EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers took to the ice this morning with limited changes to their lineup. However, Taylor Hall (ankle) did participate with the team for the first time since early February.
“It was his first skate with us in quite awhile and so we’ll see how he is,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “Until we get to a point where he’s competing in a regular practice he’s not ready to come back, obviously. There’s still some time with Taylor.”
Hall couldn’t give a timeline on his return, but says he’s feeling better.
“It’s one of those things where I kind of have to wait to see how it reacts to being on the ice and everything, but today was a really good positive session. I’m certainly looking forward to playing soon,” Hall said.
Hall is still out and defenceman Nikita Nikitin will not play as well. Nikitin (shoulder) will miss the game tonight against Toronto, but is expected to be back in the lineup on Wednesday.
“He’s in good shape,” Nelson said of Nikitin. “I like the way he’s moving out there. It’s more or less just him feeling comfortable in battle situations. Last week, he tweaked it a little bit on the road and it’s not quite ready.”
Luke Gazdic (illness) did not skate this morning as well.
Ben Scrivens will start in net for the Oilers against the Maple Leafs.
A COMPLETE GAME
The Oilers finished their five-game road trip with five losses, despite putting together spurts of solid hockey. For Edmonton, it has been a frustrating stretch of games as they want to start translating effort to results.
“It’s been frustrating with that because over the course of the road trip we had spurts in games where we looked really good and there was other times we had mental breakdowns,” Nelson said. “I think the focus is to play 60 minutes solid from the drop of the puck right to the final buzzer. That’s our challenge right now. We can’t have mental breakdowns at certain points of the game. We just want to look to play a solid 60 minutes and play at a high tempo. We’ve had games like that. We want to have games at a consistent basis where it’s maybe a four or five game stretch where we see the same game in those four or five games.”
Derek Roy said, “I think we’re not playing a full 60 minutes. We’re playing a good period, then a bad period, then another good period. We’re holding on in games, we’re coming back in games but for a full 60 we want to go out and play our style, our game and minimize mistakes.”
Now with Toronto in town, the Oilers emphasis is on starting fast and finishing strong.
“I think coming out early, right off the bat,” Roy said. “The first five minutes, try to keep it simple, make smart plays, play in their end and get a win right off the bat and kick start this home stand.”
POWER PLAY RAMPAGE
The Oilers have the best power play in the league, post All Star break at 28.1%. In each of their last four games, the Oilers have scored on the man advantage. During that span, they are 8 of 17 for an impressive 47.1%.
“We have to have good structure to begin with,” Nelson said. “The philosophy is having a net-front presence and when we have a shot take it, don’t look for something prettier because those pretty plays will open up once you create a shot. Another thing too is we challenge our group to go out there and out-work the opponents. It’s one thing to shoot the puck, but if the puck goes into the corner we have to have good puck retrieval and get that puck back.”
Nail Yakupov has been a part of that power play resurgence, hammering one-timers toward the opposing team’s goaltenders. One of the things Yakupov says helps generate success on the power play is winning puck battles.
“First of all, we’re trying to win battles, battles in the corner and our zone. It’s all about battles,” Yakupov said. “Yeah, we have one more guy on the ice, 5-on-4, but it’s all about battles. You’ve got to play hard, you’ve got to fight for the puck and obviously, we shoot the puck more. I think that’s the key for us. We’ve got to shoot it and find some rebounds. Our guys, who play in front of the net, they’ve done a pretty good job too. They’re jumping, they make really good screens on the goalie so I think that’s very important.”
To score on the power play, you’ve got to have a power play. So drawing penalties is pretty important as well.
“You’ve got to move your feet first,” Yakupov said. “You’ve got to work hard, play hard, move your feet and makes the other team fall on you. That’s about it. If you’re not going to move your feet, you’re not going to get a power play.” QUICK NOTES: The Oilers are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games against the Leafs. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will play in his 250th NHL game tonight. Nugent-Hopkins has eight points (3-5-8) in his last five games. Jordan Eberle has eight points (3-5-8) in his last four games. Phil Kessel owns the NHL’s fifth longest active games played streak (434).
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
MAPLE LEAFS (27-37-6) at OILERS (18-39-12)
TV: SNO, SNW
Season series: The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to complete a season sweep of the Edmonton Oilers. Five Maple Leafs players scored and James Reimer made 31 saves in a 5-1 win at Air Canada Centre on Feb. 7.
Maple Leafs team scope: Toronto is trying to avoid being swept on its three-game road trip through Western Canada. The Maple Leafs lost 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, with Phil Kessel's penalty-shot goal in the third period enabling them to avoid a shutout. Toronto's power play continues to struggle: One night after allowing two shorthanded goals on the same penalty in a 6-3 loss to the Calgary Flames, the Maple Leafs were scoreless on seven power-play chances.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton begins a six-game homestand with the possibility that star left wing Taylor Hall (leg) could be back soon. Hall skated on his own prior to practice Sunday, and coach Todd Nelson said Hall will take part in the morning skate Monday. “He’s going to skate with us tomorrow," Nelson said. "We’ll see how he feels." The Oilers have lost seven in a row, including a 5-4 shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, but the power play has come alive. The Oilers scored three times in five chances against Columbus and are 23-for-92 (25.0 percent) since Nelson replaced Dallas Eakins behind the bench.