EDMONTON, AB - The Colorado Avalanche comes rolling in.
When the Avalanche settles on Rogers Place for tonight's meeting with the Edmonton Oilers, it'll be a clash between two of the Western Conference's top teams.
Even without the support of regulars Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen due to injury, Colorado has been able to rattle off three-straight wins with the help of depth scoring, the always-present threat of Nathan McKinnon, and defenceman Cale Makar who's tracking the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie with five goals and 13 assists through 18 games this season.
"A lot of speed, a lot of skill up front. Their back end has skill too," said forward Leon Draisaitl, who's riding a 10-game point streak (9G, 11A) into the first game of a mini two-game home stand for the Oilers tonight.
"They have a very good team over there. You have to be ready. Obviously we want to bounce back after last game's effort, so it's going to be a good challenge for us."
Tonight's tough contest for the Oilers comes with the added challenge of putting lessons into practice from a 6-3 defeat to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday that was characterized by a slow start of three goals allowed in the opening 11:12 of the game.
"You have to learn from every game," goaltender Mike Smith said. "I think it's important. Whether you win or lose, you're taking stuff out of games that's going to help you move forward as a group."
Goaltender Mike Smith, who stopped 19-of-25 shots in defeat last time out, will return to the crease tonight for his second-straight start. The netminder is 11-1-4 all-time against Colorado.
"It's obviously kind of an embarrassment coming out the way we did, but everyone in here owes it to themselves to come out with a better effort tonight - myself included - and we learn from every game."
The Oilers receive reinforcements on the back end from Caleb Jones, who draws into the lineup for the first time this season on the right side of the second pairing with Oscar Klefbom.
In 17 games last season during his first NHL stint, the blueliner had a goal and five assists.
"I think having had the call-up last year and having played at this level, I know what to expect now," Jones said. "I feel ready to go and I think a little bit of adrenaline tonight for sure. I'll be excited."
Wednesday's practice for the Bakersfield Condors concluded, and Jones and his teammates were putting in the final preparations for a trip to Colorado for a two-game set with the Eagles.
Little did he know, a few hours later, he'd be skipping the bus ride to Loveland, Colorado and getting on the next flight to Edmonton.
An injury to Brandon Manning necessitated the recall for the defenceman, but his promotion to the NHL is well warranted. In 13 games for the Condors this season, Jones has found the net twice and added eight helpers while displaying versatility as a defender who can play in all situations and on both sides of the blueline.
"He's been solid down there according to their coaches and some people who've watched him," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "We wanted to get him an opportunity here. He's played both sides, which is a positive for us, and we've been talking about giving him an opportunity and the injury to Manning allows us to do that.
"To Jones' credit, he's gone down there and played well. One of the things I talked to him about in Camp and one of the things we liked about him is his versatility."
Jones left Oilers Main Camp in September for Bakersfield, disappointed but not discouraged, keen to focus on the little details in the defensive zone with the help of Head Coach Jay Woodcroft and Assistant Coach Dave Manson so that his next call-up is his last one.
"It was tough. I won't lie, for two weeks there it took a little bit to get through it and not feel down on myself," Jones said. "But there's only one way back, and you have to play well down there. I was working with (Jay Woodcroft) and Dave Manson a lot down there, really focusing on the defensive side of the puck. They kind of tell me that my offensive game will take care of itself, and just been really focusing on the details down there."
Of course, with the success Ethan Bear's had with the Oilers this season out of Camp, there's an established precedence for Condors call-ups securing impactful, regular minutes with the big club.
"Bearsy obviously had a really good summer of training and came in in great shape. He's been making the most of his opportunity, and every night he keeps going out and playing well for this team," Jones said.
"When you see a young guy get a good opportunity like that, it definitely gives you hope that if you come up, you're going to get an opportunity and you can perform well."
Forward Josh Archibald will line up alongside James Neal and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the Oilers second line as Tippett looks to spread the speed across all of the club's four lines.
Lines at Thursday's morning skate appeared as follows:
Thursday's meeting will be the first of three between the Oilers and Avalanche this season. They'll clash again later this month on November 27 in Denver before reconvening one final time back at Rogers Place on March 25.
Last season's contests were high scoring affairs, as both teams combined for 23 goals over their three meetings in 2018-19. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was tops for the Oilers with a pair of goals and three assists, while Danrell Nurse (2G, 1A) and Leon Draisaitl (1G, 2A) each had three points.
Oilers team scope:
After two-straight emphatic wins over the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks, a 6-3 defeat to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night in the Shark Tank for the Oilers saw them give up three first-period goals and chase the game the rest of the way.
Consolation for the club came in Leon Draisaitl extending his point streak to 10 games (9G, 11A) with a goal and assist, marking the 18th game out of 20 for the German with at least a point - the most in the NHL.
The Oilers maintained their reputation for strong special teams as the only team in the NHL with a top-five ranked power play and penalty kill this season after going 3-for-3 with the man advantage against the Sharks.
Despite a growing list of injuries that includes forwards Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer, the Avalanche have now won three straight games after shutting out the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 on Tuesday.
With Grubauer on the shelf, Pavel Francouz was called upon between the pipes. But an early exit just 31 seconds into Tuesday's contest for Francouz meant Adam Werner would be forced into making his NHL debut, where he stopped all 40 shots he faced in relief to earn his first win.
Colorado's top two scorers from the season series with Edmonton last season in Landeskog (2G, 5A) and Rantanen (2G, 4A) will not dress on Thursday.
By the Numbers:
Three of NHL's top-five goalscorers since the start of the 2017-18 will appear in tonight's game in McDavid (255), MacKinnon (222) and Draisaitl (211). ...
The Avalanche are 4-4-1 since Mikko Rantanen last played after going 7-1-1 with him in the lineup. ... The Avalanche have yet to lose in regulation (8-0-2) when scoring the first goal. ...
Defenceman Cale Makar has 18 points through 18 career games (5 G, 13 A). He leads all rookies in points this season...
OILERS - Adam Larsson (fractured right fibula) is on IR.
AVALANCHE - Mikko Rantanen (leg) is on IR; Colin Wilson (hand) is on IR; Gabriel Landeskog (lower body) is on IR; Philipp Grubauer (lower body) is on IR; Nikita Zadorov (fractured jaw) is on IR; Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (concussion) is day-to-day; Pavel Francouz (head) is day-to-day.