PITTSBURGH, PA - When the Oilers take the ice tonight against the Penguins, a lot of eyes will be on the matchup of two superstars: Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. At the same time, this one will be very much decided by the teams more than the individuals.
"They're a team that plays well," said Oilers defenceman Kris Russell. "We need to play a full 60. They're the defending champs the last two years. We know we have a huge task at hand and our main focus is in this room and what we're going to bring. We have a game plan we need to execute tonight."
For the Oilers, their team could get a major boost as both forwards Drake Caggiula and Leon Draisaitl are expected to be cleared to play, as long as they get the go ahead from the team doctors.
"They look good, they feel good, there's one hurdle left for both of them to cross, and that's obviously talking to the doctors," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "If they clear them, they're going to play tonight."
For Edmonton, those two players coming in would give them a lot of options. Both have versatility to play in multiple spots in the lineup, and both contribute to special teams.
"Leon and Connor could go back together if we feel fit," said McLellan. "It's some depth down the centre-ice position, some veteran players that have played in the past and through key situations.
"I think about the power play. Even on the back end of last year, Drake was on the second power-play unit and was effective so that should help in that area. Both players penalty kill, or have penalty killed in the past so it probably affects special teams more than anything. But like I said yesterday, these players are not the saviours. They haven't played in two and a half weeks. They're going to need help around them and that means a good team game on my behalf."
DEFENDING THE PENS POWER PLAY
The Penguins power play is second in the League this season, firing at 32.4%. They've gone six consecutive games with a power-play goal, the longest streak of the Mike Sullivan era.
"We've got to be in lanes, we've got to be quick to close, we've got to be good on our forecheck," said Russell. "When they're breaking in we've got to make sure it's difficult. We can't give them easy ice. We have to be aware. There are a lot of guys who are dangerous on that unit so we've got to be prepared to block shots and when we have chance to clear, just get them deep."
So far this season, Edmonton's penalty kill ranks near the bottom of the League (72.4%). But on this road trip, they're six for seven shorthanded (85.7%).
PLAYING WITH SPEED
Usually when opposing players talk about facing the Oilers and McDavid they comment on the speed of the orange and blue. Edmonton will have their hands full with the Penguins own team speed tonight.
"We don't get to see them a whole lot, but I felt last year their team speed was one of the best in the League," said Russell. "They transition well and all four lines skate well and get the pucks going up ice. That's going to be our main focus, to stop that. We want to get time in their defensive end. With guys like Crosby and Malkin, you've got to be aware of them. They can make special plays. It takes five guys to check plays like that. It's a tough task, but we're looking forward to it. It's a bounce-back game for us and we're looking forward to it."
Caggiula added that one of the best ways to combat the speed of the Penguins is to come at them with their own speed and play in their zone.
"The biggest thing is their transition game," said Caggiula. "They like to turn pucks up quick and go on offence right away. We've got to make sure we're getting pucks in deep and not turning the puck over in crucial areas of the ice and limit their chances that way. They like to have odd-man rushes, so we've got to try and limit those as well. The biggest thing is playing our game, playing with our speed and make them defend against us."
QUICK HITS/LINEUP NOTES
Penguins goaltender Matthew Murray has been dominant at home, going 9-0-1 in his last 10 starts in Pittsburgh with a .947 save percentage and 1.63 goals-against average… Edmonton has gone 3-6-1 in their last 10 games against Pittsburgh… Oilers winger Zack Kassian is one point away from 100 career NHL points… The Oilers held an optional skate Tuesday morning. Both Caggiula and Draisaitl were full participants, with Draisaitl leading the stretch at the start of the skate.
-- Chris Wescott, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (2-5-0) at PENGUINS (5-3-1)
TV: 5:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet One
Tonight's game is the first of two meetings between the two teams this season. Their second and final game against each other will be next week on November 1 at Rogers Place.
Last season, Pittsburgh won both games: 3-2 in a shootout in Edmonton and 4-3 in Pittsburgh.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are looking to rebound from a 2-1 loss on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia in a game where Wayne Simmonds scored late in the third to break a 1-1 deadlock.
Edmonton has gotten off to a slow start this season, having won only two of its first seven games. The team is hoping that Drake Caggiula and Leon Draisaitl will both be ready to play in this one. Draisaitl has missed the last four games and Caggiula the last five.
Penguins team scope:
Pittsburgh has had an interesting start to the season, picking up at least a point in every game but three out of their first nine contests. But in those three regulation losses, the Pens allowed 10, 5 and 7 goals against respectively. Their most recent game came on Saturday in Tampa when they dropped a 7-1 decision to the Lightning. Pittsburgh has only had three home games this season (2-0-1).
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each have 10 points this season through nine games. Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust are second on the team with nine points. Defenceman Kris Letang has six points through nine games but is a -9.
By the Numbers:
Last time the Oilers defeated the Penguins in regulation was on January 10, 2006 when Shawn Horcoff netted a hat trick in a 3-1 win at the Igloo. Pittsburgh has picked up at least a point in each of the next 13 games (10-0-3).
In two games against the Oilers last season, Sidney Crosby had no points and was a -1. Crosby has two goals and 13 assists for 15 points in 12 career games against Edmonton.
Pittsburgh is the most penalized team in the NHL, averaging 16.2 penalty minutes per game. They also have the second-best power play in the League at 32.4%. The Oilers penalty kill is tied for 29th at 72.4% but on the road it's eighth in the NHL at 85.7%.