EDMONTON, AB - With eight games remaining for the Oilers in the 2015-16 season, four at home and four on the road, the team will utilize the remaining opportunities for reviewing structure and systems, evaluating players and building toward the future.
On Sunday night, the Oilers also have an opportunity to play the spoiler role when they host the Colorado Avalanche at Rexall Place. The coaching staff hasn’t spoken with the Oilers players regarding that spoiler mentality, emphasizing an internal focus in the remaining games.
“We haven’t even talked about that,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We haven’t gone outside our room. It’s about us getting better and the results. If we spoil it for somebody else, then great. But we’re not doing it to spoil it for them we’re doing it to improve for us.”
Regardless of where the focus is as a unit, make no mistake that the Oilers players would like to hand the Avs a loss and help dent their playoff hopes.
“If we’re not making the playoffs, we might as well take down teams trying to make the playoffs,” said Oilers winger Zack Kassian. “It’s one of those things where this time of the year it’s tough to find things to get motivated for, but at the top of the list is ‘be the spoiler’ and take that dream from other teams.”
The Avalanche currently hold the second Western Conference Wild Card spot with 78 points in 72 games played. The Minnesota Wild sit one point back of them with the same number of games played, making it a tight race to the finish. The Oilers helped set back the Wild on March 10, when they beat them 2-1 in Minnesota.
“It’s important for us to finish strong,” said Kassian. “I think no matter where you are, if you’re in the playoffs then you want to finish the year going strong into the playoffs and you want to be feeling good about yourself. If you’re not in the playoffs you want to finish the year strong for the long summer ahead. It works both ways. We’re looking forward to the opportunity tonight. We know they’re hovering right around a playoff spot so these two points are big for them so we’re looking to take them away.”
Laurent Brossoit will start tonight for the Oilers against the Avalanche. Considering Cam Talbot’s recent stretch, in which he is 7-2-1 in his last 10 starts with a .948 save percentage, one might think Edmonton would continue to ride their number-one goaltender and feed him start after start. But the Oilers also have to think of Brossoit, 22, who needs games to develop.
“We laid out a schedule a while ago of how we wanted to play the goaltenders,” said McLellan. “If we were in a different situation, playoff-wise, we’d obviously be doing a lot more with Cam than we are but we made a commitment when Anders (Nilsson) was dealt to St. Louis that we would work with and develop a young goaltender down the stretch and we want him to play at home against a team that’s fighting for their playoff lives and we’ll see how he responds in that situation and how we respond around him.”
Brossoit got off to a hot start in his first two NHL games. His first NHL start came April 9, 2015 against San Jose (with McLellan at the helm) and he stopped 49 of 51 shots. His first start of the 2015-16 season was also impressive, with Brossoit stopping 32 of 33 shots faced against Winnipeg on February 13.
His last two have seen the young goaltender allow a combined nine goals in losses to Columbus and Nashville.
“We’re taking it all the way back to the Columbus game, which was a rough outing, and then the secondary one was the Nashville one,” said McLellan. “Nashville has played really well. They’ve created a number of chances. I thought he made some good saves. Then you’ve got to reflect back on a couple that he did let in. I think he was surprised on those shots from James Neal, more than him being technically out of position. That’s sometimes inexperience and understanding who the shooters are and how they score.”
As a team, playing with a young goaltender behind them, the Oilers want to play a tight game. Talbot had to make 40 saves in a 2-0 shutout win over Vancouver Friday night. Edmonton wants to cut back on the chances they allowed in that game to give Brossoit an easier night.
“We’d like to play tighter,” said McLellan. “When you’re talking about the Vancouver game, I think we addressed that after. We were sluggish, we weren’t sharp, we were sloppy, we found a way to win and Talbs had a large part in that. We’d like to play better in front of LB tonight than we did the other night and it’s as simple as that.”
For Brossoit, tonight is another opportunity to show the Oilers they weren’t wrong in bringing him up and putting him in the number two role.
“I’m looking to show they made the right decision and tonight is another good opportunity to do that,” he said.
LINEUP AND QUICK NOTES
The Oilers will likely roll out the same lines and defensive pairings they used against the Canucks. Those are as follows:
Colorado is 2-0 against the Oilers this season, beating them 5-1 in Denver on December 19, and 3-2 at Rexall Place on February 20. Tyson Barrie has three goals, including both game-winners. The Oilers do, however, have a 5-4-1 record against the Avs in their last 10 meetings. The last time Edmonton beat Colorado was March 30, 2015 in a 4-1 decision in the Mile High City. The Oilers have a chance to go above .500 on this five-game homestand, having lost to Arizona and Nashville before beating St. Louis and Vancouver. Oilers centre Connor McDavid is tied for fifth in rookie scoring with 39 points in just 37 games. The Avalanche leading scorer this season is Matt Duchene with 56 points.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
AVALANCHE (37-31-4) at OILERS (29-38-7)
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET; ALT, SN1, NHL-TV
Season series: The Colorado Avalanche have defeated the Edmonton Oilers twice: 5-1 at home on Dec. 19 and 3-2 at Edmonton on Feb. 20. Defensemen Tyson Barrie has three goals, including two game-winners, and two assists for Colorado. Forward Taylor Hall leads Edmonton with a goal and an assist.
Avalanche team scope: There were no updates on forwards Matt Duchene (knee) and Nathan MacKinnon (knee), and defenseman Eric Gelinas (elbow) on Saturday. Colorado recalled forward Mikko Rantanen from San Antonio of the American Hockey League. Duchene missed a 4-3 shootout win against the Calgary Flames on Friday, and Gelinas and MacKinnon left that game. Coach Patrick Roy said Gelinas was out indefinitely and MacKinnon would be re-evaluated Saturday. Captain Gabriel Landeskog will return after a three-game suspension. Goalie Semyon Varlamov is expected to make his sixth straight start; he has won four of his past five games.
Oilers team scope: Goalie Cam Talbot is expected to start; he has started six of the past seven, has won back-to-back games, and made 40 saves in a 2-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday. Talbot is 7-2-1 in his past 10 starts with a .948 save percentage. Defensemen Oscar Klefbom (leg), Andrew Ference (hip), Eric Gryba (knee), Brandon Davidson (knee), Adam Pardy (hand) and forward Benoit Pouliot (shoulder) are out. The Oilers did not practice Saturday. After the win Friday, coach Todd McLellan singled out the play of rookie defensemen Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle. "I think that pair has been pretty steady since we've put them together," McLellan told the Oilers website. "They both played big minutes, they penalty killed."