EDMONTON, AB - Tonight the Oilers will face a tough task when the Washington Capitals take the Rogers Place ice. Alex Ovechkin and his team may be losers of six of their last eight games, but they provide no easy out for an Oilers club looking to go on a run.
"They have a very offensive lineup with their forward group and their D get active as well," said Oilers Captain Connor McDavid. "It's a good test for us tonight."
The biggest test may be on special teams, where the Oilers have struggled so far this season. They will be facing the ninth-ranked power play in the League.
"You're going to see a good power play so it will be a good test for our penalty kill," said Oilers defenceman Matt Benning. "I think we're ready for that. I think the other team is a little bit pissed off and although we had a good game and won last game we can play a little pissed off too and get some points back."
Edmonton's PK ranks last in the NHL, killing just 70.3% of their penalties.
"Penalty kill and the power play need to get better, not giving up the seam and keeping things to the outside," said McDavid. "I think that's the main thing. We've proven we've had it. We were a top 10 penalty kill last year and a top five power play. We have it in this room, we just need to find it."
Despite the issues on special teams, the Oilers have seen an improvement in their game recently. They managed to beat Chicago in overtime and take a point from Pittsburgh on their most recent road trip, and then they had an offensive explosion against Dallas Thursday night, in which they scored five even-strength goals in their win.
"I think we're playing better defensively five-on-five," said Benning. "We can clean up our penalty kill. It's just little things that add up to be in the back of our net, so I think we can clean that up. But I think we're doing a lot of things well. We're moving the puck a lot better and playing in our own zone better and I think we're creating more."
Oilers winger Patrick Maroon is riding a four-game point streak, in which he has three goals. The top-line winger has been an offensive weapon for Edmonton since coming over via a trade with Anaheim, but it really seems like he's picking up steam now. After no goals in the first five games of the season, he's burying them now.
"He's doing some of the things he needs to do to get those scoring opportunities and it can get away on anybody," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "You have to be reminded, and he was reminded and I think he's playing more like he did for the majority of the season last year and as a result he's getting rewarded. Obviously, having Leon (Draisaitl) on that line with Connor helps. It opens up a lot of ice for Patty because a lot of the checking lines have to pay attention to 97 and 29, it opens up ice for him."
LINEUP LIKELY UNCHANGED
Usually when your team wins, lineup tweaks are minimal.
Edmonton is likely to ice the same group of players and combinations they did against Dallas when they face Washington.
"A lot of times your changes come on the bottom six or the sixth defenceman," said McLellan. "I thought our bottom six gave us some real good segments in that game, created some energy and o-zone time. We're hoping to get that from them again. On the back end, we'll probably keep it the same to keep those pairs going."
That lineup is feeling pretty good about their play right now and confidence is one way to start a run.
"We're definitely feeling better about things," said McDavid. "Good win last game, a couple close ones on the road so there's definitely a little bit of momentum building. We've got to keep that going. We can't lose the details."
-- Chris Wescott, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (3-5-1) vs. CAPITALS (4-5-0)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on CBC & Sportsnet One
Tonight's game is first of two meetings against the Washington Capitals this season. The Oilers split last year's series, beating the Capitals 4-1 in Edmonton on October 26, 2016 and losing 2-1 in Washington DC on February 24, 2017.
Connor McDavid had three assists in two games last season against the Capitals.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are hoping to keep their offence going after scoring five goals against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. All five were even strength, as their power play hasn't scored since October 19, in Chicago.
Edmonton is also looking to correct its penalty-kill struggles, as they rank last in the League through nine games (70.3%). Patrick Maroon is riding a four-game point streak (3-1-4). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had two goals against the Stars.
Capitals team scope:
Washington is currently on a two-game losing streak, having dropped a 4-1 decision at home against Florida on October 21, and a 6-2 decision in Vancouver on Thursday.
Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the team in scoring with 13 points (1-12-13) through 10 games. Alex Ovechkin, however, leads the team in goals with 10 so far.
The Capitals are in the midst of a three-game road trip that will next take them to Calgary on Sunday night.
By the Numbers:
In 14 career games against the Oilers, Ovechkin has 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points.
Oilers winger Milan Lucic has played 31 career games against the Capitals and has seven goals and 14 assists. Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot has appeared in six games against the Capitals in his career, registering a .926 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average.
Oilers winger Zack Kassian is one point away from 100 for his career, while centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is one goal away from 100 after scoring two on Thursday night.
OILERS -Andrej Sekera (knee) is out
CAPITALS - Matt Niskanen (upper-body ) is on IR, Tyler Graovac (upper-body) is day-to-day, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body) is on IR, Nicklas Backstrom (illness) is day-to-day