EDMONTON, AB - The Edmonton Oilers continue a three-game homestand welcoming the New York Islanders to Rogers Place. After dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, Edmonton continues its search for its first win since Feb. 7 in Minnesota (0-4-1 in their last five games).
Tonight marks the second and final meeting between the two clubs this season. Despite outshooting the Islanders 36-24, the Oilers dropped a 5-2 decision in Brooklyn on Saturday.
"They keep you to the outside and their goaltenders have both had great years," said Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. "They're committed to checking. (Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz) starts his checking line every game and it sends the team a message. He's got three competent players there that are arguably the best fourth line but he plays them as a third line.
"It sends a clear message to your team on how you want the game to be played and he's got the personnel to do it."
After a scoreless first period on Saturday, Ryan Pulock, Valtteri Filppula, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson all tallied for New York while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl got on the board for Edmonton.
"We're two teams that are familiar with each other recently," said defenceman Darnell Nurse. "It was a really good game. We just gave them too many 'Grade-A' opportunities on Saturday. It was a good game from them and we expect nothing but the same tonight."
New York is playing in the second half of a back-to-back after losing 4-2 to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night. The Islanders are 9-0-0 in these situations this season.
Robin Lehner is expected to get the nod for the visiting club. The netminder has an 18-9-4 record with a 2.08 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
"With Lehner, you see games where it looks like nobody is going to score on him and nothing is going to go by him," said Hitchcock following the morning skate. "Physically, he can be intimidating when he's on top of his game."
The Oilers are in search of their first win on home ice since Jan. 14 (7-2 vs. Buffalo) as the team is 2-11-1 in its last 14 outings at Rogers Place. Meanwhile, the Islanders are 17-11-2 on the road this season and are currently sitting in first place in the Metropolitan Division. Forward Mathew Barzal has registered nine goals and 18 assists in 30 road games this season.
Just moments before Tuesday's match against the Arizona Coyotes, it was announced that Connor McDavid would miss his second game of the season with an illness.
Oilers fans can now take a deep breath.
Both McDavid and Head Coach Ken Hitchcock informed the media that the Oilers captain will be suiting up on Thursday night.
"It's never easy when you don't feel good," McDavid said of Tuesday. "I just didn't quite feel right all day. I was still trying to do when the guys went out for warm-up. I did a warm-up on my own and tried to put the gear on. I just couldn't do it."
Added Hitchcock on McDavid's return: "It's a big help. He says he feels a lot better and he's good to go tonight. It's a good sign for us and if we continue to play at the same pace and add him into the mix, it's going to be real good for us."
McDavid registered one assist in Saturday's loss in Brooklyn and has been stellar against Eastern Conference opponents this season, amassing 36 points (12G, 24A) in 22 games against the East.
"We played well on Saturday," said McDavid. "We just made little mistakes that they capitalized on. We need to find a way to limit that. We had our chances and the game could have gone the other way."
In the last two seasons, when McDavid records at least one point, the Oilers have a record of 57-43-9. When the centreman is held pointless, the team's record falls to 3-26-2.
McDavid leads the league in TOI per game among forwards (22:56) this season and is currently third in NHL scoring behind Nikita Kucherov (TB) and Patrick Kane (CHI) with 83 points (31G, 52A). His 27 powerplay points and seven game-winning goals have both tied career-highs with 23 games remaining.
He is operating with a 17.0 shooting percentage, which is the highest of his career and already has a career-high eight powerplay goals.
McDavid has 42 points (15G, 27A) in 28 games on home ice this campaign.
Outside of a tough stretch to begin the middle frame against the Coyotes, the Oilers felt good about most parts of their game. However, a common theme was present following the 3-2 shootout loss: without a "full 60," wins are hard to come by.
"If we have the same mindset and same focus we have as we had in the third period (against Arizona) and if we could do it for a full 60 minutes, I like our chances on most nights," said defenseman Darnell Nurse. "That's got to be a focus of ours because we know what we're capable of and we know we can do it. But we can say that as much as we want - we just need to do it.
"We all know what it's going to take the right result."
For Head Coach Ken Hitchcock, the team's growth over the last few weeks proves the team is heading in the right direction. The Oilers bench boss acknowledges it isn't as simple as flipping a switch overnight.
"Would we have liked it to be a month ago? Or six weeks ago? Yes. But these are steps that involve playing for each other and not with each other," said Hitchcock. "We're really playing for each other right now. We've got a five-man unit and we're going up and down the ice together. We're connected.
"We've got a lot of guys that are playing really well because of that connection but these are the learning curves that you go through. Regardless of where we're at, we're going to keep playing this way right to the end. We're here to win."
When asked about the lineup this morning, Hitchcock teased tonight's opposing coach and revealed why he wouldn't share the forward lines and defensive pairings for the game.
"I don't trust that Trotz, so I'm not giving anybody anything right now," laughed Hitchcock. "You'll have to wait for the warm-up and have to find out tonight. He's a scoundrel."
Lines from Wednesday's practice were (Note: McDavid did not skate on Wednesday but will draw into the lineup tonight):
Nugent-Hopkins - Draisaitl - Kassian
Rieder - Cave - Chiasson
Lucic - Brodziak - Currie
Rattie - Malone - Gagner
Klefbom - Larsson
Nurse - Russell
Sekera - Benning
The coach did confirm that Jesse Puljujarvi and Jujhar Khaira will remain out with injuries in the short-term. While Hitchcock could not provide an update on Puljujarvi, he suspects that Khaira will remain out for a "full two weeks."
Tonight's game is the second of two meetings between the two teams this season. They met last week in New York, with the Islanders winning 5-2.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are looking to right the ship, with only one win in their last 12 games. They had a valiant effort with their captain Connor McDavid out due to illness against the Arizona Coyotes, tying the game on a goal by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 11 seconds to play before ultimately falling in a shootout 3-2.
Leon Draisaitl scored his 35th goal of the season on Feb. 16 @ NYI, giving him goals in three consecutive games. He also has goals in six of his last seven games (8G) and goals in eight of his last ten games (11G). He didn't score last game but he had two assists to continue his tear.
Islanders team scope:
The Islanders dropped a 4-2 decision last night in Calgary. Prior to that, they had won five out of six games. As the surprise story of the year, they have 76 points on the season after losing captain John Tavares in the off-season to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 76 points puts them in first place in the Metropolitan Division, three points up on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.
By the Numbers:
The Islanders are playing their second game in as many nights this evening. In these situations this season, they are 9-0-0. ... Despite the strong season from the Islanders, their special teams haven't been great. Their power play is 16.0% which ranks 25th in the NHL and their penalty kill is 80.0% which ranks 19th.
OILERS - Jesse Puljujarvi and Jujhar Khair are out due to injury.
ISLANDERS - Andrew Ladd and Thomas Hickey are day-to-day