EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers will be without a trio of regular faces in the lineup on Sunday when they complete the second game of a back-to-back home and away set with the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.
Head Coach Dave Tippett revealed pre-game in his media avail that forward Zack Kassian and goaltender Mike Smith will be day-to-day with respective back and leg injuries sustained in Saturday's tilt, while defenceman Kris Russell has been whisked away back to Edmonton following the team flight to attend to the birth of his second child.
"He got on the plane last night and how it usually happens. As soon as we took off, his wife decided to have a baby," Tippett said. "So he took off this morning back there, so he'll be out. Mike Smith had an injury in the game last night and won't be able to play tonight, and Kassian won't be able to play. So we'll manufacture a lineup there."
Defenceman Matt Benning slots back into the lineup on a prospective pairing with Caleb Jones after being activated off IR on Friday following an errant stick to the face from Sharks forward Evander Kane in the first game of the Oilers' previous five-game road trip.
"I've been skating with the team for five or six days now, so I feel back tomorrow and excited to get back in there," the St. Albert, Alberta product said.
Netminder Stuart Skinner will be recalled from the Bakersfield Condors on an emergency basis to back up Mikko Koskinen, who's 9-2-2 for the Oilers in 15 starts this season.
More open spots in the lineup mean more chances for those remaining to receive elevated ice time and opportunity, to which Tippett says the list of applicants is long.
"We'll manufacture a lineup there tonight," he added. "There's guys that have been anxious for a little bit more time, a little bit more opportunity, so they'll get it tonight."
After spotting the Canucks five goals and three-straight after Kassian levelled the score 5:05 into the second period last night, the task of keeping the goals down with a reconstructed lineup will be paramount to splitting the points on the west coast.
"We'll tinker a little bit this afternoon. We'll see how things turn out, but as a group we need to defend better," Tippett said. "You can't give up five goals, four or five goals a night, and expect to win. So we're going to have to play a little tighter to the vest and defend a little better."
"We've been in good positions sometimes, but the job's just not getting done. Defend a little better and see if we can get ourselves a split this weekend."
Khaira alluded to the team showing confidence this season after defeat, and how despite a list of late injuries today the Oilers are well-equipped for a bounceback and a series split.
"Obviously we're missing key players tonight, but the confidence we've had this year and the success we've had, I think we all believe in ourselves no matter what the lineup's going to be," he said. "I think this is a winnable game for us."
It starts right from puck drop with a strong start after the Oilers conceded two goals in the opening 13:32 of last night's defeat.
"I think the last couple of games, we've been chasing the game from behind and it takes a toll on you," Khaira continued. "Right from the beginning, we're going to have to check better, give up less scoring chances, and play a smarter game."
The uncharted territory of a back-to-back set of home and away contests isn't an excuse with both teams adjusting to the uniqueness of the schedule querk.
"It's a bit of a weird back-to-back. Since I've been here, we've never had something like this, but both teams are in the same sort of boat," Benning said. "It's late-night travel last night after our game, and we haven't had many back-to-backs this season. Guys know how they are and know how to deal with it, so big points tonight and we have a better effort in us tonight and hopefully split."
Khaira, with experience at both wing and centre, will do what's asked with holes in both positions for the Oilers tonight.
"Zack's a big part of this team," Khaira said. "He's an energy guy and he's a guy that gets everybody going top to bottom, so there are guys that are going to need to step up with me being one of them. We're going to have to be physical and show our presence early."
Tippett elaborated on Kassian's absence: "He's been a really good player for us, especially at 5-on-5. He has a presence out there. Obviously that line has been good all year, so he'll be missed that's for sure. But like I said, it's an opportunity for somebody else to jump in there and get some minutes and hopefully contribute."
Tippett's 'five up, five back' system has a natural fluidity to the forward positions, meaning it won't be a major adjustment for the Surrey, B.C. product making his return to his hometown tonight.
"We usually play first-guy back slow anyways, so even if you're not trying, you're getting your reps down low. Whatever is needed tonight, I'll be willing to do."
Benning's return to the lineup couldn't be timed better.
"He's been solid," Tippett said. "He's been back and has a couple of practices under his belt, so it'll be good for him to get back in there. He's just a steady guy with a game tonight we're looking for, and a guy doing his job is what we're looking for."
Lines will be made apparent during warm-ups.
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (16-9-3) at CANUCKS (13-10-4)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game is the third of four meetings between the two teams this season.
The season series is split thus far, with the Oilers defeating the Canucks 3-2 in their '19-20 home opener.
Vancouver handed Edmonton a 5-2 loss on Saturday night at Rogers Place, in a game that saw Tanner Pearson tally two goals and two assists.
The season series will conclude on Dec. 23 at Rogers Arena.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are on a two-game losing streak after their most recent 5-2 loss to the Canucks. Before that, Edmonton ended their five-game road swing with a 4-1 L to the Colorado Avalanche.
Edmonton remains first in the Pacific Division just by a single point, with a 16-9-3 record and 35 points.
With a goal and assist in his last outing, Connor McDavid passed his teammate Leon Draisaitl for the League-lead in scoring with 49 points (19G, 30A).
Canucks team scope:
The Canucks finished a six-game road swing in Edmonton with their 5-2 victory over the Oil, and return to action Sunday for the rematch.
Elias Pettersson paces the Canucks in points with 11 goals and 31 points in 27 games this campaign but J.T. Miller is the team's goal leader with 12. Thatcher Demko, who could see the crease on Sunday, is 5-4-1 with a 2.91 GAA and .907 save percentage.
Vancouver is 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and has shown well at Rogers Arena this year, going 5-2-3 at home.
By the Numbers:
Despite going 0-for-3 against Vancouver just a night ago, the Oilers still sit second in the League on the power play with a 30.8 percentage. ... Edmonton is also second on the PK, killing 86.8 percent of their penalties. ... Canucks captain Bo Horvat has taken the most draws in the League this year with 608 and has the most faceoff wins in the NHL with 345. ... The Canucks are the fourth-best faceoff team, winning 52.2 percent of their draws.
OILERS - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (hand) is on IR;
CANUCKS - Jay Beagle (lower body) is on IR; Brandon Sutter (groin strain) is on IR; Micheal Ferland (concussion) is on IR; Tyler Motte (upper body) is on IR; Antoine Roussel (torn ACL) is on a conditioning stint.