DALLAS, TX - The name of the game is balance tonight as the Oilers open their road trip against the Dallas Stars.
For the first time this season, Head Coach Dave Tippett is expected to deploy forward lines that have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each in the middle of their own respective trios.
McDavid skated with Joakim Nygard and Zack Kassian during morning skate at American Airlines Center, while Draisaitl did line rushes with James Neal and Sam Gagner, and Nugent-Hopkins was between Jujhar Khaira and Alex Chiasson.
"We're looking for balance," Tippett said of the trios. "You look at this team we're playing tonight, they're a good team and they're four lines deep. We're looking for some balance, some stability in our lineup.
"I look at those three guys and they're three of our top players. We need those players to not only play well themselves, but to drag some people along with them. That's what good players do. They make other players around them better and we're hoping that's the scenario tonight."
Edmonton is 0-3-1 in its last four games, looking to put an end to the losing streak tonight against a Dallas squad that is 4-0-1 in their last five games.
The Oilers know the secret to stopping the skid is defence, defence, defence, as they've surrendered an average of 4.75 goals against over their last four matchups.
"We need to come out and play a defensively sound game," Neal said. "If we can take care of the puck in our own end and keep it out of our own net, we can score goals. We're talented that way, so I think that has to be our focus."
"We've been doing some good things, but we've been making mental errors at crucial points in games," Kassian added. "As a group, we have to defend better. We feel if we defend better, we'll win games. We have to get that goals-against number down. It's a big test for us tonight, but we have to get out of this rut."
It's only natural for teams to feel added pressure as the consecutive losses accumulate, but the Oilers are taking the recent slide in stride and believe a momentum-shifting return to the win column is imminent.
"We want to win just as bad as everyone," Kassian said. "Throughout an 82-game season, I don't know many teams that don't face adversity. Through 82 games, there's going to be some highs and there's going to be some lows.
"We have to get out of this rut sooner rather than later, and this is what teams are made of. When you go through a little adversity and come out the other side, it makes you stronger as a group."
Here is the full projected lineup for tonight vs. Dallas:
Monday will be the second of three meetings between the Oilers and Stars this season.
It was a 5-4 overtime defeat for the Oilers back on November 16, with Jamie Benn notching the extra-time winner after a two-goal deficit was erased in the third period by Dallas.
The season series concludes March 3 in Dallas.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are losers of four straight games after a 4-1 defeat on Saturday to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Leon Draisaitl tallied an assist to extend his point streak to three games and move to 57 points on the season - one ahead of his captain and linemate Connor McDavid, who he was reunited with on a top line with Zack Kassian in the loss.
The power play tallied for the seventh game in a row to continue its success at the top of the NHL this season, but its 5-on-5 scoring that was singled out in Oilers players' post-game comments as being a struggle as of late.
In all four losses, the Oilers have trailed at the first intermission.
The Stars are 18-4-3 in their last 25 games and occupy the Western Conference's first wildcard spot with a 19-11-4 record and 42 points.
Fresh off a back-to-back home and away set on Saturday and Sunday where they took three out of a possible four points, the Stars hit the road for back-to-back road games in Florida against the Lightning and Panthers after Monday's tilt with Edmonton before closing out their schedule before Christmas against Calgary.
The American Airlines Center has been a successful place for the Stars against the Oilers, sporting a 17-2-2 record on home ice in their last 21 meetings here with Edmonton.
Tyler Seguin leads the Stars in scoring with 25 points (6G, 19A), hoping to end a goalless drought at 12 games. Ben Bishop is 9-3-2 with a 1.74 GAA, .944 SV% and one shutout in 15 home starts this season, with only one regulation loss in his last 13 starts.
By the Numbers:
The Stars are 15-for-15 on the PK in their last six games. ... Oilers are the only team in the NHL this season without a shorthanded goal. ... Dallas is allowing an NHL low of 1.96 goals-against-per-game since October 1. ...
Zack Kassian's 11 goals and 22 points are both his most through 35 team games in his career. ... Alexander Radulov's 10-career goals against the Oilers are tied for the most against any single opponent for the Russian. ... Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have combined on an NHL-high 244 goals since 2013-14. ...
OILERS - Matt Benning (concussion) is on IR.
STARS - Mattias Janmark (upper body) is day-to-day; Martin Hanzal (back) is on IR.