News and notes from Oilers practice, including injury updates on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Alex Chiasson and Kris Russell, along with players giving their assessments of their team's standing at American Thanksgiving.
EDMONTON, AB - The waves from the arrival of the Vancouver Canucks hit Rogers Place tonight before returning to the coast on Sunday for the second game of a back-to-back set between the Oilers and Canucks.
Fresh off a 3-2-0 five-game road trip that featured four Pacific Division battles, the home-and-home with a Canadian foe is the next big test for an Oilers outfit sitting atop the division with a 16-8-3 record following the NHL's major junction of American Thanksgiving.
"The points just mean that much more," forward Zack Kassian said of the frequency of divisional tests. "Obviously when you play a home-and-home, it's kind of like a mini playoff series. We're looking forward to it."
It was a successful road trip, but the Oilers were left with a sour taste in their mouth.
A 4-1 defeat to the Colorado Avalanche in the concluding game of the lengthy road swing was a frustrating result when considering Mikko Koskinen's strong performance of 46 saves on 50 shots, but the locker room has learned to develop a short memory when it comes to defeat.
After their 11 losses so far this season, the Oilers have immediately answered back with seven victories in the following games.
"We've come out hard after losses that didn't go so well," defenceman Kris Russell, sporting a new set of stitches in his left ear, said. "Obviously, we didn't play the way we wanted to in Colorado at the end there and gave up a really good performance from our goaltender. When he's playing like that, you have to play better in front of him."
"We're looking forward to the game tonight and we know we have another team that wasn't happy with their game."
The Canucks share the Oilers sentiments when they were pegged to an 8-6 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday after giving up three third-period goals to drop to 3-7-2 in their last 12 games after starting out 9-3-2.
"Obviously a tough opponent comes in here tonight, but at the same time we weren't happy with the way we played," Kassian added. "I'm sure they're not happy with the way their game ended, so it's going to be a good game tonight."
Head Coach Dave Tippett hopes to see the resilient group on the ice tonight that's been able to answer back many times this season after previous shortcomings.
"Hopefully it comes from hating to lose. When you lose a game, you have to get right back at it," the bench boss said. "We've had a couple of days to rest and hopefully that bodes well for our energy coming out for a big weekend against Vancouver."
LOCKER ROOM RECOVERY
When the going gets tough, you pick yourself and your teammates up.
Early on in the '19-20 NHL campaign, it's been a strength for the Oilers.
"I think we've shown it early in the year. It's been a focus of ours," Kassian said. "If we have a bad game, we want to go out and stop the bleeding quickly. I think we've done a good job so far."
The Oilers ability to shake off losses and return immediate results has been critical since the season's onset, with players being accepting of positive criticism from one another and not dwelling on defeat long after the final buzzer.
"We have an open-room policy and we talk to each other. We try to hold each other accountable, and then we go out and try to be better," Kassian said.
"I think that's what we're doing - we're playing for each other and we want to stop the bleeding. If you do have a bad game, you need a short memory. Obviously these are two huge games this weekend against another divisional opponent, so we have to get off on the right foot here tonight."
Even when the injuries piled up and the calls weren't going in their favour all night against the Avalanche, Tippett wasn't leaving any room open for excuses in his post-game interviews and alluded to his team's needed ability to find ways to win hockey games.
"We want to be a resilient group and we want to come in here every day excited about the challenge ahead of us," forward Sam Gagner said. "I think Tipp's done a really good job of not letting us off the hook when we do have losses, not giving us any excuses. We want to be a team that finds ways to stay in every game and find ways to win games that maybe we shouldn't.
"In order to bounce back you have to be resilient. I think we have a group in here that's done that so far, but it's a long year and you have to stick with it."
To Tippett, there's no challenge like the next one.
"I want us to be better, smarter, harder; all the above," he said. "Every game has a different feel to it. Colorado was sitting there four days waiting for us and it was our last game of a trip. That being said, I didn't feel like we gave ourselves the best chance to win with some of the errors we made.
"Clean up some of that stuff and recognize it's a divisional opponent. You've got back-to-backs, and it's going to be a tight game."
Mike Smith gets the nod in between the pipes tonight in the first game of the back-to-back. "The goalie was really good (against Colorado), and now the other one gets the chance tonight," Tippett said.
What could've been a potentially long list of injuries from Wednesday's contest looks shorter with Russell suiting up against the Canucks despite his stitched-up ear.
"He's out for half a period and then all of the intermission getting stitched up," Gagner said of Russell. "You go in there and see half his ear hanging off, and he puts a patch on it and comes back out and plays. He's as tough as they get."
Forward Alex Chiasson recovers in time from a strong hit taken against Colorado to line up on the right wing of the second line alongside Gagner and James Neal.
Lines at this morning's skate appeared as follows:
TV: 8:08 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada.
Tonight's game at Rogers Place is the first of back-to-back home and away games for the Oilers and Vancouver Canucks that conclude Sunday on the coast.
Saturday is the second of four meetings between the two clubs this season and Vancouver's final visit to Edmonton after being handed a season-opening 3-2 loss to the Oilers back on October 2.
Connor McDavid dealt the final blow in the victory for the Oilers with 5:23 left on the clock with a highlight-reel goal after his linemates Zack Kassian and Leon Draisaitl scored earlier in the contest.
The final meeting of the season goes back in Vancouver on December 23.
Oilers team scope:
Draisaitl summed it up - their good five-game road trip that ended 3-2-0 and included four Pacific Division foes could've been a great one.
The Oilers fell on Wednesday to the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 4-1, and so did Alex Chiasson and Kris Russell to injury. The latter is expected to fight through a cut to the ear to suit up against the Canucks, but the former's status is still to be determined.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins adds to injury woes after being placed on Injured Reserve on Friday with a hand injury, but Matt Benning's activation from IR serves as defensive reinforcement.
Canucks team scope:
The Canucks were three goals up in the third period, only to find themselves two goals down at the end of it on Wednesday in a wild 8-6 contest with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Forward J.T. Miller scored twice for Vancouver to improve his total to 12 goals and 14 assists in 26 games for his new club since signing being traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning at this past summer's Draft.
Elias Pettersson leads the Canucks 31 points (11G, 20A) in 26 games.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers (32.0 percent) and Canucks (26.7) are both top-five in the NHL for power-play percentage. ... Vancouver is fourth in the League in face-off win percentage (52.4 percent). ...
Defenceman Alexander Edler will play his 60th career game against the Oilers on Saturday, and has nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points against Edmonton. ... The Oilers are 6-2-1 against Pacific Division foes this campaign. ... The Canucks have now lost two straight and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games after a hot start. ....
OILERS - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (hand) is on IR; Alex Chiasson (concussion) is day-to-day;
CANUCKS - Jay Beagle (lower body) is on IR; Brandon Sutter (groin strain) is on IR; Micheal Ferland (concussion) is on IR; Tyler Motte (upper body) is on IR; Antoine Roussel (torn ACL) is on a conditioning stint.