EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers host the New York Islanders, who are currently tied for second in the Eastern Conference, on Sunday at Rexall Place. Last season, the two teams split their series with each team winning at home.
The Islanders come into the game with a record of 26-11-1 and 53 points in the standings, tied with Pittsburgh.
“They play a fast game, their defence is very active off the rush, they come with a four-man attack and they’re good in the offensive zone so we’re going to have to play our system well defensively and have our head on a swivel in the d-zone because they are very active,” Oilers interim coach Todd Nelson said.
Under Nelson, the Oilers have managed to send five of his first eight games to overtime and have secured points in three straight (1-0-2). But in order to get on the other side of those one-goal games, the Oilers are going to need to find a way to finish.
“You get the point then you bring it to overtime but you’ve got to finish the game, you’ve got to do the job to get that second point,” Oilers winger Benoit Pouliot said. “I think lately has been much better for that. We get leads at times, we’ve just got to keep them. But that will come. With new systems, a new coach and everything, he is going to tell us what to do and we’ll be fine.”
For the Oilers, it may come down to developing that killer instinct to close out games in which they have a lead.
“Once you get the lead sometimes, you want to step back on your heels and play more defensively,” Pouliot said. “But we’ve just got to keep pounding, get on there and play on our toes instead of always leaning back and waiting for them to come. If they’re going to get 15-20 shots in the third period then that’s not good when you have the lead. We’ve just got to keep going to them. It’s going to turn around, it’s going to be good. We’ve got a good feeling in the room with the new coach and everything is really positive. We’ve just got to do our jobs.”
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
The messaging for Nelson’s coaching as always been to keep things simple. It’s something the Oilers have been doing more of and continue to get better at with each game. It’s also something the players seem to be receptive to. Pouliot, who played on last year’s New York Rangers team that went to the Stanley Cup Final, sees how it’s beneficial to simplify.
“It’s awesome,” Pouliot said. “Sometimes you want to try real hard but you don’t do the right things. If you keep it simple, I will bring up last year in New York. That’s exactly what we did with the Rangers. We kept things simple, especially in the playoffs. If you want to get the puck deep, get the puck deep and go get it. That’s simple hockey, it’s easy hockey to play and you get a lot more chances that way instead of turning the puck over at the blue line trying to make that perfect play.”
Nicknamed Colonel Klink, after an old television show, Rob Klinkhammer skated with the Oilers for the first time since being acquired in a trade on Friday.
“Yeah, you’re always nervous, especially coming into a new team,” Klinkhammer said. “You’ve got to learn a new system and stuff but I think you just try not to think, just go out and play, play hard, just do your thing and hopefully it all turns out for the best.”
Klinkhammer has played in 139 NHL games, recording 20 goals and 19 assists.
“I coached against him when he was in the minors with Rockford and that’s really the only time that I really got to see him up close,” Nelson said. “He has good speed, he’s a big body and we can definitely use that speed in our lineup. I haven’t seen him play lately in the NHL but from what I saw in the minors he was tenacious, he was hard on the puck and he forechecked very well so that’s what we expect from him tonight.”
Klinkhammer is slated to play with Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon on the team’s fourth line.
QUICK NOTES: The Oilers have won their last four games against the Islanders at Rexall Place. Ben Scrivens has started three-straight games (9 out of last 10) for the Oilers coming into tonight and has .926 save percentage in his last three outings. Scrivens is 2-1-0 all-time against the Islanders. New York is 7-1-1 in their last nine games. Jaroslav Halak, who will start against the Oilers, has won his last seven starts and is 18-2-0 in his last 20 games. The Islanders have no allowed a first-period goal in their last six games.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
ISLANDERS (26-11-1) at OILERS (8-22-9)
TV: MSG+, SNW
Season series: The New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers split two games last season, with each team winning at home. Oilers forward Taylor Hall scored three goals in two games, including the overtime goal in the teams' most recent meeting, a 3-2 Oilers win at Rexall Place on March 6, 2014.
Islanders team scope: Forward Michael Grabner is practicing and coach Jack Capuano told Newsday that Grabner has been pain-free in his continued recovery from hernia surgery, but there might not be a place for him in the lineup right now. The Islanders would have to put a player on waivers to clear a roster spot to activate Grabner, who last played Dec. 13. Grabner had hernia surgery in October and had two goals in five games early last month. He was placed on injured reserve Dec. 17 because of some lingering pain from the surgery. The Islanders are 6-1-1 since Grabner last played.
Oilers team scope: The Oilers start a four-game homestand looking to end a two-game losing streak, but they have points in three in a row (1-0-2). They'll likely be without rookie center Leon Draisaitl; the Edmonton Journal is reporting the third pick of the 2014 NHL Draft will be sent to the Western Hockey League. Draisaitl has two goals and seven assists in 37 games, but had two assists in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, including the primary assist on Andrew Ference's third-period goal that gave the Oilers a 3-2 lead. It was Draisaitl's first multipoint NHL game. Draisaitl was a healthy scratch in the Oilers' 3-2 shootout loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. Draisaitl's rights belong to the Prince Albert Raiders, the team he led in scoring last season with 105 points in 64 games. However Prince Albert is near the bottom of the Western Hockey League standings and GM Bruno Campese told the Prince Albert Daily Herald that the Raiders will trade Draisaitl's rights, most likely to the Kelowna Rockets, who lead the WHL with 63 points.