EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers are set to compete against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night to keep the winning ways rolling after jumping out to a 7-1-0 record early in their '19-20 NHL campaign.
The club wasted no time stringing together another win streak in recent victories at Rogers Place over the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings after having their five-game roll to begin the season snapped at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks just under a week ago.
"I thought we played well against Detroit the other night," Head Coach Dave Tippett said pre-game. "Our work ethic, our commitment to doing the little things right was pretty strong and we got a win. That will be the same mindset for us tonight."
Now, they venture into Bell MTS Place as visitors to a Jets team that's lost three straight at home and sport a league-worst penalty kill of 56.3 percent (7-for-16) through their opening nine games.
"There are no easy games in this league. Everybody's got a motivation," Tippett said. "We have to make sure our motivation is in the right spot. We've had a pretty good start, but with a couple of road games now we have to make sure we come out and play well."
Much the same as Detroit was in Edmonton on Friday night in their 2-1 loss to the Oilers, the Jets will be a desperate team tonight as they look to snap their skid in front of their home crowd.
"They're always a tough team, especially in their own barn," forward James Neal said. "Then having lost, I think they're going to be desperate. For us, I think we need to continue building on our game and be disciplined because they have great players on the power play that can hurt you."
Defenceman Kris Russell is slated to dress for his 800th career NHL game tonight against the Jets, and goaltender Mike Smith will man the crease in his fifth start of the season as Tippett continues managing his netminders with the two-on, two-off strategy.
A mini two-game road trip for the Oilers will conclude Tuesday in Minnesota against the Wild.
THE 800 CLUB
If you asked Kris Russell if he ever imagined achieving the 800-game feat, he would've just shaken his head.
Up to this point, every next game for the Caroline, Alberta product has been a blessing.
"Probably not, no," Russell, when asked if he thought the milestone would be achievable from the onset of his career, said. "Every game you play in this league is an honour and I don't take it for granted. It's pretty awesome to get a milestone like that."
The story of Russell's NHL career is one of versatility and perseverance, evolving his game from an offensive defenceman in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers to more of a protect-first blueliner who's prepared to block shots and go to the dirty areas to help his team succeed.
From being a third-round draft pick by the St. Louis Blues in 2005, to being placed on waivers and traded to the Calgary Flames, to an 11-game stop in Dallas before four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, it's been one heck of a journey for the 32-year-old.
The defenceman is one of the longest-tenured Oilers remaining on the roster and is feeling a change in expectation in the locker room heading into his 800th career game in the League - 239 of those in Blue & Orange.
"We've been getting good results. We played well last game, so we need to continue that here in Winnipeg," he added. "It's a lot easier coming to the rink when you're winning, obviously, so we just want to continue to play well. I know when we've played within our structure and our game plan, we've been successful, so that's what we're geared to do."
In addition to the change in netminder tonight, forward Markus Granlund will slot into the fourth-line centre role after the Oilers assigned Gaëtan Haas to the Bakersfield Condors on Saturday and Sam Gagner arrived late into Winnipeg yesterday evening.
The decision to send the Swiss centre to the Oilers AHL affiliate in large part came down to getting him more accustomed to the North American game with a large slate of games approaching this upcoming week for the Condors.
"He's going to go for a couple of weeks and play five or six games," Tippett said. "They play a bunch of games in a short amount of time there. He continues to improve, but the North American style he needs to continue to get his game up and going with that. He'll get big minutes down there, play some special teams, and hopefully that will be another little part of the building of his game into a good North American player."
Lines for the Oilers tonight are expected as follows:
Nurse - Bear Klefbom - K. Russell Manning - Benning
OILERS (7-1-0) at JETS (4-5-0)
TV: 5:00 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet One
Sunday will be the first of three meetings between the Oilers and Jets during the 2019-20 NHL season that will culminate on March 11 at Rogers Place.
Edmonton's last win in Winnipeg came courtesy of a Darnell Nurse overtime winner that capped off a four-goal comeback in a 5-4 victory back on October 16. In their last meeting on December 31, the Jets prevailed with a 4-3 win.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers travel to Winnipeg with a 7-1-0 record after downing the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Ken Holland's first contest as opposition to his former club of 36 seasons back on Friday.
Forward Leon Drasiaitl extended his league-best point streak to begin the season to six goals and 10 assists in eight games, while Mikko Koskinen recorded his second-straight win in goal for the Oilers to improve to 4-0-0 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
The Oilers have outscored their opponents 30-20 through eight games this season thanks in large part to James Neal, whose nine-goal total has already surpassed last season's total for the Whitby, Ontario product of seven goals in 63 games.
Jets team scope:
The Jets have lost three-straight games at home following a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday to fall to 1-3-0 on home ice and 4-5-0 overall.
A big deterrent for Winnipeg has been a league-worst penalty kill of 56.3 percent that contrasts strongly against the Oilers successful power play that's ticking at a rate of 41.7 percent - good for the top spot in the NHL.
Patrik Laine is continuing to produce offensively in '19-20 with 12 points (3G, 9A) in nine games so far this season.
By the Numbers:
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are the first Oilers to have at least 15 points through their first 8 games of a season since Mark Messier in 1989-90 and have the highest percentage of total team goals (31.1) amongst two teammates since 2016-17...
The Oilers are averaging 27.0 shots per game... Edmonton has scored 12 of their 30 total goals in the third period this season... Despite Draisiatl and McDavid's success, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads all Oilers in career points against the Jets with five goals and 12 assists...
OILERS - Adam Larsson (fibula) is on IR; Joakim Nygard (ribs) is on IR; Joel Persson (concussion) is day-to-day.
JETS - Dustin Byfuglien (personal) is day-to-day; Bryan Little (concussion) is on IR; Nathan Beaulieu (upper body) is on IR; Mark Letestu (undisclosed) is on IR; Anthony Bitetto (lowe body) is day-to-day.