News and notes from Oilers practice, including a closer look at the different avenues the club can take to claim victory after goaltending and special teams nearly turned the tide against the Winnipeg Jets on a night the offence was held off the scoresheet.
The Edmonton Oilers (7-1-1) aim to take three out of a possible four points from a brief two-game road trip when it concludes tonight at the Xcel Energy Center against the Minnesota Wild (2-6-0).
The Oilers and Wild have experienced reversed fortunes to begin the '19-20 NHL campaign, with both clubs occupying opposite ends of the Western Conference standings at this early point of their respective seasons.
The Wild opened the year with four straight losses, but victories in two of their last three, including a 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, has tonight's hosts in a manageable position to build momentum against one of the league leaders in that regard in the Oilers.
"They're a team that's dug themselves a bit of a hole, but they're going to scratch and claw to try and get out of it," Head Coach Dave Tippett said pre-game. "So we have to be prepared. Any team can beat any team on any night in this league, and you have to make sure the group is prepared to try and win. We recognize the situation there, and they'll be a desperate team."
Forwards Josh Archibald and Patrick Russell return to the state they spent formative years as respective high school and collegiate players, with Archibald coming to Brainerd, Minnesota as a 15-year-old from Saskatchewan and the Birkerød, Denmark product spending two seasons in the NCAA with St. Could State from 2014-16.
"I spent three years in high school here and that's about it, but my mom's family is from here and my parents do live in the state now," Archibald said. "It's always nice to come back and have lots of family come to the game. So it's always a real treat.
"Obviously this is a state of hockey, so everybody here loves hockey. There's an outdoor rink on every corner. It's always kind of the joke around here."
RESET & REGROUP
A 1-0 shootout loss against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday came on a night when the offence just couldn't click for the Oilers.
But there were plenty of positives in rigid defence, a still-consistent penalty kill that improved to 15-for-15 on the road this season, and strong goaltending from Mike Smith as one part of the Oilers tandem with Mikko Koskinen that continues to make early headway this season.
The list goes on, but the dressing room wasn't ready to stew on a single point that easily could've been two any other night.
"You have to take the good things from that game," Archibald said. "A 0-0 game going into overtime and then a shootout, but you take the positives and go from there. Obviously there's some things we want to clean up, but we also did a lot of good things in that game. We have to be able to move forward and get things going again."
It's the main reason why Tippett will make no changes to his lineup tonight as he elects to let the same group find its footing once again against the Wild after proving they could continue satisfying the peripherals in Winnipeg.
"I thought we competed hard. We're still trying to find the right mix there," Tippett said. "Our bottom-six has played well there, penalty-killed well, and you'd like to see them get on the scoreboard a little bit. So we'll give them some more opportunity.
"Smitty was excellent in goal, so we'll throw him back in there. We're trying to build stability and consistency in our game, so we'll give the group another opportunity to do that."
Despite blocking a shot late in Sunday's game against the Jets, Archibald remains on the third line with Jujhar Khaira and Riley Sheahan in an unchanged Oilers lineup.
Tuesday will be the first of three games contested between the Oilers and Wild, with the following contest after tonight's meeting coming back at the Xcel Energy Center before the season series concludes at Rogers Place on February 21.
During the 2018-19 season, the Oilers were 2-1-0 and outscored the Wild 14-7 in three contests.
Oilers team scope:
Despite being shutout in a cagey 1-0 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, spirits in the Oilers locker room were still high thanks to a 7-1-1 start that has the club tied for top spot overall in the NHL through nine games.
Goaltender Mike Smith made all 23 saves and got credit for the shutout, but didn't receive any offensive help from a group ranked top-10 in goals for (30) and a league-best power play of 38.5 percent that went 0-for-2 against the Jets. The Oilers penalty kill is 15-for-15 on the road this season and ranks third overall in the league (90.3 percent) after going 4-for-4 against Winnipeg.
Connor McDavid, despite being held off the scoresheet in his last two games, ranks second in league scoring with five goals and 12 assists in nine games. He hasn't gone three straight games without a point since December 29, 2017 to January 2, 2018.
Wild team scope:
It hasn't been the start imagined for the Wild to begin their season with an overall record of 2-6-0, but a 4-3 comeback win over the Montreal Canadiens last time out has the club poised to build off a positive performance in order to get back into the early race in the NHL's Central Division.
Their record is tied for the second-worst start to a season in franchise history, and their 32 goals allowed this season is the most they've ever allowed through the first eight games of a new campaign.
Former Oiler goaltender Devan Dubnyk is 1-5-0 with a 4.18 goals-against average and .874 save percentage in six starts this season, but Alex Stalock - who the Oilers could see in goal for the Wild on Tuesday - is in fifth place overall behind Mike Smith for the lowest GAA this season (2.07).
The Wild aim to win back-to-back games for the first time since a five-game win streak between February 21 and March 2 last season.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers 7-1-1 start is their fifth-best nine-game start in franchise history... The Oilers are allowing the fifth-fewest goals per game (2.22) to opponents this season after allowing 3.30 the previous campaign...
Despite the second-fewest shots-per-game this season, the Oilers have the third-best shooting percentage (12.3 percent)... Leon Draisaitl leads the NHL in points over his last 43 games, with his 32 goals being 12 more than the next-closest player in that span...
OILERS - Adam Larsson (fibula) is on IR; Joakim Nygard (ribs) is on IR; Joel Persson (concussion) is day-to-day.
WILD - Greg Pateryn (bilateral) is on IR; Mason Shaw (ACL) is on IR; Mats Zuccarello (lower body) is on IR; Victor Rask (lower body) is day-to-day; Joel Eriksson Ek (lower body) is day-to-day.