EDMONTON, AB - A great challenge with a capital 'C'.
With a 7-2-1 record, the Oilers are in the position to respond from their first real test of adversity at Rogers Place on Thursday against a high-flying Washington Capitals side that's won four-straight games.
"Absolutely. It's a big game for us," captain Connor McDavid, who's pointless in his last three games for only the second time in his career, said post-game. "They're a team that's won a lot and were cup champs two years ago, so they know what they're doing out there. We need to be prepared, we need to be ready, and it's a good test for us."
The Oilers took one out of a possible four points despite failing to score a goal in two-straight road contests against the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild, but contributions from their top-five special teams and a combined 2.17 goals-against average and .929 save percentage from Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, who gets the start tonight in the crease, gave the club every chance to win.
"You try and stick to your game," forward Leon Draisaitl said. "We're 7-2-1 as well, so we're off to a good start here too and it's a great test and a great team over there. But we're a great team too, so it'll be a fun challenge for us."
Capitals defenceman John Carlson leads the NHL in scoring as a blueliner with five goals and 15 assists in 11 games, offering Washington a dangerous look from the blueline for the Capitals alongside 'The Great 8' Alex Ovechkin who's showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 34 with four goals and 14 points.
"I know a lot of people say you can just pass it to Ovi and he's going to put it in," Alex Chiasson, who won the Stanley Cup in 2018 as a member of the Capitals, said. "But if you watch the plays carefully, they're fake one-timers, he moves around, he's a great passer, he logs a lot of minutes, he's really strong - I don't think a lot of people know that about him - he's gifted physically, so he's got a lot of attributes to be a good defenceman in this league."
GAGN AND BACK AGAIN
After being called back to the Oilers from the Bakersfield Condors on Saturday and sitting out both games against Winnipeg and Minnesota, Sam Gagner makes his return to the lineup tonight alongside Patrick Russell and Markus Granlund in place of Tomas Jurco.
Gagner was assigned to the club's AHL affiliate at the conclusion of Main Camp, and the forward has developed a better understanding in recent years that life in the NHL isn't a one-way street after recording 37 points in 43 games with the Toronto Marlies last season on loan from the Vancouver Canucks.
"I don't think it ever gets easier," he said. "But I do think the transition, just kind of handling the setbacks and handling adversity, you learn to get better at that.
"I realize more than I did when I was younger that it's not always going to be an easy road and things aren't always going to go as easy as planned, but you have to be able to take a punch. I'm excited about the opportunity tonight to go in and hopefully give the team a boost and make it so I don't come out."
Head Coach Dave Tippett constructed his bottom-six in a particular way to begin the season, deciding to fill the spots with players who could fill a role on the penalty kill or on a shutdown line, but goals have been hard to come by recently outside of the club's top-two lines with seven forwards having yet to ripple the twine this campaign.
Tippett is hoping Gagner can be a catalyst for secondary scoring in the club's bottom half and the club's secondary power-play unit.
"All along we've looked for that balance of the bottom-men penalty kill and role players versus skill down there," he said. "Obviously we haven't had the offensive impact from the bottom six. We're looking for him to come in and make plays there. The other part is the second power-play unit and he can help out there a little bit."
Lines at this morning's skate appeared as follows:
This is the first of two meetings between the Oilers and Capitals this season. The two sides will conclude the season series on March 16, 2020 at Washington.
Edmonton and Washington split the series last season, with the Oilers defeating the Caps 4-1 at home but dropping a 4-2 decision on the road.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had one goal and three assists in the two outings versus the Caps, while John Carlson put up three assists.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are coming off a two-game road stint that saw the club pick up one out of a possible four points, not scoring a goal in the two games.
James Neal leads the Oilers in goals with nine, and Connor McDavid leads the team in assists and points with 12 and 17, respectively.
On the back end, Oscar Klefbom tops all defenders on the squad with one goal and nine points while averaging 24:57 time on ice a night.
Despite the Oilers recent losing skid, the squad sits second in the Western Conference but first in the Pacific Division with 15 points.
Capitals team scope:
The Capitals enter Edmonton on a four-game winning streak and with just a single road loss on the season, going 5-1-0 as visitors.
Known for their quick starts, the Capitals have scored the first goal of the game in eight of their 11 contests this season, owning a 5-1-2 record when scoring first.
Defenceman Carlson is not only the Caps' point leader but also the League-leader with 20 (5G, 15A). Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie share the goal-scoring lead on the club with seven tucks apiece.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers are 4-0-0 at home this season, averaging 4.25 goals per game and 2.75 against. ... At Rogers Place, the Oilers PP is a productive 36.4 percent, while the PK is killing at an 81.3 percent clip. ... McDavid is three games away from the 300th in his NHL tenure, and his 389 career points are already 11th all-time in NHL history through a player's first 300 matches. ... By comparison, Capitals captain Ovechkin had 379 points through his first 297 career NHL outings. ... McDavid has been held pointless in each of his last three outings and has never gone four consecutive games without a point.
The Capitals are averaging a 38.9 percent power play and 86.4 percent penalty kill away from Capital One Arena. ... The Caps are 6-1-2 when leading after the second period. ... Washington defenceman have an NHL-high 34 points this season, with 20 courtesy of Carlson alone.
OILERS - Adam Larsson (fibula) is on IR; Joakim Nygard (ribs) is on IR; Joel Persson (concussion) is day-to-day.