EDMONTON, AB - The Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues?
No matter your levels of preparation, they'll put you to the test.
"They're Cup champs, right? They're strong all over the ice," Oilers captain Connor McDavid said when sizing up Friday's opposition. "Starting in net they have two good goalies, their back end is solid, and up front they have forwards who play hard, check hard and can score goals."
A special delivery for the Oilers stocked full of challenges is en route to Rogers Place tonight.
"They're kind of the full package," McDavid said.
Against a St. Louis side stocked with depth and talent, Head Coach Dave Tippett spoke pre-game of his own outfit's strong performances in recent games despite wanting to iron out a number of wrinkles that arose in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.
"We have to play our game," Tippett said. "We want to play a real hard game also. Everybody does. You recognize who you're against, but we like the way we've been playing lately."
"I would still like to see us pull some of those simple mistakes out of our game, but it's a good challenge. We also want to play a hard, playoff-style game. In a hard playoff race, we want to come in and play well."
The Oilers own depth of talent yielded another call-up from the Bakersfield Condors yesterday morning, with local product Tyler Benson climbing the ladder with William Lagesson after news broke of Joakim Nygard being placed on IR and Kris Russell entering concussion protocol.
"(Benson's) played just over 100 games in the American League now, has been a good point producer down there, and has earned the opportunity to come up," Tippett said.
Due to a later arrival this afternoon into Edmonton, both will not suit up against the Blues.
"He won't be in tonight, but we'll see where it goes tomorrow. It's an exciting time for him, and as I said we've had some pretty good luck with our call-ups. It'll be nice to see more guys jump in that role."
"We have a group of 20 players here that have been here and are preparing for the game this morning. Benson or Lagesson won't play tonight barring injury or sickness from somebody here."
THE FUTURE IS NOW
The Condors crop is beginning to bare fruits for Oil Country.
First, it was Bakersfield teammates Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson and Kailer Yamamoto cracking the lineup.
Now, it'll be Benson, the hometown kid, getting his shot at finding his footing in the NHL.
"He's been playing really well down there, so if he can translate that up here, we need it," Yamamoto, who potted his fourth goal in nine games on Wednesday since his call-up, said. "He's a tremendous hockey player, so I think he'll be able to do it."
The 21-year-old Benson led Bakersfield in points with 15 goals and 66 points in 68 points during the 2018-19 AHL season. He continued his torrent pace this campaign with 35 points in 42 games and being named an AHL All-Star alongside teammate and defenceman Evan Bouchard.
The Edmonton, Alberta is the latest in a long line of prospects to graduate to the NHL after working under Jay Woodcroft, the Condors head coach that the Oilers bench boss was quick to tip his cap to in his morning media availability.
"The players coming here, they're well-schooled and ready for the opportunity," Tippett said. "I think Yamamoto is a great example of that. He didn't get to go through Training Camp because of an injury, but went down there and played half the season and has come in and really contributed for us."
"I'm anxious to see what Benson can do."
Defenceman Matt Benning will have to get used to not being the only 'Benny' and hometown kid in the Oilers dressing room, but lent his observations on the player he's spent many summers training beside even before both players found their way into the organization.
"He's a very smart player. Crafty in tight areas. Good skill," Benning said. "He's a guy who has a knack for scoring, makes really good passes, and I'd say he's a smart, smart player.
"He's an AHL All-Star and leading his team in points for a reason. He's worked really hard, he's battled through some injuries in his career, and I'm happy for him that he's playing well, producing some points and contributing."
THE OTHER BENNY
Matt Benning scorched a Calgary defenceman with an inside move and fired the game-tying goal through David Rittich's five-hole in the third period of Wednesday's Battle of Alberta, sending the game to overtime and helping the Oilers scape a point against their provincial rivals.
You wouldn't think he'd been out close to two months with injury stemming from a concussion on December 1, or that a week prior on a three-game conditioning stint in Bakersfield he tried something similar.
"I made the same move actually in Bakersfield a week ago and it was just off-side," Benning said. "I would've had a pretty good look there too."
"It's just one of those things where Connor's just yell at me 'Go, go, go!' and we were pressing for a goal taking a bit of a risk. But it worked out."
It was a great relief for Benning, and his teammates, to see the blueliner get on the board after his recovery.
"He's gone through a lot," McDavid, who provided the assists on the goal, said. "Head stuff is nothing to mess around with, and he was patient and the docs were great with him. He worked tremendously hard, and to see him score that goal was exciting for me."
Completing a rehab stint with the Condors was critical for Benning to return to Edmonton with his feet under him and being able to contribute in a big way in one of the Oilers biggest games on the schedule.
"I think it really helped him to go down there and play the three games in Bakersfield, because it took away any hesitancy he had," Tippett said. "He hadn't played a lot of hockey since November. He didn't just stick his toe in the water, he played big minutes in all three games. So he came back and played well the other night."
The aforementioned recall of Benson comes after Tippett revealed Nygard would be out long term after having surgery for a broken hand on Friday.
"He's going to be out long term," he said. "We put him on IR and he's having surgery for a broken hand. I don't have an exact timeline yet, but we'll work on that and see how things come out today."
While Russell didn't sustain a hit that resulted in a concussion during Wednesday's game, a history of head injuries and precaution will put the Carolina, Alberta product on the sidelines for approximately a week.
"He's got a little bit of a history with concussion stuff and wasn't feeling right the other day, so we want to be careful with situations like that," Tippett said. "He's going to take a step back for a week or so to see if he can get himself feeling better."
Mikko Koskinen returns between the pipes for his first start following the All-Star Break. THe FInnish netminder is 14-9-2 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in '19-20.
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (26-18-6) vs BLUES (31-12-8)
TV: 7:08 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet West
This is the third and final date between the Oilers and Blues this season.
St. Louis has owned the season series in 2019-20, winning the first affair against the Oilers 5-2 and the second by a 2-1 score.
Leon Draisaitl leads all Oilers offensively when facing the Blues this season with three assists, while Connor McDavid and Kassian have one goal and one assist apiece.
For the Blues, Alex Pietrangelo and Jaden Schwartz have a goal and two helpers each to top all St. Louis skaters.
Oilers team scope:
It was a much-anticipated and highly-hyped return from the bye week and NHL All-Star break for the Oilers and did not disappoint.
Wednesday's Battle of Alberta caused the hockey world to feast their eyes on Oil Country, in what ended as a 4-3 shootout defeat at the hands of the Flames.
The Orange & Blue remain right in the thick of things, however, sitting third in the tight Pacific Division with a 26-18-6 record and 58 points.
On Thursday, the club announced Joakim Nygard and Kris Russell were placed on Injured Reserve, prompting the recall of defenceman William Lagesson and forward Tyler Benson. Should Edmonton product Benson enter the lineup Friday, it would mark his NHL debut.
Blues team scope:
What Stanley Cup hangover?
The St. Louis Blues have not experienced any slack in their game after winning hockey's ultimate chalice in 2019, entering Oil Country third in the NHL overall standings with a 31-12-8 record and 70 points.
St. Louis edged the Calgary Flames with a 5-4 shootout victory on Tuesday and possess a 5-3-2 record in their last 10 heading into Friday's match with the Oil.
Former Oiler David Perron tops the Blues in goals and points with 22 and 52, respectively. Centre Ryan O'Reilly has 35 assists to lead the club.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers are 12-8-4 at Rogers Place in '19-20, averaging 3.38 goals per game and 3.54 goals against. ... McDavid needs one point to reach 450 for his career and should he get it next game, he would be tied as the 10th-fastest player to 450 points in NHL history. ...
The Blues, who are 31-12-8 this year, were 24-22-5 through 51 games last season. ... The Blues 61-22-13 regular-season record since January 1, 2019, is the best in the NHL. ... O'Reilly is winning 56.22 percent of his faceoffs this season and has won 5,051 draws since '15-16. ... St. Louis is 22-1-6 when scoring first this season.
OILERS - Kris Russell (concussion protocol) is on IR; Joakim Nygard (hand) is on IR.
BLUES - Alex Steen (lower body) is day-to-day; Mackenzie MacEachern (lower body) is day-to-day; Oskar Sundqvist (lower body) is on IR; Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder) is on IR; Erik Foley (concussion) is on IR.