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MORNING SKATE REPORT: Oilers at Sabres

The Oilers open 2020 against the Buffalo Sabres on the first of a five-game road trip

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

The Oilers begin the Year 2020 on the road against the Buffalo Sabres, in the first of a five-game road trip.

You can watch the game on Sportsnet West or listening on the Oilers Radio Network, including 630 CHED.

Read the Preview then check back following Thursday's avails for the Morning Skate Report.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Pre-Game at BUF 01.02.20

 

INSIDE THE OILERS

News and notes from the last few days around the Oilers locker room.

>> READ MORE IN THE INSIDE THE OILERS BLOG

PRE-GAME REPORT

BUFFALO, NY - Bring in the New Year.

After escaping a nail-biting affair against the New York Rangers on New Year's Eve, one that saw the Oilers jump out to a 6-0 lead by the second period but almost had it dismantled due to five consecutive goals from the Blueshirts, Edmonton enters Buffalo for a showdown with the Sabres.

Before Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett could divulge the matchup with Buffalo, he alluded to the roller-coaster that was the 7-5 win vs. the Rangers on Tuesday. 

The Oilers power play struck three times and the penalty kill didn't allow anything against shorthanded, which were positives, but the late onslaught by New York prompted reviewing.

"We addressed a lot of different things in that game," Tippett said. 

"We addressed some of the times when we played really well and our special teams were good. The third period had some things we could do a lot better."

KLEFBOM WATCH

Oilers fans gasped collectively when stalwart defenceman Oscar Klefbom blocked a shot and struggled to get back to the bench. 

But breathe easy, Oil Country, because Klefbom was walking around in sandals rather than a boot on Thursday.

"I blocked a shot and took it in a bad spot," Klefbom said Thursday following the morning skate. "I'm good to go tonight and feeling good about the game. I'm just happy to be on the ice tonight and hopefully, I can help the team."

The Swede managed to play 20:22 in the game but only hit the ice for four shifts in the third frame, which didn't help Edmonton's suppression against the Rangers' late offence. Nonetheless, Klefbom was surprised by how fast the injury has healed.

"It actually felt a lot better when I woke up a day after," he said. "You never know when you block a shot like that if there is a fracture or if anything is going on."

Klefbom skated alongside Ethan Bear at Thursday's session and commented on playing with the rookie blueliner.

"Ethan is a very easy guy to play with," he started. "Great skater, good reads. I think his development has been tremendous this year."

There are adjustments to be made with any new partner but the new pairing, so far, has been seamless.

"I've been playing with a lot of partners and that equals some changes in my game to adapt a little bit. But it's no problem at all to play with Ethan and I'm looking forward to it."

NEW-LOOK SECOND LINE

Coach Tippett mixed up his top six slightly on Thursday. 

While the first line of James Neal, Connor McDavid and Zack Kassian remained unchanged, the second line saw a minor tweak.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was positioned on the left side of Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto rather than Joakim Nygard, who was there on Tuesday.

"We're looking for rhythm in our lines," said Tippett. "And having a checking line available."

Yamamoto, summoned to the Oilers from Bakersfield on Sunday, cemented Edmonton's victory on Tuesday with an ever-important empty-net insurance marker. The diminutive winger liked his chemistry with Draisaitl and is excited for the opportunity to skate with Nugent-Hopkins. 

"I felt good with Draisaitl," Yamamoto started. "He's a generational talent and he's having a career year this year... Nuge on the line just adds that extra little spark. 

"It's going to be a lot of fun playing with them tonight."

The 21-year-old played just over 11 minutes in the contest but felt some confidence bestowed in him when he felt the shoulder tap from the bench boss in the dying moments. 

Yamamoto proceeded to intercept a cross-ice pass in the D-zone to shift momentum the other way and notch the empty netter.

"He (Coach Tippett) just tapped me and any time he taps, you got to be ready. I was ready," Yamamoto said.

"It was a huge honour having your coach be able to have that trust in you. Hopefully, I can build on that."

Yamamoto's empty netter was not only a big goal for the Oilers, but it also happened to be the last National Hockey League goal of the decade. 

That's the second consecutive time an Oiler has scored the final goal of the decade, as Shawn Horcoff did so to punctuate the 2000s.

"It's crazy. I didn't think I'd do that, being the last guy and getting to go down in the record books," Yamamoto said.

LINEUP NOTES

Mike Smith is expected to start in goal for the Oilers. Coach Tippett said Mikko Koskinen has been battling an illness

"Smitty will play tonight," said the coach. 

"Kosk has been under the weather here a little bit and he's battled through it. We want to get him a day of practice tomorrow and Smitty is anxious to get going in the second half."

Alex Chiasson will also draw back into the lineup. He lined up on the right side with Nygard and Gaetan Haas.

Lines at morning skate appeared to be:

Neal - McDavid - Kassian
Nugent-Hopkins - Draisaitl - Yamamoto
Khaira - Sheahan - Archibald
Nygard - Haas - Chiasson

Klefbom - Bear
Lagesson - Larsson
Nurse - K. Russell

Smith
Koskinen

-- Paul Gazzola, EdmontonOilers.com

PREVIEW

OILERS (21-17-4) vs. SABRES (17-17-7)

TV: 5:00 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet West

Head-to-Head:

Tonight's match is the second and final game of the '19-20 season between Edmonton and Buffalo.

Buffalo defenceman Colin Miller scored the overtime winner when the Sabres visited Rogers Place on Dec. 8, ending the affair with a 3-2 OT score.

Joakim Nygard collected a goal and assist in that game and Riley Sheahan tallied his first as an Oiler. Mike Smith stopped 19 of 22 pucks.

Oilers team scope:

The Oilers returned to the win column and snapped a two-game losing streak in a 7-5 win Tuesday against the New York Rangers.

Edmonton almost coughed up a six-goal lead in the contest, as the Blueshirts stormed for five consecutive before Sunday's Bakersfield recall Kailer Yamamoto iced the game with an empty netter.

The Orange & Blue aren't making any New Year's resolutions, per se, but the club is resolute in their goal for 2020.

"We want to have the same start to the new year as we did to the start of the season," James Neal, who had a hat trick against the Rangers, said.

"Take the two points, take the positives, and we'll go."

Sabres team scope:

After defeating the Los Angeles Kings 3-2, the Sabres have been on the losing end of four consecutive outcomes, falling to the Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins twice and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In their last game, Buffalo squandered a three-goal lead against Tampa Bay. Jack Eichel put Buffalo up 4-1 but the Lightning replied with five unanswered, beating the Sabres 6-4 and handing them their fourth straight L.

Captain Eichel leads the Sabres offensively with 25 goals, 28 assists and 53 points in 40 games.

In goal, Linus Ullmark is 11-11-3 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.

By the Numbers:

The Oilers remain first in the League on the power play, scoring on 39 of 129 attempts for a 30.2 percentage. ... Edmonton is also fifth on the penalty kill with an 83.3 rate. ... Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are one and two in League scoring with 64 and 62 points, respectively. ... Defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen has 14 points (2G, 12A) in 12 career outings against EDM. ... Eichel has 10 points (5G, 5A) in eight dates with the Oilers. ... Buffalo is 5-2-3 when facing the Pacific Division this year. ... EDM is 2-4-1 vs. the Atlantic Division.

Injury Report:

OILERS - Matt Benning (concussion) is on IR.

SABRES - Jeff Skinner (upper body) is on IR; Tage Thompson (upper body) is on IR; Vladimir Sobotka (knee) is on IR; Matt Hunwick (neck) is on IR.

-- Paul Gazzola, EdmontonOilers.com

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