EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers will get a boost from the return of defenceman Oscar Klefbom to the lineup tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks visit Rogers Place to serve as opposition for a brief one-game home stand for the home side.
The Swedish defenceman slots right back in on the top pairing alongside his countryman Adam Larsson after missing 21 games due to a hand injury sustained back on December 11.
"Obviously it's been a painful couple of months here," Klefbom said to the media Tuesday morning. "Sitting in the press box isn't something you want to do, so I'm just very excited to play tonight and come back. Just being in the locker room with the guys, talking with them, and being a part of the team is something that I've been missing a lot."
The 25-year-old returns to the fold for the Oilers with the club on a five-game losing streak after dropping two games in overtime on the weekend in back-to-back afternoon games against the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens.
"Go out there, play my game, help the guys out and hopefully contribute something on the ice that I brought when I was playing," Klefbom said of his role tonight. "It's many points to play for, and I want to come back and play for them and give a good playoff push."
Chicago is riding high with four-straight wins, sitting two points back of the Oilers who are three points out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
"It's a very big game," centre Kyle Brodziak said. "I think everyone in this room has the feeling now that every game from now until the end of the year will be massive. It's a fun time of the year to play, and I think guys are excited for it."
It's a battle of the Cam's tonight in goal with Oilers netminder Cam Talbot set to duel Cam Ward in the crease at the opposite end for the Blackhawks.
Drake Caggiula returns to Edmonton for the first time as a member the Blackhawks playing on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who's the NHL's most in-form player at the moment with 26 points (9G, 17A) as part of an 11-game points streak.
"It just depends where you are on the ice with [Kane] and where you are in your shift because he's one of the best players in the league for a reason," defenceman Darnell Nurse said. "He's a guy that comes out every night and is a difference-maker, so it's a big challenge on the ice for all six guys. You have to be aware of where he is all the time."
Teammates and fans alike know the role a healthy Klefbom can play for the Oilers, especially during such this crucial point of the season with the Oilers currently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
"He's one of those guys where any time he comes back into the lineup he bumps up your chance of winning hockey games," Nurse said. "Especially with the time of year, we're all excited to have him back and it's a great boost for us."
Partner Larsson could only keep the list going when asked about what his countryman brings to the table for the Oilers.
"Fast skater, unbelievable shot, he runs the power play, and those holes are hard to fill," he said. "When he's been out for such a long time, we're very glad to have him back."
Klefbom was a regular feature for the Oilers on the back end before his injury, averaging 25:24 minutes per game, recording three goals and 15 assists in 31 games and quarterbacking their first power-play unit. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock says it will be business as usual for the Swede after easing him back into tonight's game with the exception of his place on the Oilers top power-play unit for the time being.
"This is when coaches are idiots," joked Hitchcock. "We all start off with a long-term plan, we're going to ease him in and that lasts four shifts, then we're playing him the same as when he played before. When he played for us everyone knows he played 25 to 27 minutes, all hard minutes against top players, but the only difference is he won't run the first power-play unit.
"We really like what Darnell is doing there, we really like the way the power-play is right now, so that's the only change you'll see."
Despite travelling with the team on their previous two-game road trip, Klefbom was kept on the sidelines to solidify of his 100-percent status. It was a lesson learnt following another difficult spell out of the lineup last season, making sure he was fully able to contribute on the ice when available.
"Last year was a really tough year for me mentally," Klefbom said. "Something I learned last year was you come to a point where you can't really play your game but you want to be out there helping the guys out as much as you can.
"If you don't play your game and you're not 100 percent, you're better off [sitting out]. We've got a lot of defencemen in this room that I have confidence in, and I think they can do a good job, but right now I want to be out there helping the guys as much as I can."
The timing of his return could've come sooner for Klefbom, but the blueliner is motivated to make an impact in his club's crucial final stretch to the post-season.
"It's been some frustrating times for the whole team and for me obviously sitting in the press box watching the guys play," Klefbom said. "I trust these guys, and there's many games to play for."
Last weekend's road trip may have ended winless, but there were plenty of positive takeaways that the Oilers players and coaching staff can use to keep themselves on track heading into two important matchups in the Wild Card race.
"I think we recognized that the way we played both games gave us a real good chance to win," Brodziak said. "Obviously it was disappointing not coming out of that road trip with four points considering the way we played, but it's something to build off of. We've got to feel good about the way we played, and know if we keep playing that way the wins will come."
Five-on-five and on the power-play, where Nurse will remain on the top unit over Klefbom, were much improved. From the drop of the puck on Tuesday, the Oilers need to continue their positive starts in order to climb back in the race for that final Wild Card spot.
"We had two really strong games, especially five-on-five," Nurse said. "Two games where you go back and watch and there's a lot of things you can build off of, and it all started with our work ethic."
Lines at Tuesday's practice appeared as follows, with Oscar Klefbom taking reps on the first pairing with Adam Larsson and Cam Talbot manning the starter's net. Colby Cave, Alex Petrovic, and Brandon Manning were the extra skaters.
Defenceman Andrej Sekera has linked up with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL for a conditioning stint.
Klefbom - Larsson Nurse - Russell Gravel - Benning
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (23-24-5) vs. BLACKHAWKS (20-24-9)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tuesday will be the third and final meeting between the Oilers and Blackhawks in 2018-19.
The Oilers have won both meetings so far by scores of 2-1 in overtime back on October 28 in Chicago and 4-0 at Rogers Place on November 1.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers have lost twice in overtime since beginning their schedule following the all-star break this past Saturday in Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens.
Sunday's loss dropped the Oilers to 0-3-2 in their last five games ahead of returning to Rogers Place, where they're 12-13-1 this season.
Leon Draisaitl's two goals against Montreal matched his career high of 29 from 2016-17 and put the German one away for reaching the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career.
Blackhawks team scope:
The Blackhawks have won four straight games after having reverse fortunes in overtime than the Oilers after edging the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Saturday.
The 'Hawks sit two points behind the Oilers and five behind the Vancouver Canucks for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and are 6-2-1 in their last nine road games.
Goaltender Corey Crawford skated Monday morning following a concussion sustained back in December, but remains on IR. Drake Caggiula, on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, makes his return to Rogers Place for the first time since being traded to Chicago with Jason Garrison on Dec. 29 for defencemen Brandon Manning and Robin Norell.
By the Numbers:
Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid are tied for the second-most points this season with 76 behind Nikita Kucherov...
McDavid has points in four-straight games (2G, 5A)... Milan Lucic has nine points in 27 games since the start of 2019... Adam Larsson's goal on Saturday against Philadelphia was his first in 18 contests...
The Blackhawks have the NHL's best power-play percentage since December 18 at 21-for-56 (37.5 percent)... Patrick Kane currently has nine goals and 17 assists as part of an 11-game point streak... Alex DeBrincat needs one point to reach 100 for his career...
OILERS - Andrej Sekera (Achilles) is on IR; Oscar Klefbom (hand) is day-to-day.
BLACKHAWKS - Corey Crawford (concussion) is on IR; Jason Garrison (illness) is day-to-day.