EDMONTON, AB - They're the big, bad Boston Bruins for a reason, and they present the next big test for the Edmonton Oilers.
The league-leading Bruins roll into Rogers Place on Wednesday with a 37-11-12 record, winning nine of their last 10 games and earning a point in 23 of their last 27 contests.
"Playing against the top team and being able to beat them would mean something, but right now we're just focused on beating every team that comes into this building," said forward Tyler Benson, who recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Sunday against Carolina.
The Oilers, nursing injuries to key players in Connor McDavid, James Neal, and Kris Russell, passed the first flex test with two wins on their previous three-game road trip to retake first place in the Pacific Division with 70 points and a 32-21-6 record.
Now, with news of Oscar Klefbom having to miss the next 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury delivered on Tuesday, it's another big test for an Oilers team that's focused in with a unified approach that's yielded results without some of its key players.
"They are a good team," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "They're a solid team all the way through and it's a great challenge for our group, but I'm more concerned about our group and making sure we play the way we can. If we do that, we give ourselves a chance to win.
"I like the way we're playing lately. We're playing hard, there are some basic principles of our game that have been really strong and in place, so that's what we have to keep tonight."
Leon Draisaitl has been red hot in McDavid's absence, opening up a 13-point lead in the NHL's scoring race on Bruins forward and off-season training partner David Pastrnak with 34 goals and 61 assists that includes the German's current five-game point streak of five goals and seven assists.
Injuries have resulted in more opportunity for peripheral players like Josh Archibald, Kailer Yamamoto and Caleb Jones, who've risen to the occasion with the added responsibility.
"Right now our team's been flowing really well," Jones said. "I think we just have to keep it going. All four lines and all three d-pairs have been going right now, so we've kind of adopted that next-man-up mentality with all the injuries, so we'll keep it going tonight."
ALL HANDS ON DECK
A laundry list of injuries, notably on the blue line, has pushed a number of Oilers players to take on extra duties.
The recall of defenceman Evan Bouchard from the Bakersfield Condors this morning serves as extra reinforcements.
"We need an extra D around here right now and Evan's played well. We'd like to get him in here just to get around for a few days and see where he's at," Tippett said.
But to Coach Tippett, the onus will be on blueliners Caleb Jones and William Lagesson to fill the gaps as the initial benefactors of more ice time.
"The six that are playing tonight, we'll see how that goes and we'll read and react from there," Tippett said. "You've got (Jones) and Laggy both wanting a bit more time, and they're going to get their ice time now. We'll see what they can do with it. Both of them are ready to go. They're excited for the opportunity."
Jones has found his stride in the 32 games he's suited up in an Oilers uniform this season, and extra ice time for the 22-year-old provides an extra boost on the ice to both the player and coaching staff.
"With Caleb, you can see there's extra confidence in him," Tippett said. "When you're a young player and kind of trying to make it but not sure if you can make it, you tend to be tentative and make sure you're not making mistakes. He's played enough now where he's getting into the game and just plays.
"The more he plays, the better he plays. He's ready for this challenge. He's one of our young guys."
Jones is slated to play the left side of the Oilers second pairing with Adam Larsson.
"It sucks to see Oscar go down, but that's a good opportunity," he said. "I think when I'm able to play a bit more minutes, it allows me to settle in and I can get comfortable. I can start making a few more plays, so I'm looking forward to it tonight."
Bouchard will not suit up for the Oilers tonight, nor has he arrived from Bakersfield yet, but that didn't stop the players that know his game the best from singing his praises in their morning media availability.
"He's obviously a really cerebral offensive player," Jones said. "I think all you guys knows that. He was drafted where he was for a reason and I think he might be second on the team in points right now. He produces offensively every night for them. I haven't seen him grow as much as some of the other guys that have been down there a little bit longer, but I know he's taken a huge step since Christmas.
"He's getting more confident as a defender and playing with a lot of pace, and he got rewarded with going to the AHL All-Star Game. He's a really good young player and he'll be a big part of the future."
The Oilers and Bruins meet for the second and final time this season on Wednesday at Rogers Place.
During their first road trip following the New Year at TD Garden, the Oilers received goals from Gaetan Haas, Darnell Nurse, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in a 4-1 win that ended a nine-game point streak for Boston.
The Oilers are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games versus Boston and have won four of their last five home games against the Bruins.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers found a way to earn four out of a possible six points in Florida without Connor McDavid and James Neal in the lineup. Now, they'll have to fight even harder for two points against the Bruins with Oscar Klefbom now sidelined for 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury.
In addition to McDavid, Neal and Klefbom, the Oilers are nursing injuries to Kris Russell and Joakim Nygard along with a seven-game suspension for Zack Kassian.
But the Oilers have fallen back on their depth, tight-checking tactics, and Draisaitl's star power shown with his 12 points during a five-game point streak to sit atop the Pacific Division standings with 23 games still on the docket this regular season.
Kailer Yamamoto is one of those depth players, contributing 18 points (9G, 9A) with a +12 rating in 18 games this season since December 31. Tyler Benson, a recent arrival from Bakersfield, recorded his first career NHL point in a 4-3 OT win over Carolina on Sunday.
Bruins team scope:
What can't you say about the big, bad Bruins?
Boston leads the NHL with a 37-11-12 record and the highest goal differential (+60), winning nine of their last 10 games.
David Pastrnak is tied for the NHL lead for goals this season with 42, and his 82 points are tied for second behind only his offseason workout partner Draisaitl with 95.
Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have combined to allow an NHL-low 2.32 goals against per game this season and a .955 save percentage since January 31.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers are averaging an NHL-high 4.00 goals per game since December 31st (72 goals in 18 games). ... The Bruins and Oilers are tied for most power-play goals scored this season with 51, but Boston has drawn a league-leading 254 penalties. ...
The Bruins have scored a shorthanded goal in back-to-back games and look to score a shorthanded goal in three straight games for the seventh time in franchise history and for the first time since 1973. ...
The Oilers are 6-5-2 against Atlantic Division sides this season.
OILERS - Joakim Nygard (hand) is on IR: James Neal (foot) is on IR; Connor McDavid (quad) is on IR; Oscar Klefbom (shoulder) is on IR; Kris Russell (concussion) is on IR.
BRUINS - Kevan Miller (knee) is on IR: Connor Clifton (upper body) is on IR.