The home opener for the Oilers may contain all three.
Edmonton is still searching for its first win of 2015-16 and they’ll try and do that against St. Louis in the final home opener at Rexall Place, as they move downtown to Rogers Place next season. Same old building tonight, but a new-look roster, wearing their WHA-inspired throwback jerseys, will be trying to get the fans behind them from the start.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said forward Matt Hendricks. “Every home opener that I’ve been a part of is exciting. Our fans are going to be going crazy. We’ll have our new orange jerseys on. I know that’s exciting. We’re looking forward to using the fans and harness their energy to help us play tonight.”
A fast start for the Oilers could be key as they have struggled to put up offensive numbers through their 0-3-0 start to the season.
“I think everybody is going to naturally feel that way,” said Oilers defenceman Griffin Reinhart. “Everybody wants to please the crowd but, at the same time, we’ve got to stick to our game. We can’t try to get too fancy. We’ve got to stick to the structure and be disciplined.”
As for pressure to get their first win, Reinhart thinks there is a little of that but nobody is stressing too much about the losses. It’s a long season and this is game number four.
“A little bit of (pressure), but I don’t think the guys are feeling too much right now,” said Reinhart. “Nobody is hitting the panic button. I think guys are excited. It’s our first chance at a home game this season and I think we’re just really looking forward to it and hopefully come away with our first win.”
The fans’ energy in the building tonight has the team leaning more towards excitement than nerves.
“It’s going to be nice. We know the fans are going to be behind us the whole time,” said defenceman Justin Schultz. “It’s always nice to come home, especially the home opener in a new season. Hopefully, we have a good outing.”
Energy wasn’t an issue for the Oilers in their 4-2 loss to Dallas on Tuesday night. It was more of a lack of execution and attention to detail that allowed the Stars to control that game. It’s something the Oilers hope to clean up tonight against the Blues.
“The energy wasn’t the issue in Dallas. It wasn’t by any means. We had two days off. I wouldn’t go there one bit,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I thought our attention to just about every facet of the game was at a very low level. We didn’t win in areas we needed to win. We knew what was coming and didn’t pay attention to it. We got what we deserved and it was humbling. Tonight is another night. We know what we’re up against again. There will be no surprises. It’s how we deal with it. In my opinion, we move the needle. We move it and we feel good, then as soon as we feel good we take the foot off the gas and we let the needle come back a little bit. For us to have long-term progress, that needle has to slowly move. It has to continue to move. There will be setbacks and we will have to deal with it but our goal right now is to slowly move the needle.”
The Oilers continue to tweak their forward lines with the absence of Jordan Eberle (shoulder). The loss of their top right winger has caused a lot of shuffling in order to create offensive production.
The latest shuffling promotes Hendricks to the top line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“I didn’t think that Nuge and Taylor had great games in Dallas,” said McLellan. “I thought they were better after they had a presence or a energizer, a catalyst, on their line. I thought Hendo was that in Dallas. They still didn’t have a tremendous amount of success, but we need somebody to do some of the heavy lifting so they can have some success but they also have to get better in that area too.”
Hendricks is a guy that can play physical and create space, win puck battles in the corner and along the wall. His presence, hopefully, can make Hall and Nugent-Hopkins’ lives easier offensively.
“I think with Taylor and Ryan, their offensive promise and the way they play the game and the way they can compete, if I can get into those dirty areas and help chip pucks free for them and get pucks to the point, I can let them have opportunities to make plays,” said Hendricks.
Usually asked to play a penalty killing, fourth-line grinder role with the Oilers, Hendricks moving up provides him with a different set of responsibilities against a tough, physical opponent like St. Louis.
“I don’t look at it as a challenge, I look at it more as an opportunity. I’m excited,” Hendricks said. “I’ll try to open up some doors for them and give them the puck, try to give them a little more room in the offensive zone.”
Hendricks’ promotion is also in part due to his play in the team’s opening three games. The 34-year-old winger has built off a strong training camp and pre-season, leading to more trust from the coaching staff.
“He’s played very well,” said McLellan. “He’d probably be one of our top players when you look at grades and responsibility and competitiveness and being ready to play, sacrificing and he kind of epitomizes what we’re trying to do together over the long haul.”
FIRST ONE OUT OF THE WAY
When you get that first goal, it’s a weight lifted off your shoulders. As the first-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Connor McDavid is not any different. The 18-year-old centre potted the first of his career on Tuesday in Dallas when he redirected in a shot by Andrej Sekera.
“I think there’s just a sense of relief,” said McDavid. “You just feel a little lighter, you’re able to skate a little bit better. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but it just may feel that way. I felt relieved.”
Now for the rookie’s next challenge. McDavid is playing in the first home opener of his career and says he won’t be playing with the same nerves as perhaps the season opener in St. Louis a week ago.
“I guess I’m not nearly as nervous as I may have been for some other games, but I’m certainly anxious to play in front of such great fans,” he said.
The Blues present a challenge to any youngster and McDavid is no exception. The 2-1-0 squad will try to make it difficult on McDavid to get his second career goal and his first career win.
“We saw them and they are obviously one of the best teams in the league,” said McDavid. “They play a hard-nosed game, a heavy, checking kind of game. There’s going to be a lot of open ice out there and I have to bear down on my chances when they come.”
Cam Talbot Starts in net. He has a 2.05 GAA and .929 save percentage in two games this season.
Justin Schultz leads the Oilers in average ice time with 23:32 per game. He also leads the team with seven blocked shots.
The Blues have won their last seven games against the Oilers. The last time Edmonton won was a 3-0 shutout in March of 2013.
Vladimir Tarasenko has nine points (5-4-9) in nine career games against Edmonton.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
BLUES (2-1-0) at OILERS (0-3-0)
TV: FS-MW, SNOL
Season series: Rookie Robby Fabbri's first NHL goal was the game-winner in the third period lifting the St. Louis Blues to a 3-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers in the season opener for each team on Oct. 8. Vladimir Tarasenko and newcomer Troy Brouwer also scored for St. Louis, which has defeated Edmonton seven straight times and 12 of the past 13.
Blues team scope: Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk left a 4-3 victory at the Calgary Flames on Tuesday with a lower-body injury and probably will not play against the Oilers, according to coach Ken Hitchcock. Shattenkirk took a wrist shot with 4:45 remaining in the second period and immediately left the ice, headed for the locker room and did not return. The Blues held an optional practice in Calgary on Wednesday and Shattenkirk was not among the skaters. The Blues have four games left on a season-long six-game trip and are likely to recall a defenseman from Chicago of the American Hockey League. Robert Bortuzzo would draw in should Shattenkirk not be able to play. St. Louis is already without Fabbri, who sustained a concussion last Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. Goalie Brian Elliott, who made 15 saves against Calgary, will start Thursday. He stopped 23 shots in the season opener.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton plays its home opener after a three-game trip against Central Division foes to begin the season. The Oilers had the day off Wednesday. Rookie Connor McDavid, the first pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, scored his first NHL goal in a 4-2 loss against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. Forward Taylor Hall played despite missing the morning skate feeling sick. His status will be updated at the morning skate. After backup Anders Nilsson made 48 saves Tuesday, Edmonton is likely to go back to Cam Talbot against the Blues. He made 28 saves in the loss at St. Louis in the opener.