EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers will host the Pittsburgh Penguins down two of their top-six forwards. Taylor Hall and Benoit Pouliot will sit after leaving the Oilers last game in San Jose early with foot injuries.
“They both right now are day to day, they’re being evaluated. We expect both guys on our trip coming up but they’re not going tonight,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said.
Even with those two players in the lineup, a game against Pittsburgh is no easy task. The Penguins are 5-0-2 in their last seven games against the Oilers and boast some high-end talent, as is well documented.
“When you have a team like Pittsburgh coming in, where they have so many different options to go to for offence we just have to be playing a very strong team game. And the guys have to understand when they’re on the ice, just to be aware of it,” Nelson said. “Right now we have some line combinations that I feel very comfortable with but it comes down to a 60-minute team game and everybody has to come to the party tonight.”
The Oilers are well aware of the dangers that the Penguins players present.
“If you turn the puck over or give them odd-man rushes or give them space, they’re going to capitalize, they’re going to make plays. That’s just the calibre of player they are,” Oilers winger Jordan Eberle said. “You have to be careful what you’re doing with it, play a little bit of a smarter game but at the same time I think a big reason we’ve had success lately is getting pressure on teams and playing against them. If we continue to do that and play a smart game on top of that I think we’ll be fine.”
Pittsburgh expects to welcome back Evgeni Malkin to the lineup when the puck is dropped tonight. He has missed five games with a groin injury.
THESE ARE NOT THE LINES YOU’RE LOOKING FOR
No, it wasn’t a Jedi mind trick, but the line combinations that the Oilers rolled out at morning skate might not be the ones you see them go with tonight. With Hall and Pouliot out, the Oilers had Nail Yakupov on the top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle this morning. Iiro Pakarinen was with Derek Roy and Teddy Purcell.
Considering Yakupov’s chemistry with Roy, Nelson says he may not break that group up. Instead, Pakarinen may get a chance with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle.
“That’s the big question,” Nelson said. “I had (Yakupov) out there with Nuge and Ebs today, just to see what I thought about it. I probably will put him back with Roy because they’ve had good chemistry and I talked to Nail about that and he goes, ‘we had a pretty good game last game.’ He likes playing with Derek, so it that spot we’re probably going to throw Iiro in. I think Iiro might create some room for Nuge and Ebs and he’s a guy that can really fire the puck. It’s going to be a great opportunity for him. But, once again, lines are always subject to change. If I don’t like what I see with that, I can throw Teddy there so we’ll have to see how the game goes early on.”
Recalled yesterday from Oklahoma City, Pakarinen is being given a second opportunity. The 23-year-old forward has already played five games this season with the Oilers, scoring one goal. In OKC, he has 28 points, including 17 goals, in 39 games.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Pakarinen said. “I played a few games earlier this season. I think I didn’t play that well those games but it’s a new chance to show everybody I can play in the NHL.”
He could be placed on the top line with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins and Nelson indicated that he would see power play time as well. Nelson’s familiarity with Pakarinen, having coached him in OKC, gives him confidence that the winger will fit right in.
“In the case of Iiro coming up, I know where he succeeded in Oklahoma City,” Nelson said. “I put him on a spot up on the power play unit where he has succeeded and it was a natural fit for him. He’s played our system before, or he has been playing it, so it’s a pretty easy transition for him. All he has to do is come out, work hard and just put forth a good effort.”
Pakarinen embraces the challenge of facing a team as talented as the Penguins.
“It’s going to be exciting, very exciting,” Pakarinen said. “Of course, those kind of players are very good players. You dream about playing against those guys and it’s a good opportunity to show everyone I can play and to myself. I want to show this team and myself that I can play here.” QUICK NOTES: The Oilers are 7-6-2 with Todd Nelson as interim coach. David Perron makes his first return to Rexall Place after being traded to Pittsburgh on January 2. Viktor Fasth starts against the Penguins and has won three of his last five games, all in shootouts. Penguins Kris Letang led the team in assists (15) and points (16) in the month of January.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
PENGUINS (28-14-8) at OILERS (14-28-9)
TV: SN, ROOT
Season series: The Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers split two games last season. Evgeni Malkin's power-play goal in the third period gave the Penguins a 3-2 win in Pittsburgh on Oct. 15, 2013. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored a power-play goal 1:01 into overtime when the Oilers won 4-3 in Edmonton on Jan. 10, 2014.
Penguins team scope: This is the start of a Western Canada road trip for Pittsburgh featuring three games in four nights. It's also the return of forward David Perron to Edmonton, where he had five goals and 19 points in 38 games this season before being traded Jan. 2 for forward Rob Klinkhammer and a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Perron has six goals and nine points in 12 games with the Penguins. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (head), who has missed the past two games, did not practice Tuesday. Malkin (lower body), who has missed five straight, was on the ice for a second straight practice. He centered Mark Arcobello and Patric Hornqvist. Malkin is "pretty close right now" and could play, coach Mike Johnston said via the Penguins official Twitter account.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton has won four of six and is 4-3 in the shootout this season following a 13-rounder against the San Jose Sharks on Monday when Klinkhammer finally scored to give the Oilers a 5-4 victory. Goalie Viktor Fasth is 3-1 with an .870 save percentage (three goals on 23 shots) in the shootout. Forward Jordan Eberle scored twice and has three goals in two games. Defenseman Justin Schultz had a goal and an assist, and for the second time in three games had a plus-3 rating. Forward Taylor Hall returned after missing three games with a bone bruise. He assisted on Eberle's first goal but reaggravated the injury and didn't take a shift after the second period. Forward Benoit Pouliot, who missed five weeks earlier in the season with a broken foot, didn't finish the game Monday after taking a puck off his foot.