News and notes from Oilers practice, including Joakim Hygard's elevation to the top line and Dave Tippett's one-on-one conversations with players ahead of an important eight-game stretch before the Christmas break.
EDMONTON, AB - The days of the Brass Bonanza and the Hartford Whalers are long gone for Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett.
"You like it. Our team liked it because that's when we scored, so that was the fun part," Tippett said of Hartford's iconic goal song. "I don't think the other teams liked it very much."
Tippett spent eight seasons in the green, blue and white jersey of the Whalers from 1983-90, with plenty of positive memories of his experiences with the club that became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997.
"I have a lot of history. Not with that organization, but before that organization," Tippett said. "There's still people there, the old trainer Skip Cunningham from way back in the Hartford days, so I still have a soft spot for Carolina."
Even now as the bench boss of the Edmonton Oilers, it's tough for Tippett to shake his affiliation with the whale logo he was associated with for 564 career NHL games. Not that he'd want to, anyway.
"Of all the things that people send or try to get signed, the Hartford Whalers cards or jerseys are by far the most out of anything," he said.
Ron Francis, Pat Verbeek and Ray Ferraro in a Whalers uniform have been replaced in the red, black and white of Carolina with the likes of Sebastien Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton - three offensive leaders for a team that's 9-4-0 with 43 goals scored in their last 13 games.
Francis would carve out a 10-year career with the Hurricanes before having his number retired in 2011 and assuming the mantle of head coach prior to last season, guiding the club to its first playoff berth in a decade and a playoff exit from the Eastern Conference finals.
"I played one year with him in Philadelphia," Tippett said of his coaching counterpart. "First of all, fitness. He was one of the fittest athletes I think I ever played with, so that's part of it. But he was a real honest, hard-working guy and a real good teammate."
"It was one of those things where I wouldn't have said that guy would've been a coach, but I wouldn't bet against it either."
There's an element excitement in Carolina's play on the ice, and Francis has been central to finding a working formula for a young and talented Hurricanes team buzzing around the NHL with an 18-11-1 record through 30 games.
"I think you have to have that," Tippett said of fun in the locker room. "It's a long season. It's a grind. They have some things going there that's individual to that team, and that's the way they have fun."
"I'd like to see our players have fun, too. We try to make our practices fun. You can't just grind all the time. You have to enjoy coming to the rink and enjoy playing. I think every coach looks at that."
Defenceman Caleb Jones is ironing out the details of his game, much like the drycleaners did for his suit in Bakersfield after his first stint with the Oilers this season.
"My one suit was getting pretty bad here," Jones laughed in his morning media avail. "I had to take it back in Bakersfield, but I got fresh stuff now. So I'm feeling good about that."
After being assigned to the AHL and the Bakersfield Condors on December 3 after almost three weeks and nine games in an Oilers uniform, the blueliner was brought back on Monday for his defensive ability ahead of what will be a heavy eight-game schedule for the Oilers before the Christmas break.
"He jumps right in," Tippett said of Jones' inclusion in tonight's lineup. "He's a guy that's been kind of back and forth with (Joel) Persson there. I just think Caleb's a little bit of a better defender right now. We have a tough stretch of games here with good teams, and we just felt like he gives us a bit more stability back there. So he'll play tonight."
Jones scored a goal against the Stockton Heat in his lone game with the Condors between recall and reassignment on December 7, stretching his broken-up point streak with the Oilers affiliate to five games (1G, 5A).
"I try to take it day by day," Jones said. "Whichever league I'm in, I just try to show up to the rink, play hard, and have a good attitude. Whatever happens, happens. I'm fortunate to be back up here."
The reinforcement for Jones by the coaching staff is a motivator to show more on the right side of a pairing with either Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell in his return to Edmonton after a self-admitted solid first stint.
"It just helps my game as a player knowing the coach has to put you out there," Jones said. "I think I'll be playing on the right side tonight, so that's a side I've been on for a few years and I'm comfortable with. I'm not going to try and do anything crazy; just go out and contribute to a win and be solid."
"I think I was playing well when I was up here just trying to be solid, but I think I've got a lot more to offer."
Defending first is the name of the game in Jones' return for the coaching staff, with the peripherals of good passing and hopefully chipping in more offensively an added bonus.
"I think they've had a big emphasis on trying to use the middle of the ice more," Jones said. "I think tonight that's something I'll try to put into my game, but they've told me they just want a really solid defenceman. That's what I've been trying to focus on - being good in my own zone and then letting other things come as they do.
"Hopefully I can start contributing a bit more offensively, but the main focus is the defensive end for me."
Mikko Koskinen, who's 11-3-2 with a .921 save percentage and 2.53 goals-against average, is expected to make the start tonight for the Oilers.
Tuesday's meeting at Rogers Place will be the first of two meetings between the Oilers and Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes swept the season series in 2018-19, winning 3-1 at home on February 15 when Nino Niederreiter scored twice and Curtis McElhinney made 40 saves to improve to 7-0-0 against the Oilers. On January 20, Niederreiter scored twice again for his first two goals as member of the Hurricanes in a 7-4 victory in Edmonton.
The two teams will conclude their season series in Raleigh on February 18.
Oilers team scope:
A 3-2 overtime defeat to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday dashed the Oilers hopes of building a win streak from a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings two days prior.
Riley Sheahan scored his first goal of the season and first as an Oiler, while Joakim Nygard's assist on Sheahan's goal and the equalizing marker in the second period marked the Swede's first multi-point game in the NHL with a goal and assist.
Nygard was promoted to the top line with Connor McDavid and Zack Kassian at Monday's practice by Head Coach Dave Tippett to bring balance to his lineup, and the recall of Caleb Jones is a more defensive-minded move with focus towards the Oilers eight remaining games before the Christmas break.
The Oilers are 1-1-1 on their current four-game homestand.
Hurricanes team scope:
Carolina begins a five-game road trip that'll take Tuesday's visitors to Rogers Place through Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Colorado in the next 10 days.
The Hurricanes are winners of two-straight coming into Edmonton after downing two Pacific Division opponents, the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild, 3-2 in a shootout and 6-2 at their home of PNC Arena.
Andrei Svechnikov, the second-overall pick from the 2018 Draft, leads the Hurricanes in scoring with 13 goals and 19 assists in 29 games. Defenceman Dougie Hamilton is tied for second in scoring by a defenceman this season with 28 points (10G, 18A) in 30 games.
By the Numbers:
Carolina's 23 goals from defencemen this season is tied for first in the NHL. ...The Oilers defencemen have scored nine goals this season, which is tied for the third-fewest in the NHL. ...
The Hurricanes (93.3 percent) and Oilers (90.5 percent) have the League's top-two penalty-kill percentages since November 9. ... Carolina's allowed two goals or less in six of their last eight games. ...
Oscar Klefbom has an NHL-best 102 blocked shots this season. ... Leon Draisaitl has recorded a point in 26 games so far this campaign - a league high. ...
OILERS - Matt Benning (concussion) is on IR;
HURRICANES - Erik Haula (knee) is day-to-day; Martin Necas (lower body) is day-to-day.