LOS ANGELES, CA - Home ice wasn't kind to the Oilers over the past two weeks, as they were only able to earn three of a possible 12 points in six straight games in what are usually the friendly confines of Rexall Place.
The club is hoping a change of scenery can change their fortune, with six of their next seven games to be contested on the road. Their travels get going tonight as they take on the Pacific Division-leading LA Kings at Staples Center, a venue that has not hosted much success for Edmonton in recent years.
The Oil have only secured one victory in their last 10 visits to the City of Angels, but they believe there's no time like the present to switch up those fortunes and get back in the win column. They’re going to have to earn it, though, against a big, physical, experienced Kings club.
“There are a lot of really good things the LA Kings have done for years,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “They’re almost like a photocopier. The puck drops and the play the same way night in and night out. That allows them to be successful. We’re going to have to be strong in a lot of areas.”
The teams have squared off three times already this season, with LA undefeated thus far. Their first two matchups were tight, though, decided by a lone goal. The Kings won 5-2 in their last meeting on Dec. 29.
“They’re really skilled, really hard to play against,” said Leon Draisaitl, who scored a goal during the Oilers’ last visit to Staples Center on Nov. 14. “They’re a big, strong, physical team… It’s going to be a good challenge for us and we have to make sure we’re ready right off the bat.”
REBUILDING THE SPIRIT
Following Tuesday’s disappointing 4-1 home loss to the Ottawa Senators, Coach McLellan expressed concern about the team’s spirit. An up-tempo pre-flight skate in Leduc yesterday provided a level of reinvigoration, and an improved effort tonight against the Kings would no doubt further boost morale.
“We left that Ottawa game very disappointed,” the bench boss said. “But when the sun comes up, you’ve got to get going again. We won’t have any chance of coming out of this malaise if we don’t approach the game properly… We’re in against a very good hockey club, an experienced team, tonight on the road. They’re going to throw everything they have at us, so we’re going to have to have our A+ game to give ourselves a chance.”
Each player needs to have that mentality, McLellan continued.
“That means everybody has to have an A+ game, not 10 guys for three-quarters of the night,” he said. “It has to be all 20, and it has to be for 60 or 65 minutes of throwing everything we have at them and seeing if that’s enough.”
Oilers veteran Matt Hendricks said the most effective ways the team can rebuild its spirit are by staying committed to their game plan and supporting one another.
“Spirit is a word that can go away when teams are losing games, and we have been,” Hendricks said. “We’ve not been happy with our performances and we need to improve. We need to come out and play our game the way we know we can. I always say rely on the system, rely on teamwork, rely on each other, and that’s the best way to get out of something like this.”
While Coach McLellan was unable to provide specifics, he did say following morning skate the Oilers will make some changes to their lineup tonight. At yesterday’s pre-flight practice in Leduc, Zack Kassian skated on the right wing with Draisaitl and Taylor Hall, indicating that could be one of the alterations tonight.
Should that come to fruition, Draisaitl said he’s looking forward to the physical element Kassian could bring to their line.
“He bring a lot of physicality and finished his checks,” Draisaitl said. “He’s very strong on the puck, good at protecting pucks. That should help us for sure.”
Teddy Purcell has typically skated on Draisaitl’s right with Hall on the left, but Kassian has had some brief stints on that line. He also has some familiarity with Hall, as they played together on the 2010 Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires.
Jujhar Khaira was recalled from the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors yesterday, so the team will look to get him some action soon as well.
One lineup note is certain and not a change, though, as Cam Talbot gets the nod between the pipes for the fifth consecutive game.
Coach McLellan said there’s “a real good chance” Anders Nilsson will play the second half of the California back-to-back tomorrow night in Anaheim, his first action for the blue and orange since Feb. 7 versus the Islanders.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (22-33-6) at KINGS (35-20-4)
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET; SN360, FS-W, NHL.TV
Season series: The Los Angeles Kings are 3-0-0 against the Edmonton Oilers, most recently earning a 5-2 win at Rexall Place on Dec. 29. Tanner Pearson has two goals and two assists in the three games for Los Angeles; Taylor Hall has two goals and one assist for Edmonton.
Oilers team scope: One day after expressing displeasure with several players following a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators at Rexall Place, coach Todd McLellan conducted a spirited practice and was happy with the results. "I think we had a choice to make this morning; we could come to the rink and pout and be down on ourselves or we can come and work, and I think for the most part the guys made the right choice and I'm happy for that," McLellan told the Oilers website Wednesday. "I'd like to see that carry over into the game [Thursday] night." Edmonton recalled right wing Jujhar Khaira from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League. He has two assists in 12 games for the Oilers this season. Goalie Anders Nilsson could start; Cam Talbot has lost his past four games and allowed at least three goals in each.
Kings team scope: It's the second of a three-game homestand for Los Angeles, which opened with a 2-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. The Kings next face the challenge of containing Oilers rookie center Connor McDavid, who has a four-game point streak. "We've only played him once. He's a high-end player," coach Darryl Sutter told LA Kings Insider on Wednesday. "He's 18 years old playing in a men's league, and his production, if he'd played every game, his production is with the top handful of guys in the League." Forward Jordan Nolan, who is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, skated as a defenseman during practice; he is not expected to play. Goalie Jonathan Quick is likely to make his fifth straight start.