SAINT PAUL, MN - The Oilers have lost two straight since winning three in a row in mid October. The club will try to get back on the winning track against a Minnesota Wild team that is 5-2-1 on the season, and 3-0-0 at home.
“It’s very important (we get some wins),” said Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot, who will start tonight. “We’e been playing some pretty good hockey lately against some tough opponents. We’ve been in the games, but haven’t been able to quite get over that hump. Tonight is going to be a really big test for us against a well-structured team. They don’t give up a whole lot so when we do get our chances we have to make the best of them.”
When the puck is dropped tonight, the Oilers will be without two of their regular defencemen. Justin Schultz and Griffin Reinhart are out with undisclosed injuries. Schultz remained in Edmonton for further evaluation, while Reinhart made the trip but he’s on IR.
That means the club has recalled 2013 seventh-overall pick Darnell Nurse.
“It’s exciting,” said nurse. “I think, for me, I’m just going to go out there and try to help the team win. That’s the biggest thing and what I’m looking forward to trying to do.”
There will be no easing the 20-year-old blueliner into tonight’s game. Nurse will be placed on the top pairing with Oscar Klefbom.
“We brought him here to play him,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “It’s important that he’s not sitting and watching. He’s here to play. Where will we go with it? He’ll dictate that. We’re anxious to see him in a lineup against a very good, quick, tenacious team. It will be a test for him, but it will be a test for all of our defencemen and our whole team.”
Klefbom will swap over to the right side, at least to start.
“I think it’s going to go well,” said Klefbom. “There’s not going to be that big of a difference for me. I’m used to playing on the right side too. That’s going to be good I think. Obviously, Justin Schultz is a huge player for us on the team here. It is a bit of a shame he’s not with us today, but Darnell is really good guy. I like his style of playing hockey. He has nothing to prove to me. I know what he’s capable of and I’m going to try to make it as easy as I can for him.”
Talbot doesn’t believe there will be many difficulties with Nurse coming in, given his familiarity with the coaching staff.
“It’s nice because Darnell was here most of training camp so he kind of knows a lot of the structures, a lot of the communication and stuff like that,” said Talbot. “I think he’s going to slide right in there. I think he’s going to do a great job for us tonight. He’s going to bring a physical element that we’re probably going to need against these guys. They’re pretty quick and anytime we can lay a body on them it will be beneficial.”
Considering where Nurse was taken in the draft and what calibre player he is, the perfect scenario for the Oilers is that he comes up and earns a full-time spot. Sometimes, more development in the minors is needed but Nurse has an opportunity to show he’s ready tonight.
“We’re down two d-men, we need a defenceman,” said McLellan. “He’s played the best of any d-man down there so he’s deserved the opportunity. What we’re trying to create in the organization with the recalls is whoever is playing and deserves to come in a certain ingredient, in a certain role, whoever is playing well will get that opportunity. Darnell has been, at least from the reports I’ve gotten, one of the top or the best defenceman there right now so he deserves the chance. Where we go from here, we would like for him to arrive and stay and be a long-term player, but these circumstances come up and his play now will dictate that if he plays well we’ll keep him. If we’re still not sure and we think he’s better off developing down there, we’ll send him back. One period, one game at a time.”
Knowing the team is giving him a chance provides a boost heading into tonight’s game, but the young blueliner is more focused on team success.
“That is definitely motivation for me,” said Nurse. “With that said, the most important thing for me to do is come up here and help this team win. I think with that as the main focus, everything takes care of itself. I’m just coming up here and trying to help the team.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (3-6-0) at WILD (5-2-1)
TV: SNOL, FS-N, FS-WI
Season series: The Minnesota Wild won two of the three games against the Edmonton Oilers last season. Each of their wins came at Rexall Place. Justin Fontaine led the Wild with two goals and an assist. Former Wild forward Benoit Pouliot had two goals for the Oilers.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton practiced at Rexall Place before flying to the Twin Cities on Monday. Coach Todd McLellan said defenseman Justin Schultz was not expected to make the trip because of an injury sustained Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings. McLellan classified Schultz as day-to-day for now. "He's an important piece now and for our potential success going forward," McLellan said. "We'd like to see him healthy soon and back as quickly as possible." Another defenseman, Griffin Reinhart, won't play against the Wild, but McLellan said he's getting close to returning from an undisclosed injury sustained Oct. 18. "He isn't quite ready yet, but he's getting there," McLellan said. The game in St. Paul is the lone road game in the midst of seven games at home; the Oilers will open a four-game stretch in Edmonton on Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.
Wild team scope: Minnesota players had the day off on Monday following back-to-back games with the Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets over the weekend. The status of goaltender Devan Dubnyk could be in doubt after he first complained of soreness in his knee following the win against the Ducks. Dubnyk played Sunday in relief of Darcy Kuemper, who allowed four goals in a little more than a period before being pulled. Dubnyk appeared to struggle getting to his feet after several saves and confirmed afterward he has a knee injury, but that it is non-structural and can't get any worse. "I'm told that I'm not supposed to be worried about it. I talked with him earlier, and he said he's feeling it a little bit but it shouldn't be a problem, and I've been assured it shouldn't be a problem," coach Mike Yeo told the Star Tribune. "Certainly we'll look at the big picture. If there's any risk of him damaging this further, then he won't be in the net. But if he can play and go out and play well, he'll be in."