EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers are looking to avenge their last outing against Colorado, in which they fell 5-1 to the Avalanche on the road back in December. It was a frustrating game for the Oilers, who struggled getting through the Avs neutral zone.
“It’s been a while since that one,” said Mark Letestu. “One thing I definitely remember and it’s something we addressed this morning is the way they check in the neutral zone. It’s a little bit unique. It’s a 1-3-1 and we had a really difficult time getting through it. I think, on our part, it was a lot of stubbornness in trying to create. Maybe frustration creeped into our game and we gave up some uncharacteristic turnovers after that. I think you just have to realize you have to be patient, stick to the plan and opportunities are going to present themselves. When frustration creeps in, that’s when our game goes the other way.”
The Avalanche have won three of their last four games.
“Fast team,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “Fast, good one-on-one skill, tight turns, very good escape skills down below the goal line. A couple D that will get up in the rush and the neutral zone, where they can be very standoffish, almost basically lining up across the red line and challenging you to come through that wall.”
The Oilers will get an impact player back in their lineup as Zack Kassian makes his return from his bout with the flu.
“Feeling good,” said Kassian. “It was one of those things where I didn’t do much, just kind of laid in my bed for two days. Energy level is back and excited to be in tonight.”
Kassian missed two games due to his illness. The winger has played 13 games for Edmonton this season, scoring two goals and adding two assists while adding an intimidating physical presence.
“We were hoping we’d get a physical, strong forward that is accustomed to playing that way and has got things going in his own personal life and I think we’ve got that,” said McLellan of Kassian. “He’s had a little bit of a setback right now because of the flu but he’ll be good to go tonight, back in the lineup. Overall, I think if you look at his body of work since he’s been there, there have been a lot more positive nights than negative ones. We’re a team that’s looking to find that type of player, more physical, heavier, strong along the boards and he certainly fills that need right now.”
IS YAK BACK?
Nail Yakupov was one of the bright spots in the Oilers 5-2 loss to Minnesota on Thursday. The Oilers winger had a solid overall game in the eyes of his coach, contributing his first goal since January 21. It could be good signs of thing to come if he can develop consistency.
“He had an intensity to him that wasn’t quite there in games prior,” said McLellan. “He skated and got to position a lot quicker. He won more battles along the boards, he read plays very well. The goal that I’m thinking of in particular, where he anticipated where the puck was going and came up with it and released it. He anticipated well on his breakaway and skated well. Just an overall uplifting of his all-around game. Just goes to show it’s there and he can deliver.”
Yakupov is expected to skate on a line with Letestu and Kassian.
“Yak was buzzing out there,” said Kassian about Yakupov’s game against the Wild. “I want to get him the puck and we want to be a physical line, get in on the forecheck, create space, have some zone time, get some cycles going, get some shots on net, but at the same time be good defensively.”
Cam Talbot is expected to start for the Oilers, and Nikita Nikitin will play with Brandon Davidson, replacing Adam Clendening on the back end.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
AVALANCHE (30-26-4) at OILERS (22-31-6)
TV: 10 p.m. ET; ALT, CBC, SN, NHL.TV
Season series: The Colorado Avalanche defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-1 at home on Dec. 19 with 39 saves from goalie Semyon Varlamov. Defenseman Tyson Barrie scored the game-winning goal on the power play late in the first period and had an assist. Defenseman Andrej Sekera scored for the Oilers early in the third period with Colorado leading 3-0.
Avalanche team scope: Goalie Calvin Pickard will start, and Varlamov will play against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. Goalie Reto Berra was sent to San Antonio of the American Hockey League for a two-week conditioning assignment. Berra has been out since Dec. 29 with an ankle injury. Defenseman Nate Guenin also was assigned to San Antonio. The Avalanche have won three of their past four games and hold the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference with 22 games remaining. General manager Joe Sakic told the Avalanche website he won't give up young players and draft picks in moves prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 29. "We could use another puck-management forward and a solid D-man," he said. "You are not going to get top-four [defensemen]. Teams aren't giving those guys up." Forward Jarome Iginla has four goals and six points in his past four games.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton had the day off after a 5-2 loss at home to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. Defenseman Eric Gryba, a reliable penalty killer, missed the game with a knee injury and is expected to be out of action for a month. The Wild scored two power-play goals. "The power play, obviously, was a big part of their success, getting the two right off the bat," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers website. "They seamed us a number of times, which we wanted to prevent, but we were unable to do that. Then they score on some secondary chances in and around the paint. Credit to them, and obviously an area we need to fix." The Oilers penalty-kill ranks 18th in the NHL. Rookie forward Connor McDavid has five goals and 14 points in nine games since his return from a fractured clavicle, and the Oilers are 3-5-1. Goalie Cam Talbot has started nine of the past 11 games.