NASHVILLE, TN - The Oilers will have a different look on defence tonight as their road trip continues against the Nashville Predators, with Justin Schultz watching the game from above as a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career.
Head Coach Dallas Eakins said following the team's morning skate at Bridgestone Arena that he's looking for the young blueliner to "hit the reset button" and return to the lineup refreshed with a new perspective on the game.
"Justin has struggled a little bit as of late," said Eakins, who particularly critical of Schultz's line change on Tuesday night against the Stars, which led to the first of two goals from Tyler Seguin. "No one every takes it well when you tell a player he's not in the lineup. I could tell he was upset, but he understood, he gets the message, he knows what we're looking for from him and he'll be ready to go very soon."
The bench boss has stressed the importance of giving players a chance to work through their on-ice struggles this season, but said it was time for Schultz to sit out for a game. Martin Marincin will be the other scratch on the blueline tonight in Nashville.
"It'd been building for a few games," Eakins said. "We like to try to get guys through it, but sometimes it just doesn't happen. And it's not just on those two players either, this is what happens when a team is struggling. There's guys who are really going to take the bullet, but we're confident they'll be able to rebound."
Schultz is fully aware his game has not been where he and the team wants it to be lately and is taking the coaches' decision to have him out of the lineup as a prime learning opportunity.
"I think everything, not just one thing," he said when asked which areas of his game need some improvement. "I just need to be better out there when I get my next chance."
On the contrary, with Schultz and Marincin out of the lineup tonight, Oscar Klefbom will return to NHL action after the Oilers called him up from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons yesterday. Both Eakins and Klefbom said it's important for the young Swede to stick to a simple game.
"Just some heaviness and some hardness," Eakins said of expectations from #84. "Oscar competes very, very hard. We need him to keep his puck plays very simple, but he's able to close in our own zone, keep people away from our net and we just need a very simple game from Oscar."
"It's fun to be back, feels good and I'm looking forward to playing tonight," said Klefbom, who has eight points and a +10 rating in nine games with OKC this season. "I'm going to play with a lot of energy, be strong in front of the net, play an easy game and play the normal game I play down there (in OKC). I just have to stay focused and be ready to play."
Klefbom will be paired with Jeff Petry, while Keith Aulie will skate with captain Andrew Ference and Nikitin Nikitin will play with Mark Fayne. Up front, the Oilers will stick with Hall-RNH-Eberle on their top unit, but the second trio will feature Yakupov-Arcobello-Purcell, with Perron-Draisaitl-Joensuu and Hendricks-Gordon-Pinizzotto rounding out the forward group.
Coach Eakins said he has been trying to get Yakupov more playing time, and this line assignment will hopefully achieve that, getting the young Russian further integrated into the attack.
"I had a conversation with Yak yesterday, and we're trying to find him more minutes," Eakins said. "His minutes mostly just come from five-on-five, so we thought, with the structure of our lineup, moving to left wing on that line might help him. He's upbeat, digging his heels in and doing everything he can to create some offence for us."
Tuesday's slim 3-2 loss to the Stars extended Edmonton's losing streak to seven games, so the team is looking to stay positive and post a much-needed victory tonight against a Predators squad that ranks first in the Central Division with a 14-4-5 record.
"When there's adversity, you've got to stick to your guns," Eakins said. "We're going to continue to work with guys, continue to try to get them to play through struggles, try to keep guys that are playing well to play well for longer stretches of time. We have to flick the switch, just worry about today and just let all the other days go. If you're going to wallow in the losses, you're never going to come out of it."
"It's definitely frustrating… no one likes losing," Perron added. "We're looking for answers, for sure. Personally, I want to bring more energy to the game as much as I can, and it's the same for everyone… It's tough mentally, but we have to get up for it every day. Nobody feels sorry for us."
Between the pipes, Viktor Fasth will make his second consecutive start after posting 31-save performance on Tuesday against Dallas. With the Oilers playing the second half of a back-to-back tomorrow in St. Louis, it's likely Ben Scrivens will be tasked with stopping pucks versus the Blues.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (6-14-2) at PREDATORS (14-5-2)
TV: SN360, FS-TN
Season series: The Nashville Predators have a chance to complete a sweep of the season series against the Edmonton Oilers with a win. Craig Smith scored twice in their 4-1 win in Edmonton on Oct. 29. Filip Forsberg had the game-winning goal and an assist in a 3-2 win in Nashville on Nov. 11. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has stopped 47 of 50 shots against the Oilers in the two games. Right wing Craig Smith has two goals and one assist and center Mike Ribeiro has one goal and two assists in the two games to lead Nashville. For Edmonton, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and right wing Jordan Eberle each have two assists.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton has lost seven straight games (0-6-1), has not defeated a Western Conference opponent this season in 12 games (0-11-1) and is tied for the fewest points in the NHL with 14. Forward Taylor Hall managed to return to the previous game against the Dallas Stars after a hit by Ryan Garbutt that will result in a hearing with the Department of Player Safety for Garbutt on Thursday. Hall's status has yet to be updated for Thursday. Defenseman Justin Schultz was benched on Tuesday and was limited to 15:13 in time on ice.
Predators team scope: Rinne won his second shootout in two games, 4-3, against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. The NHL's co-leader in victories has won eight of the past nine games he has started. With two assists against Los Angeles on Tuesday, forward Colin Wilson has two goals and three assists in his past four games. He has been skating at left wing on a line with center Calle Jarnkrok and Smith. Smith has two goals and five points in his past five games and Jarnkrok has one goal and four points in his past five games. This is the third game of a four-game homestand for Nashville, which has won the first two. The Predators are 5-1-1 against the Pacific Division this season and 8-1-1 at home. Last season Nashville lost at home against the Oilers 3-0 on Thanksgiving Day but the Predators are 3-1-0 in franchise history on the holiday.