NASHVILLE, TN - Tonight the Oilers will face arguably the best defensive unit in the NHL and will do so in hostile territory. The Nashville Predators had the best record at home in the West last season (28-9-4).
“It’s a tough building to play in,” said Rob Klinkhammer, who will play his first game of the season tonight. “It’s really hard and they play great here. They always do. It’s always a hard game coming in here. What you’ve got to do is play a smart road game. Nothing fancy, just take away their speed as best you can with some transition of our own and just keep our forecheck in there, try to keep them hemmed in as much as we can, try to generate some chances and some shots.”
For the Oilers, a win tonight would be some confirmation that all their hard work and progress throughout camp and in practice is paying off.
“We can have moral victories, we can talk about progress and improving in areas, but eventually the reward has to be there. The reward is winning a game,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We know we’re in for a tough haul. All our nights are tough right now. It doesn’t matter who you play, you’re in for a tough night, especially early in the year when veteran teams have been together for awhile with their coaching staffs. They’re ready to go, they’ve got a lot of things in place and we’re playing catch-up in that area a bit. It would be nice to get a reward. It would be nice to get it in this building against a very tough team and hopefully tonight is that night.”
Edmonton will roll out some different looking forward lines against the Predators, having tinkered with them following Thursday’s loss in St. Louis. Based on Friday’s practice, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Teddy Purcell are together. Benoit Pouliot and Lauri Korpikoski will be centred by Connor McDavid. Nail Yakupov was with Anton Lander and Anton Slepyshev. Klinkhammer is projected to draw into the lineup on the fourth line with Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks. It also looks as if Andrew Ference will play in place of Griffin Reinhart. Cam Talbot is expected to start in net.
The tweaks to the lineup will be a common thing until the Oilers like what they see.
“That’s going to happen frequently over the next little bit,” said McLellan. “We’re still trying to discover what will work and what won’t work. We played a solid game in St. Louis the other night and didn’t create a lot of offence. You have to give St. Louis credit for that, but in the same breath we wanted to change things and get a look with certain individuals playing with each other and see what we can get out of that. Tonight will be just as tough a test but we’ll see what we get out of new combinations.”
McLellan has his work cut out for him when it comes to finding the right match ups tonight.
“We would like to put our players in a position to succeed,” he said. “It’s tough on the road and it’s tough against this team. I think they’ve got a d-core that is as good as any in the National Hockey League. You can try to stay away from Weber and Josi and your run into their next pair then you stay away from them and you run into their next pair. Jones the other night was probably their best player. I thought he played extremely well and the way they have them written down and the way they roll them out he’s in their third pairing. Avoid one pair, get the next is what you face with this team. It isn’t always that way but it is tonight.”
Shea Weber’s shot from the point is a powerful weapon for Nashville. The Oilers need to find some way of limiting its impact, or when in doubt….
“Get in front of it,” said Mark Letestu.
Letestu is a part of the Oilers penalty kill unit, which knows all too well the dangers of letting Weber rip shots uncontested.
“You’re obviously going to kill the way we normally kill but if you’re going to give those shots up one of the jobs of the penalty kill is to go out there and sacrifice,” Letestu said. “You’ve got to get in front of one of those bullets. It’s part of the job. Hopefully, he doesn’t get too many off and the pressure is where it should be and he’s not afforded too many opportunities. If he happens to get one that’s when we put the body on the line.”
Stepping in front of Weber when he’s winding up can be a stressful thing, but it’s a necessary sacrifice if you want to prevent that scoring chance.
“You’re hoping you take it in the right spot,” said Letestu. “(Hendricks) was talking earlier and he’s missed 50% of the games he’s played against the guy because he’s taken a lot on the wrong spot. It’s part of it. There is a little bit of anxiety towards it but it’s an occupational hazard. They compensate us pretty well to get in front of these bullets. It’s something you’ve got to put in the back of your mind and do something for the team to help win the game.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (0-1-0) at PREDATORS (1-0-0)
TV: CITY, FS-TN
Season series: The Nashville Predators won each of the three games against the Edmonton Oilers last season, including two at Bridgestone Arena. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne stopped 84 of 87 shots for a .966 save percentage and a shutout; forward Filip Forsberg had two goals and an assist.
Oilers team scope: A day after losing 3-1 at the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton coach Todd McLellan changed lines at practice Friday. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Teddy Purcell made up the first line with Benoit Pouliot, Connor McDavid and Lauri Korpikoski on the second line. "I will tinker a fair amount until we find the right combinations," McLellan said in comments tweeted by the Oilers. Goalie Cam Talbot likely will start again. "It's definitely a measuring stick," defenseman Justin Schulz said of this three-game road trip. "It's a big test, the first game, then another test and another test."
Predators team scope: Nashville also changed its lines at practice following a 2-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. Calle Jarnkrok moved to the top line with Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg, and James Neal skated with Cody Hodgson and Viktor Arvidsson, who scored his first NHL goal. Rinne, who made 25 saves, is expected to play again for the Predators, who don't play back-to-back games until Oct. 31- Nov. 1. After two games at home, Nashville begins a three-game road trip Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils.