EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers are in the midst of a stretch of one-goal games. Seven straight Oilers contests have been decided by just one goal. The Oilers record in those games? 2-3-2. They’ve managed to get points in two straight, but need to transition to wins in these tight decisions.
They lost 4-3 in overtime to Arizona on Tuesday and 2-1 to San Jose in a shootout on Thursday. A lot of these results come down to finding more offence. Goaltending and defence have been positives, but goals have been hard to come by during this last stretch of games. Edmonton has only allowed 15 in their last seven, but has only scored 12.
“We’re happy with the defensive part of it,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “Our penalty kill in Arizona let us down a little bit, but the defensive part and the goaltending, we haven’t been giving up many. But did that come at the cost of offence? When we look at our chances-for over those seven games, we’ve had numbers in and around our normal range or territory.
“Then we have to look at how and where they’re coming from and maybe they’re not as dangerous as other games, but we’ve had some pretty good looks at the net where it hasn’t gone in. Sometimes that becomes individual awareness and finishing around the net. As the games get tighter and the margin for error for success gets a little tighter, you squeeze the stick a bit more. We have some really talented players who are on cold streaks. I’m confident they’ll come out of it at some point, and when they do maybe it will all happen at once. We’ll take it.”
There’s no predicting whether tonight’s game will be decided by one goal. Edmonton hosts the Calgary Flames, who have scored three or more in four of their last five.
“They’re playing well lately,” said Oilers winger Taylor Hall. “We’ve gotten points in consecutive games, we’ve done some good things, but to put a win together at home, on a Saturday night against Calgary is a good opportunity.”
The Oilers hope they can shake the monkey off their back and get their first regulation win, and a huge two points, since December 21.
“It’s going to be a very tough game, obviously,” said Oilers winger Iiro Pakarinen. “It’s a very good team, a fast team who skates very well and we just need to get some speed going on for us too and get some special teams going. I think that’s what it’s going to be tonight, special teams, so we need to win that race.”
The Oilers have five games to go before their All-Star break begins. They have two at home, including tonight, and three on the road starting Monday in Florida. Some coaches around the league talk about using home stands and road trips and stretches of games as pretend playoff series to get the team to give a little extra.
The Oilers coaching staff isn’t using the term “playoffs” but they are stressing the importance of this stretch of games to the players.
“We wont talk about it being a playoff series, because it isn’t. We’re playing different teams,” said McLellan. “But we will talk about the importance of these games. This segment of games we’re finishing tonight, in particular, against Calgary pitted us against three teams we’re chasing. Arizona, San Jose and Calgary, and we’ve only been able to put two of four points in the bank. This one becomes a pretty important one for us. There’s a little bit of talk like that going on around our team and in the locker room to push our players, but playoffs or playoff series, no.”
A LOOK AT THE LINEUP
McLellan did some tinkering with the Oilers forward lines on Thursday against San Jose, trying to find the best fits with two new players (Nail Yakupov and Zack Kassian) in the lineup.
The coach doesn’t always like to mix things up, but if they aren’t getting results then you shuffle the deck.
“When it’s going real well, I don’t see any reason to disrupt it,” said McLellan. “When it begins to fade a little bit, I believe in giving that group an opportunity to work their way out of it. They enjoy playing with each other, but if it’s not giving us the results we need we have to look at doing different things.”
One combination McLellan has like the last couple of games includes Pakarinen in the top six.
“I think he’s played well the last two games,” said McLellan. “Heavy, hard, he’s created turnovers for other players. With the position he plays in, he can play physical against some of the other team’s skill.”
Pakarinen is skating on a line with Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Cam Talbot is expected to start between the pipes for Edmonton.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
FLAMES (20-20-2) at OILERS (17-23-5)
TV: CBC, SN
Season series: The Calgary Flames have defeated the Edmonton Oilers twice in three games. Defenseman TJ Brodie leads the Flames with a goal and three assists; forward Michael Frolik has three goals. Oilers forward Taylor Hall has two goals and seven points.
Flames team scope: Goalie Jonas Hiller will make his first back-to-back starts since Dec. 10-12. Forward Jiri Hudler had two assists in a 6-0 win against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday but will be out again after a week's absence prior to Wednesday. "He was telling us he was good, but this morning getting on the ice, it was clear that it was not good," Hartley told the Flames website. "He wanted to go for a skate, and obviously after a while he told the trainers, 'I just can't go.'" Frolik, who has missed 12 games with an upper-body injury, skated on a line with left wing Sam Bennett and center Michael Backlund and could return, meaning Joe Colborne likely will be scratched for the second straight game. Defenseman Kris Russell (maintenance day) did not practice Friday.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton did not practice on Friday after a 2-1 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. Forward Rob Klinkhammer cleared waivers and was reassigned to Bakersfield of the American Hockey League. Forward Zack Kassian, acquired in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens last month, made his Oilers debut against the Sharks, and forward Nail Yakupov returned after missing seven weeks because of a sprained ankle. Yakupov scored Thursday. "I thought he had a lot of energy," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers website. "He played fast. He was prepared to shoot the puck, and we'd been missing that dangerous shot all the time. … I was impressed with him being able to play at the pace he did after being out as long as he was (22 games). Good for him." Goalie Cam Talbot has started seven of the past eight games. Forward Matt Hendricks will serve the second of a three-game suspension for boarding Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad on Sunday.