News and notes from the Oilers Dressing Room, including a feature on the club's focus on returning to a 'five-up, five-down' mentality as well as a look at the success of James Neal, Jujhar Khaira and Alex Chiasson on the same line.
EDMONTON, AB - The Edmonton Oilers, at this stage of the regular season, are expecting every team's best.
"It's a lot of games and every point matters now," defenceman Oscar Klefbom said.
"The teams that are coming in here, they're going to try to beat us. Obviously they're going to play their first goalie, their best team possible, and match their team to ours."
They'd be remiss to expect anything different.
The Winnipeg Jets sit in a three-way tie for the two final Wild Card spots in the Western Conference with 78 points, hoping to take two points on the road at Rogers Place away from an Oilers team that's looking to further cement its spot in the Pacific Division's top three.
"We need a full effort tonight and Winnipeg is a desperate team," Klefbom continued. "We're going to play desperate teams all the way here now, so I think it's a good experience for us to be in this situation. I think we've been doing a good job so far during the year to put ourselves where we are right now, but it's not enough."
Add in their own adversity, and the Oilers have adjustments to make. Despite being 4-1-1 in their last six games, the Oilers have conceded 40-plus shots in four of those contests to the tune of a minus-83 shot differential.
A disconnect apparent in their game to the players and coaching staff was a point of emphasis in a full practice on Tuesday -- something that's been hard to come by since the Oilers played three games in four nights on last week's road trip.
"I think our game is just getting spread out right now," said Connor McDavid, who'll return to the lineup after missing Monday's overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights with illness.
"Guys are waiting for the puck in the neutral zone and the defence has no one to give the puck to. That's on the forwards and we have to come back, be five-tight, and this is something Tipp has talked about since Training Camp.
"That whole theme of five guys all together over the ice and close supporting each other, we need to get back to that."
With 12 games remaining in the regular season for the Oilers, it's motivation to embrace the challenge and get back to playing the right way.
"There's going to be nights where you feel like you don't play as well as you'd like, but that just gives you more incentive to jump and grab it the next night," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "We've had some of those times here lately, but that adversity. I hope we embrace that and use it as a motivating factor because these games are all huge.
"For Winnipeg, it's a huge game for them. It's a huge game for us. There's opportunity and excitement about playing in big games."
A jam-packed month of March can, and will, take its toll.
But the potential reward at the end of it, to the Oilers players that have experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Edmonton, is well worth the cost.
"It's a lot of games and there's bumps and bruises in every team," Klefbom, who's played in two games since returning from a shoulder injury, said. "It's a tough month, but I'm not just speaking for myself. The guys that were here remember how fun it was playing in the playoffs.
"Just the atmosphere and the city itself - it's amazing. So we've got to take care of getting back to the win column and playing the right way, because playoffs can be really short if you're not ready for it."
Tippett has approached every game fresh, tinkering and adapting to every opponent with new faces in his lineup and new players returning from illness and ailments. But the pressure on him to put out a proper lineup and on the players to perform in intense situations can bring his group closer together at an important time.
"There are always challenges with the travel, schedule, and injuries," Tippett said. "We've integrated some new players in and brought some injured players back, but that's the fun of building a team.
"You get a comradery around it, and there's a pressure or a mindset that you have to play well. But that's a good pressure. These players love that pressure. I would say that they would enjoy it way less when they don't have that pressure."
The Oilers occupy the second playoff spot in the Pacific with 83 points and are four points up on the Calgary Flames in third.
Even with a slight bit of separation, a lot can change in 12 games. But having the opportunity to compete in game where the two points are vital is has an exhilaration factor that only rivals getting into the postseason.
"We're still having fun. Winning games is fun and being a part of this is fun," McDavid said. "Playing meaningful games right now is exciting. We're in a good position here, and if we can keep rolling we can put ourselves in a good spot."
Those in the lineup who know the feeling know it well. To those who don't, the word of mouth can do just as much for their confidence.
"It's exciting," Kailer Yamamoto said. "All the other guys talk about playoffs and how crazy the fans are here, so I'm really excited and hopefully we can have a good last stretch and put us in a good playoff position."
Connor McDavid returns to the lineup tonight after missing Monday's loss to Vegas with illness, and Yamamoto is good to go after some 'discomfort' kept the winger out of Tuesday's practice.
Mike Smith makes the start in goal tonight for the Oilers after Mikko Koskinen posted back-to-back 45-save performances against the Golden Knights and Columbus Blue Jackets.
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (37-24-9) vs JETS (36-28-6)
TV: 7:08 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet
Wednesday's game is the third and final between the Oilers and Jets this season.
Kyle Connor struck in the shootout to seal a 1-0 SO win for Winnipeg over Edmonton on Oct. 20.
When the two sides met again on Feb. 29, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tallied three points apiece in a 3-2 victory at Rogers Place.
Goaltenders Mike Smith and Connor Hellebuyck have gone head-to-head in every game in the season series. Smith has stopped 62 of 64 shots for a .96 GAA and .967 SV% while Hellebuyck owns a 1.47 GAA and .940 SV%.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are 4-1-1 in their last six appearances but have allowed 40 or more shots against in four of those games, prompting Head Coach Dave Tippett to reinforce the club's overall team defence by synchronizing the forwards and defenders.
"Hopefully we got rid of some messes and we can start moving in the right direction," said the bench boss following Tuesday's skate.
Edmonton's maintained pace in the Pacific Division - sitting second with 83 points - thanks in large part to goaltenders Smith (19-11-6) and Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3), who have shared backstopping assignments all season.
Draisaitl (43G, 67A) and McDavid (33G, 63A) continue to lead the League in scoring with 110 and 96 points, respectively.
Jets team scope:
The Jets have gained momentum of late, bringing a three-game winning streak into Edmonton while also navigating an 11-5-2 showing over their last 18 matches.
Despite their 3-0-0 start to March, the Jets remain just short of the second Western Conference wild card position.
The visitors are tied with the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks with 78 points but have played 70 games to their 69, possessing an inferior points percentage.
Connor leads the Jets with 36 goals but Mark Scheifele is the club's assists and points leader with 42 and 73, respectively.
Hellebuyck is 31-20-5 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers are 29-6-3 when scoring first and 26-1-2 when leading after the 2nd period. ... EDM has spent 36.4 percent of the time leading this season, which is the 5th-highest percent of time leading in the NHL. ... Edmonton has scored 221 goals on 2,062 shots this season, ranking third in the NHL in shooting percentage with a 10.7 average. ... Draisaitl has the second-highest shooting percentage this season at 20 percent. ... McDavid has 18 points in 13 career tilts with the Jets (2 G, 16 A). ...
Blake Wheeler has 21 points in 24 career games vs the Oilers (4 G, 17 A) and Patrik Laine has five points in 10 career games (3 G, 2 A). ... Hellebuyck has an NHL-high six shutouts this season, which is tied for the most in a single season in Jets franchise history. ... Hellebuyck is 1-5-0 with a 3.26 GAA and .891 SV% in his last six road starts but the netminder is 6-1-1 with a 2.48 GAA, .915 SV% and two shutouts in his last 8 starts against the Oilers.
OILERS - Connor McDavid (illness) is day-to-day; Mike Green (MCL) is out; Joakim Nygard (hand) is out.
JETS - Anthony Bitetto (upper body) is day-to-day; Sami Niku (lower body) is day-to-day; Luca Sbisa (upper body) is on IR; Bryan Little (perforated drum, vertigo) is on IR; Mark Letestu (myocarditis) is on IR; Dustin Byfuglien (personal reasons) is out.