CALGARY, AB - The Oilers took to the ice in Calgary for their pre-game skate this morning with some changes to their lineup. The forward trio of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle was back together again. The rest of the forward lines were as follows:
David Perron-Mark Arcobello-Teddy Purcell Nail Yakupov-Leon Draisaitl-Tyler Pitlick Matt Hendricks-Boyd Gordon-Steve Pinizzotto (Luke Gazdic)
Andrew Ference-Jeff Petry Brad Hunt-Justin Schultz Oscar Klefbom-Mark Fayne Keith Aulie-Nikita Nikitin
Viktor Fasth will start in net tonight against the Flames.
NIKITIN CLOSE TO RETURNING
Nikita Nikitin has not played for the Oilers since December 3, but that could change sooner than later. He will not play tonight in Calgary, but is close to returning from his back injury.
“We’re anxious to get him back in,” Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said. “It’s just a case where he could probably play the game tonight, but we don’t know how smart that would be on a number of fronts. He’s coming off a three-day break and coming off a pretty significant back injury. We’ll practice him a few days and he’ll get his start in the very near future if his back doesn’t blow up.”
The 28-year-old defenceman has played 22 games for the Oilers this season, scoring five points (2-3-5). He is -6 with 10 penalty minutes.
TIME AWAY HELPS
With the well-documented struggles of the Oilers this season in the win-loss columns, some time away for Christmas may just be what the doctor ordered.
“You could sense a little more energy in the room today too,” Oilers winger Matt Hendricks said. “I think guys are excited to get back. We’ve got a lot of character in this locker room and guys want to turn the ship around.”
Defenceman Brad Hunt said, “It’s nice to get recharged and just spend some time with your family. You don’t get to see them very much during the year so it’s good to spend some time with them and just step away from everything. Two days is perfect. By the time it’s over, you’re ready to come back and you’re excited to come back. You want to play games again and you’re excited to see the guys again too. It was good to get the break but I’m happy to be back.”
The Oilers coaching staff and management is hoping the time away helped reset a team that has lost eight straight games.
“I think it’s very important for the team to reset,” MacTavish said. “Firstly, maybe the most important thing is to get away from it for a few days, then come back with some resolution on how we’re going to effectively change the performance going forward. I think I’m satisfied by what I’ve seen so far. I think the players have come back refreshed and we’ll see tonight.”
HARD WORK BEATS HARD WORK
The 2014-15 Calgary Flames are known as a hardworking team that never quits. They’ve had their fair share of come from behind victories and late-game surges. The Oilers know they’ll have to play a similar game to come out of tonight with a win.
“Like (Interim Coach Todd Nelson) always says, you’ve got to fight fire with fire,” Hunt said. “We’ve just got to come out prepared to work hard and do the things we’ve been talking about.”
Hendricks sees Calgary as a “very, very good” team that’s earned every one of their 18 wins this season.
“We’ve watched them all season come back in third periods, take games in overtime and end up winning when they were down two or three going into the last period,” Hendricks said. “They’re a tough team, they play the game right, they’ve got a great defensive core and some great offensive forwards. We’re going to have our hands full tonight, but if we stick to the system, let the system take care of itself and play patient hockey then we’re going to be on the better side of things I think.”
QUICK NOTES: Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom has posted over 20 minutes of ice time in seven of his last eight games. The Oilers are riding a three-game winning streak at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau had a natural hat trick on Monday night in a comeback win over Los Angeles.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (7-21-7) at FLAMES (18-15-3)
Season series: Powered by a hat trick from forward Mason Raymond and a 38-save performance from goaltender Karri Ramo, the Calgary Flames beat the Edmonton oilers 5-2 at Rexall Place on Oct. 9. The Oilers will be back at Scotiabank Saddledome on New Year's Eve.
Oilers team scope: The Oilers return from the Christmas break with an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2). Interim coach Todd Nelson is still seeking his first win, going 0-2-2 since inheriting the role from Dallas Eakins on Dec. 15. “It’s disappointing and I understand the fans are frustrated,” Nelson said. “All I can say is that it’s a really good time for a break to get away from the game for a while.” Nelson’s most recent outing behind the bench saw the Oilers lose 5-1 to the Arizona Coyotes at home Tuesday. “We obviously took a step back. It wasn’t the game that we wanted,” Nelson said. “I thought that our execution was really poor.” The loss leaves Edmonton with one victory in its past 20 games. “You have to just be part of a machine to be a good team in this League,” captain Andrew Ference said. “Right now, there’s just a piece missing here, a piece missing there and it throws the whole thing off. We're just nowhere near where we have to be to compete in this League.”
Flames team scope: Calgary might not have wanted to break for four days around the holidays. The Flames snapped an eight-game winless streak on Dec. 22 in dramatic fashion, overcoming a three-goal deficit to beat the defending Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in overtime. The win featured rookie Johnny Gaudreau’s first career hat trick, which included two goals late in the third period with Calgary’s net empty before Mark Giordano scored the game-winner with 53 seconds remaining in overtime. “Johnny Hockey turned the show on. A couple of great goals by him,” Giordano said. “For all the bad things, luck-wise, that have happened to us lately, I think we deserved a break and we got one.” With the win and Calgary’s losing streak snapped, coach Bob Hartley said he only wants his players looking forward. “We’re going to learn from what happened,” Hartley said. “We didn’t want it but it’s there and now it’s behind us. There’s no sense dwelling on the losses. There’s nothing good from this. We learned about it and now we move on.”