LAS VEGAS, NV - Four games and 12 periods remain before the 2018-19 Oilers regular season comes to a close, as the club is in Sin City for a dance with the Vegas Golden Knights to kick off the first of two matches in two nights.
Edmonton's playoff pulse continues to beat but barely. A loss against the Golden Knights tonight or a point gained by the Colorado Avalanche - who face the St. Louis Blues Monday - could cause the team to flat line.
Not only is there pressure to perform in the do-or-die situation but adding to that is the fact that the Oilers were dealt a 5-1 defeat against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, causing the team to emphasize tonight's outing as a bounce-back game.
"We're not happy where we are right now," said defenceman Oscar Klefbom, who has five goals and 27 points in 57 games this year.
"We wanted to be at a different spot this time of the year but right now, we have to go out and play our best hockey. Hold each other accountable even if it's late in the season."
Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock wants to maintain a high pace every time the team skates for the remainder of the schedule and declared on Monday that he will be dressing the 18 players who deserve to be on the ice in the final four games.
"If you're not playing well, I don't care who you are, I don't care how long you've been in the League, I want us to finish on a strong note," Hitchcock, who's 25-25-8 with the Oil since becoming the head coach, said.
"We've worked too hard to get to where we're at. Play hard or don't play. If you play hard, you'll get to play the next game."
Hitchcock put his money where his mouth is at practice, revamping the Oilers fourth line. The unit will feature Josh Currie on the right side, Ty Rattie on the left and Brad Malone at centre.
"We want to see how these young guys handle it and see how they look," the coach said. "It's going to be a real test for all of us, but especially for those guys. If you want to play in this League, you're going to have to play in these games."
Vegas, who already know they will face off against the San Jose Sharks in Round 1 of the 2019 NHL Playoffs, handed Edmonton a 6-3 loss the last time the teams met on March 17.
That loss is still in the Oilers recent memory. Vegas plays with speed and administer a relentless forecheck, and Hitchcock specified what areas his club needs to improve in order to suppress the Golden Knights' high-flying hockey.
"I thought we played hard here but we didn't manage the clock well at all," said Hitchcock. "We weren't ready for the emotional level at the start. It was wound up beyond belief. We made errors at both the first and second periods that hurt us big time.
"To me, it's managing the clock and being ready for the start of the game. There are some adjustments we have to make to help us. We did a lot of really good things but we paid for our mistakes… we want to correct that."
Khaira, Brodziak, Rieder did not participate in line rushes.
Klefbom - Larsson Nurse - Russell Sekera - Benning
-- Paul Gazzola, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (34-35-9) at GOLDEN KNIGHTS (42-30-7)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet One
Tonight's game is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Oilers and Golden Knights. Edmonton has only captured one victory against Vegas in 2018-19, edging the squad 2-1 on Dec. 1, 2018.
The last time the two sides met, the Golden Knights doubled up on the Oilers by a score of 6-3.
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have two goals and two assists each in three games against Vegas this season.
Vegas forwards Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith all have five points each against Edmonton in '18-19.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers dropped a 5-1 decision to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, seeing their playoff hopes slip some more. The club has four games remaining and is eight points removed from the final Western Conference wild card.
McDavid leads the Oilers in points with 114 (40G, 74A) and Draisaitl is second with 101 (47G, 54A). Defenceman Darnell Nurse, meanwhile, leads all Orange & Blue rearguards with eight goals and 39 points.
Golden Knights team scope:
The Vegas Golden Knights are by no means experiencing a sophomore slump, nestling in the third Pacific Division playoff spot with a 42-30-7 record and 91 points.
Nine Vegas players hit double-digits in goals, while 11 skaters have 20 or more points. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is 35-19-5 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, to go along with eight shutouts.
By the Numbers:
McDavid sits second in the National Hockey League in points (114) and assists (74). ... McDavid has collected the most points out of any player in the League since the 2016-17 season with 322 (111G, 211A). ... Draisaitl is second in the League in goals with 47. ... Draisaitl has 17 points in his last 13 road games.
Vegas is 23-11-5 at home this year. ... They are 27-0-3 when leading after two periods. ... The Golden Knights have dominated the Pacific this year, going 17-6-3. ... The Oilers own the eighth-best power play with a 21.2 percent clip but have the 30th ranked road penalty kill at 73.6 percent.
OILERS -Jesse Puljujarvi (hip) is on IR.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS - Nate Schmidt (upper leg) is day-to-day; Paul Stastny (undisclosed) is day-to-day; Brandon Pirri (lower body) is day-to-day; Marc-Andre Fleury (lower body) is day-to-day; Erik Haula (undisclosed) is on IR; David Clarkson (back) is on IR.