EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers have already gone through a major shuffle to their blueline ahead of Game 2 of their young 2019-20 NHL season on Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings - and it's young defenders Ethan Bear and Joel Persson winning out.
A long-term injury to Adam Larsson began a cascade of moves for the Oilers on Thursday and Friday to fill the void and share the load in ice time and leadership left by the Swede, who'll miss six-to-eight weeks with a broken right fibula.
"Everybody has to take it. It'll be a group effort tonight," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "That's the way we're looking at it. When you lose a guy like Larsson, it's a big hole. But not one guy is going to fill that, and we're going to need the group to fill it.
"Manage the time, manage the situation, but I think the group will play well."
Persson lined up with Oscar Klefbom early in Main Camp and Pre-Season before a shoulder injury set back the Kristiansand, Sweden product. The rearguard was activated off Injured Reserve this afternoon and reunited with his countryman at this morning's skate, setting the stage for him to make his NHL debut against the Kings.
Bear, after impressing in Camp and being part of the shuffle despite being assigned to the Bakersfield Condors but never leaving Edmonton, was latched on to a pairing with Darnell Nurse in a spot that was formerly occupied by the ailing Larsson.
Every move, and every decision, made with the sole goal of helping maintain early momentum against a Kings side entering their first game of the season under a new bench boss and former Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
"The first game was obviously a good start for us," Leon Draisaitl said. "I thought we had some really good moments, did a lot of good things, but a lot of things we need to clean up and get better at. It was the first game and those are always a little different.
"I like what we're doing right now, I like the way we've been playing and the way we've been practicing, so hopefully we keep that up."
One of the main hinges from the Oilers defensive shuffle was Persson, whose health according to Tippett on Friday would help determine the lineup that was eventually revealed at this morning's pre-game skate.
"I don't know how many have asked me yesterday if I'm ready or if I'm going to play, how I was feeling and all those questions," Persson said. "There's going to be a lot of people back home who'll be up until the middle of the night to watch the game."
The former part-time hockey player and teacher in Sweden watched on as Gaëtan Haas and fellow countryman Joakim Nygard made their debuts in Tuesday's Oilers opening-night win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, and leaned on the pair for advice.
"Nygard is Swedish and I know him a bit, so first I asked him how he felt and said he really enjoyed I," Persson said. "Of course you're maybe a bit nervous during your first shift, but I'm just going to go out there and focus on my game to help the team the best I can."
Draisaitl and Connor McDavid felt his early influence.
Former Oilers bench boss McLellan was vital early in their careers in helping the Dynamic Duo establish themselves in the league, with the former taking his advice more to heart to help build his own image in an Oilers uniform alongside McDavid.
"He challenged me to challenge Connor," Drasiaitl, who's coming off a 105-point campaign in '18-19, said of his former coach. "Obviously I know that Connor is Connor and the best player in the world, but I think that's the internal competition that he and I always had. It made us better players against each other, and it's always been positive.
"We love playing together, so Todd was kind of the guy that wanted me to push for that."
McLellan, now serving as the opposition behind the bench with Los Angeles, knows they're capabilities together but won't get his wish of seeing them on separate lines tonight when they line up on the first line tonight with Zack Kassian.
"I hope they're apart," joked McLellan to the media. "So if you want my opinion on whether they're better together or apart, I hope they're apart.
"They're the Dynamic Duo."
Forwards Josh Archibald and Alex Chiasson miss out tonight due to the flu, with forward Tomas Jurco and Patrick Russell slated to fill in.
"We got the flu bug going through our team early," Tippett said. "It's not ideal, but we'll deal with it. The two guys going in there are anxious to play, so that's good."
Riley Sheahan was back on the ice, but Alex Chiasson and Josh Archibald did not participate in the morning skate.
Klefbom - Persson Nurse - Bear K. Russell - Benning
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (1-0-0) vs KINGS (0-0-0)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet & CBC
This is the first of four meetings between the Oilers and Kings in 2019-20. Edmonton went 2-2 against the Kings in '18-19, as the home side won every game in the season series.
Despite only playing in three of four matches against Los Angeles last year, Oscar Klefbom led the Orange & Blue's offence with one goal and six assists in three games.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Alex Chiasson topped Oilers in goals versus the Kings with three each.
Veterans Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown were the biggest point producers in yesteryear's matchup with nine and eight points, respectively.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers defeated the Vancouver Canucks by a score of 3-2 in their home opener on Wednesday.
Draisaitl quickly returned to last season's form with a three-point night, Zack Kassian picked up where he left off with a goal and assist, while Oilers Captain Connor McDavid needed one break in the third to give Edmonton the game-deciding strike.
Keeper Mike Smith showed his adept puck handling and turned aside 31 of 33 shots to post a .939 save percentage in his Oil Country debut.
Kings team scope:
This game will mark the beginning of the campaign for the Los Angeles Kings, who embark on a three-game Pacific Division road trip to start '19-20.
On April 16, former Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan was named head coach of the Los Angeles Kings. Saturday's game will be the first time McLellan will face his former club.
McLellan accrued a 123-119-24 record over 266 contests as the Oilers coach, with his best year being '16-17 when he coached the team to a 47-26-9 record and playoff entry.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers are 4-2-0 in their last six matches against the Kings and have won six of their last seven home games versus the club, outscoring them 21-15. ... McDavid and Draisaitl have combined 144 goals since '16-17, which is the most by a pair of teammates during that time. ... McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined 290 points last season, which is second most behind Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point (318) of the Tampa Bay Lightning. ... McDavid has an NHL-high 140 primary assists since '16-17.
The Kings were 14-21-6 as visitors last season, being outscored 130-90. ... Kopitar has 49 points (13 G, 36 A) and a plus-31 rating in 51 career games opposite the Oilers. ... Goaltender Jonathan Quick is 11-5-3 with a 1.96 GAA in 19 career road starts against Edmonton.
OILERS - Tomas Jurco (procedure) is day-to-day; Adam Larsson (fractured right fibula) is on IR; Joel Persson (shoulder) is on IR; Riley Sheahan (concussion protocol) is on IR; Logan Day (undisclosed) is on IR.
KINGS - Derek Forbort (back) is on IR; Gabriel Vilardi (back) is on IR.