lineup vs. his former team. Meanwhile, forwards Benoit Pouliot and Rob Klinkhammer both took morning skate in Boston, but neither is ready to return tonight.
Tonight’s Oilers lineup, based on Coach McLellan’s comments at morning skate, will be:
Season series: Jordan Eberle's shootout goal lifted the Edmonton Oilers to a 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 2 at Rexall Place. Forwards Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks added goals for Edmonton and goalie Anders Nilsson made 38 saves. Defensemen Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara scored for Boston, and goalie Tuukka Rask made 34 saves.
Oilers team scope: President and general manager Peter Chiarelli returns to Boston, where he spent eight seasons as Bruins GM. "It's a great hockey town," Chiarelli told the Oilers website. "It's nice to come back." Edmonton opens a four-game road trip on a five-game winning streak and winners of six straight on home ice, but the Oilers are 4-10-1 away from Rexall Place. "I think it's a good test for us," coach Todd McLellan said. "We need to turn home wins into road wins and that will be the challenge on this trip." Goalie Cam Talbot, who hasn't played since Nov. 27, could start as soon as Monday. "You're not going to see Anders run the table," McLellan said. Chiarelli said defenseman Oscar Klefbom's broken finger isn't major and he could join the Oilers later in the road trip. Defenseman Andrew Ference, placed on injured reserve Dec. 5, skated Sunday and either he or Nikita Nikitin will replace Klefbom. Forward Taylor Hall has four goals and eight points in his past three games.
Bruins team scope: Boston plays eight of its next 10 at TD Garden winners of eight of its past 11 games (8-1-2), and Rask has played a big part in its surge. After owning an .890 save percentage after his first 13 games, Rask is 6-0-2 with a 1.48 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in his past eight. "He's been solid," coach Claude Julien told CSNNE.com Saturday after a 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers. "He's been good. He had a rough start to this season, but he's regained his game, and is feeling confident, and certainly given us a chance to win every time he's in net." The Bruins did not practice Sunday. Forward Ryan Spooner scored twice Saturday and is on a three-game point streak (two goals, two assists). Four of his seven goals have come on the power play, where the Bruins are first in the NHL at 30.8 percent.