News and notes from our Inside The Oilers Blog, including Leon Draisaitl becoming the first player in the NHL this season to eclipse the 100-point plateau with his two goals and an assist against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
The first of 16 games this month for the Oilers, and the first of three contests over the next four nights, goes from the Bridgestone Arena as the Oilers look to complete the season sweep of the Nashville Predators on Monday.
Wins are hard to come by in the NHL at this late point of the season as teams fight tooth and nail for points and playoff positioning with the number of remaining opportunities to do so dwindling.
The Oilers sit four points back of the Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division's top spot with two games in hand, while the Predators currently cling to the Western Conference's final Wild Card spot with 72 points.
"To start a road trip against a team that's fighting for their lives too, it's important from the drop of the puck to be ready to go," goaltender Mike Smith, who'll get the start and is 11-1-4 in his last 16 games, said pre-game. "Obviously we've been talking about the standings and everyone knows where everyone's at in the standings at this point, so every game is big."
Establishing their game early has, and will continue to be, an important factor for the Oilers as a club that's 26-6-2 this season after scoring the first goal.
"I think that anyone who gets out to a good start usually has good results throughout the game, but that's something we always try to do," forward Josh Archibald said. "Come out strong as a team, hold that, and be a full 60-minute team."
Reinforcements and returns from injury appear to be coming at the right time for the Oilers, with the club seemingly getting a player back into the lineup with every passing game.
Tonight in the Music City, after Zack Kassian (suspension) and Kris Russell (concussion) were the reinforcements on Saturday against Winnipeg, it's Kailer Yamamoto's turn.
The winger will slot back in on the Oilers second line with the NHL's First Star of the Month Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after missing the last three contests with an ankle injury.
"He's going to jump in," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "We gave him a couple of extra days, but he looked good out there today. So he'll jump back on that line with Leon and Nuge. Hopefully they can pick up right where they left off."
Yamamoto, along with his teammates, will hope his return will be like nothing's changed.
The Oilers have been successful to the tune of a 13-5-3 record with the 21-year-old in the lineup since his recall from the Bakersfield Condors on December 29, and Yamamoto's been put through the paces in practice by the coaching staff in the past few practices to confirm he's fit for a return.
"That's why I've been practicing with the team before I stepped on the ice for a game," Yamamoto said. "It felt good out there and it's going to be a good one."
The 'little water bug' has become battle-tested alongside the League's leading scorer in Draisaitl and the consistent on-ice influence of Nugent-Hopkins despite only 47 games of NHL experience.
In the 20 games Yamamoto suited up for the Oilers before his injury, the forward had recorded nine goals, 11 assists, and a +13 plus/minus rating as a revelation on the club's second line.
"He's one of those guys that just makes your roster work," Tippett said. The line's been really good, but he just gives us another element there.
"It's funny, he's come around and made other players around him better, so hopefully he can jump back in right where he left off. You get a guy like that back in your lineup again, and it gives us a boost."
Despite his limited experience, the boost felt from the return of Yamamoto has an immediate impact even for the most veteran players in the Oilers dressing room.
"I think he's been such a big piece to that line and obviously the depth of our entire forward group," Smith said. "So I think he brings energy to our group and it's contagious out there. Getting a guy back in our lineup like Yamo, who's been a big part of this team since he's got here, is going to be huge for us."
But Yamamoto knows that positive impact isn't something to rest on as he looks to build on his game and contribute to the Oilers playoff push down this busy stretch in March.
"I have to keep playing the same way," he said. "If I slack off, I'm not that team player anymore. I just have to keep doing the same things I was doing before and just keep pushing."
Archibald will be elevated to the top line with Tyler Ennis and Connor McDavid tonight against the Predators, with deadline acquisition Andreas Athanasiou set to be deployed on the third line with Zack Kassian and Riley Sheahan.
The right-winger has found a niche in the Oilers lineup as a versatile forward that can slide up and down the lineup while filling a special teams role on the penalty kill.
"It's nice when I can play with anybody," he said. "I try to play the same way being hard on pucks and being predictable for my linemates so they know what they're going to get out of me every night. It's nice to be thrown on the first line every once in a while and pitch in offensively, while being able to lock down defensively and do a good job on the penalty kill."
Back-to-back games tonight in Nashville and tomorrow in Dallas presents the opportunity for Tippett to split the goaltending duties down the middle.
"Smitty will play the first of the back-to-back," the bench boss said. "Koskinen will probably get the one tomorrow, so hopefully we keep Smitty the way he was going tonight."
Monday's meeting between the Oilers and Predators will be the third and final time the two teams meet in '19-20.
The Oilers will go for the season sweep of the Predators after winning both previous games at Rogers Place -- a 4-2 victory on January 14 and a 3-2 win on February 8.
Leon Draisaitl has led the way in the season series with four goals and an assist, while Connor McDavid has tallied four assists. Goaltender Mike Smith has earned both victories with 57 saves on 61 shots, including a 2.02 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
Oilers team scope:
Leon Draisaitl is the NHL's first century man this campaign after notching two goals and an assist in a 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday to reach 102 points (39G, 63A).
The German becomes the seventh player in Oilers history to record multiple 100-point seasons and the first since Mark Messier in '89-90 to reach 100 points in 65 games or less.
The game-winning goal and two helpers for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it 33 points (12G, 21A) in the last 24 games for the Burnaby, B.C. product, who also passed Jordan Eberle into ninth all-time for goals scored by an Oiler (166).
The two points put the Oilers into sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division with 76 points and a 34-23-8 record.
Predators team scope:
Juuse Saros made 28 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday that kept the Predators tied with the Winnipeg and Arizona for the second Wild Card spot after the Coyotes were victorious over Buffalo.
Defenceman Roman Josi leads the Predators offensively with 15 goals and 45 assists in 60 games, followed by forward Filip Forsberg with 18 goals and 25 assists 58 games.
The Predators have 10 players with 10+ goals this season, tied for the most in the NHL.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers are 20-3-2 when leading after the first period and 24-1-2 when leading after the second. ... The Oilers 87.8 percent road penalty kill percentage is the highest in the NHL this season and would be the highest since the Blues had an 87.8 PK% on the road in 2013-14. ...
The Oilers are 3-11-3 in their last 17 games vs. Predators, getting outscored 48-29, but are 3-0-1 in their last four games against Nashville. ... Connor McDavid has 25 points (9G, 16A) in his last 16 games and points in three straight road games against the Predators (3G, 2A).
OILERS - Joakim Nygard (hand) is on IR; James Neal (ankle) is on IR; Oscar Klefbom (shoulder) is on IR; Kailer Yamamoto (ankle) is day-to-day; Mike Green (sprained MCL) is out 3-4 weeks.