News, notes and more from the past few days, including Andrew Ference out for the season due to hip surgery, comments from Zack Kassian after his first two points as an Oiler and Rob Klinkhammer recalled from AHL Bakersfield.
DALLAS, TX - The Oilers will have a new look up front tonight as they take on the Dallas Stars to conclude their three-game road trip.
Most noticeably, Benoit Pouliot will be switching from his usual position on the left wing to centre a line with newly-recalled Rob Klinkhammer on the left and recurring linemate Jordan Eberle on his right.
Head Coach Todd McLellan said he hopes Pouliot can use his big 6-foot-3 frame and his veteran status to his advantage in the face-off circle.
“He’s played their before, he’s been able to fill in face-off-wise, he’s loaded with experience and he has some size,” he said. “I think it’ll engage him fully in the game. He’s got to be involved every second of every shift that he’s on the ice because you’re playing in the middle. We hope to get a good game out of him.”
Pouliot, who’s won 13 of the 23 draws he’s taken this season, said he’s played centre periodically over the course of his 468-game NHL career, but never right from the start of the game. The last time he had that designation was during his major junior days with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.
“It’s different, for sure,” he said. “Different responsibilities, different spots on the ice to go to, but at the same time it’s a good challenge. I like it. I’m excited for it. It’s going to be fun.”
Pouliot has produced fairly well this season, scoring 21 points in 39 games thus far. He picked up an assist on Monday against the Panthers, and his last multi-point game came Jan. 12 in Arizona as he scored a goal and an assist.
“I’ll be ready for it,” he said of tonight’s challenge. “It’s a lot different than playing wing, that’s for sure. You’ve got more stuff to worry about than if you’re a winger, but at the same time it keeps you on your game and keeps you focused the whole time. You get involved more with the puck and down low.”
KLINKHAMMER BACK UP
Another change to the Oilers forward formation comes with the return of Klinkhammer to the NHL squad.
The winger was put on waivers last Thursday for the purpose of assignment, and once he cleared on Friday he was sent to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors, with whom he thrived. Klinkhammer scored three times, twice shorthanded, and added an assist for four points in the three games he spent with the affiliate.
The Oilers recalled him on Tuesday and he’ll get a prime opportunity to contribute tonight playing alongside Pouliot and Eberle. Coach McLellan has big expectations for him.
“Maybe his best game of his career,” the bench boss said. “That’s why we’re putting him there. We expect him to skate and use the assets that he has, prove that we made a mistake by sending him (to Bakersfield) and have an impact on the game.”
Klinkhammer, who has one goal in 13 NHL games this season, is ready to seize the opportunity.
“I want to get back to playing a really passionate game, a hard game,” he said. “I want to bring a spark, some jump in the game.”
He added his quick trip to Bakersfield helped him get back in a groove.
“I went down there and just tried to play hard,” he said. “I looked at it as an opportunity to work on my game… I got a lot of ice time. They played me in all situations, which was nice. I got a little confidence down there, had some puck luck and banged a couple in ”
SHORING UP DEFENCE
Goal-scoring hasn’t been an issue for the Oilers on this road trip, as they beat the Panthers 4-2 and put four more on the board during Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Coach McLellan said today’s lineup changes were more so made to shore up the team’s defensive game against a potentially explosive Stars squad featuring Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg and company.
“It’s not just about moving Benny into the middle, it’s what I want to see from the team,” he said. “It’s a very dynamic offensive team Dallas has. They have a tendency to gain on teams here at home as far as (line) matching goes. We moved some people around to maybe take care of others on other lines… We’ll see what we get out of the movement of players.”
Pouliot, one of the team’s top stick-checkers, said limiting the defensive breakdowns that plagued the team in Tampa will be integral vs. Dallas.
“It was a few mistakes that cost us goals,” he said. “It’s nothing major, but we’re getting scored on every time we do one. It’s something we’ve got to clean up. We played well in Florida, and in Tampa we came back and showed some character, we just couldn’t close it out at the end.”
Here’s the rest of tonight’s projected Oilers lineup:
Coach McLellan also announced Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is having surgery on his injured hand today. He’s projected to be sidelined six to eight weeks.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (19-24-5) at STARS (29-13-5)
TV: SNW, FS-SW
Season series: The Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers have split two games this season with each team winning at home. Stars forward Jason Spezza had a hat trick in a 4-2 win at American Airlines Center on Oct. 13. Oilers forward Jordan Eberle scored 45 seconds into overtime and goalie Anders Nilsson made 42 saves in a 2-1 win at Rexall Place on Dec. 4.
Oilers team scope: This is the finale of a three-game road trip for Edmonton. They scored four goals in each of the first two stops but settled for a split against the two Florida teams. One of the best takeaways from a 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was recently recalled forward Zack Kassian's goal and assist, his first multipoint game in the NHL since Feb. 20, 2015 with the Vancouver Canucks. "It's always nice to get the first one out of the way, but it feels a lot better when you come back in with a win," Kassian, acquired in a Dec. 28 trade with the Montreal Canadiens for goalie Ben Scrivens, told the Oilers website. "Personally it feels good. Obviously I've been through a lot. But my main goal now is to just try to get wins."
Stars team scope: Dallas begins a three-game homestand trying to rediscover the moxie it took into the Christmas break. The Stars lost to the St. Louis Blues 3-2 in a shootout on Dec. 26; that started a stretch that has seen them go 3-6-3, including 0-5-3 on the road. "We have to work hard to turn around this thing," forward Ales Hemsky, one of the goal scorers in a 3-2 loss Tuesday to the Los Angeles Kings, told the Stars website. "I think we did a little better job but we still have to play 60 minutes and battle hard, be comfortable playing those tight games. It'll be tight games to the end. We'll not see too many open games and it'll be tough to score goals. So we just have to put everything in the net and play better." Dallas entered play Wednesday leading the NHL with 154 non-shootout goals, but is averaging 2.58 goals over its past 12 games as compared to 3.51 over its first 35 games.