Looking for a spark, the Oilers (2-7-1 in their last 10) are tinkering with the forward line combinations heading into their game tonight against the New Jersey Devils.
Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle will be centred by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Leon Draisaitl will centre Taylor Hall and Teddy Purcell, while David Perron, Mark Arcobello and Nail Yakupov make up the third line. Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto round out the lineup.
“A different mix, a little different mix,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said of what they’re looking for. “We think that Nuge has hit a spot where he can carry a line and we know that Taylor can carry a line too. Will there be times where we throw that line back together? Absolutely, but we feel that Taylor can certainly make the players around him better and Nuge and Ebs do that as well. We’ll see how the new mix goes and we’re really encouraged with how Teddy has responded, the last game. We’ll see if he can continue that as well.”
Hall moving to a line with Draisaitl and Purcell could help spark some offence, while the Oilers know what they’ve got with Pouliot, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. The three played well together when Hall was out with a knee injury.
“Pouliot with Nuge and Ebs was a good line for us, so there is no danger there,” Eakins said. “Hall is Hall. You know what you’re going to get from him every night and now with Teddy really stepping up his game, and Leon as well, that might be the makings of a good line. We’re at least going to look at it. Overall, they struggled last game. Arcobello’s line had a rough night, but overall that line has been pretty good for us. We’re hoping that they can rebound and we’ll see where it goes. It’s an easy switch on the bench to go for something different.”
Martin Marincin will return to the lineup tonight against the New Jersey Devils. The 22-year-old defenceman hasn’t played since November 7, in Buffalo.
“It is hard,” Marincin said of sitting. “But I was just working hard in practice to be ready for a chance to play a game.”
Marincin watched five games from the press box, waiting for his chance to return to the ice.
“From up top, it’s a better look at the game,” Marincin said. “I learned a lot and hopefully I bring everything to the game tonight.”
The Oilers are hoping to see a little more passion from Marincin with his play without the puck.
“We want to see some passion and we want to see some urgency when it comes to, especially the play in our zone,” Eakins said. “We can’t have him getting bumped off pucks, he’s got to win those battles. The last game that he came in, we thought he played really well with the puck. We thought he really took hold of it and was making some strong plays. The challenge for him is to have that same urgency and that same passion when he doesn’t have the puck.”
DRAISAITL AND HALL
Oilers rookie centre Leon Draisiatl hasn’t had many opportunities to play with the Oilers top winger, Taylor Hall. So when the two skate together tonight against the Devils, Draisaitl is hoping to take advantage of the chance to do just that.
“Obviously, it’s really exciting for me,” Draisaitl said. “He’s a world class player, he’s one of the best players in the NHL. Having him on my side is definitely a big help and I’m really looking forward to playing with him.”
Draisaitl hasn’t played much recently, with three of his last four games all netting under 10 minutes of ice time. Playing with Hall could give him a chance to play more minutes.
“The last couple of games I haven’t been playing that well and it has definitely shown in the ice time as well,” Draisaitl said. “I’m looking forward to hopefully playing a little more shifts and more minutes. I’m definitely excited for the game tonight.”
NO FRIENDS ON THE ICE
Mark Fayne will play his former team for the first time since signing with the Oilers in free agency. The defenceman played for seasons in New Jersey.
“First time I’ve ever done it,” Fayne said. “All through college and everything, I’ve always played with the same guys. It will be a little different out there, but no friends on the ice.”
Fayne has little insight on the team other than knowing you’ve got to take what they give you because it’s not much.
“Real tight-knit hockey,” he said. “They’re not going to give you much and as soon as they give you something they are going to pounce on it.” QUICK NOTES: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will play his 200th career NHL game tonight. Taylor Hall is one goal away from his 100th career NHL goal. Matt Hendricks leads the Oilers in hits with 63. Edmonton is 26-17-7-6 all time against New Jersey. Devils Jaromir Jagr has 15 goals, 24 assists, 39 points in 32 career appearances against the Oilers. Last season, the series was tied 1-0-1 with the home team winning both.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
DEVILS (8-9-2) at OILERS (6-11-2)
TV: MSG+, MSG+ 2, SNW
Season series: The New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers split two games last season, each winning on home ice. Devils right wing Jaromir Jagr has 15 goals and 39 points in 32 games against the Oilers. Taylor Hall has two goals and four points in four games against the Devils.
Devils team scope: Forward Adam Henrique returned to the lineup for the first time in seven games on Tuesday in a 3-1 road loss against the Winnipeg Jets. Henrique, who was recovering from a leg muscle pull, played 17:28, had no shots and was 7-0 on faceoffs. He centered Patrik Elias and Martin Havlat at practice on Thursday, according to NJ.com. Dainius Zubrus, who was struck in the mouth with a puck in the second period Tuesday and needed four stitches, is probable, and Jacob Josefson, a healthy scratch in Winnipeg, was centering Tuomo Ruutu and Michael Ryder at practice. The Devils are playing the second game of a four-game road trip; they have lost six of their past eight and have been outscored 20-14 during that stretch. Despite the struggles, the team is a perfect 16-for-16 on the penalty kill over the past four games. The Devils are 2-9-2 on the road against Western Canadian teams during the last five seasons. "We're not scoring. We're not scoring on our chances. We had enough chances to get two or three goals [against Winnipeg]," coach Peter DeBoer said via Northjersey.com. "We had as many chances as they did despite the shot clock, you know, legitimate chances to score. We've got to find a way to get a power-play goal. Someone's got to get a goal for us. That's the bottom line."
Oilers team scope: Forward Jordan Eberle and defenseman Nikita Nikitin did not participate in practice Thursday but are probable. The Oilers lost their fourth straight game on Wednesday, a 5-4 decision against the Vancouver Canucks, to drop to 0-9-1 against opponents from the Western Conference. The Oilers have been outscored 14-10 in the past four games. The Oilers are 6-2-1 against Eastern Conference opponents this season. "As a group I think we're sick of trying to pull too many positives. I think we're past that. I think we're trying to mature as a team where we're not patting ourselves on the back for individual things. I mean, we really need to be celebrating full team wins," captain Andrew Ference said via Edmontonsun.com. "It's no secret that there's a small margin for error in this League, a small difference between teams that are holding down playoff spots and teams that aren't."