The Edmonton Oilers return home from a road trip to begin a six-game home stand and finish off the season with 10 of their last 13 games played at Rexall Place. For the Oilers, this is their opportunity to continue their recent success (9-4-3 in last 16 games) and finish out the season on a high note.
“Obviously, we’d like to make a statement here towards the end of the year with 10 at home and those types of things put a good taste in the fans’ mouths for the summertime,” Ryan Smyth said. “Hopefully, we can get them hungry for next year. We want to make sure we maintain focus and do what we just did on the road trip.”
The Oilers looked loose at practice this morning with many of the players practicing in good spirits.
“It’s been a better atmosphere for sure around here,” Smyth said. “Obviously, winning changes that. There’s winning and there’s misery, there’s no in between. We’re finding ways to win and we’re playing more complete games… For the most part, we’ve had a chance to be in most games recently so that makes it fun.”
Tonight, the Oilers host the Nashville Predators after defeating them in each of their previous two meetings this season. The Oilers are 8-4-1 in their last 13 games against Nashville.
FORMER PRED PAYING DIVIDENDS
The Oilers traded goaltender Devan Dubnyk to the Predators for forward Matt Hendricks. The Oilers have already come out on top with that trade as Hendricks has made an immediate impact on his teammates. In addition to his three goals, Hendricks has provided a physical and vocal presence and his leadership rubs off on the team.
“He has the mentality of bringing the guys together,” Smyth said of his teammate. “Right from in the locker room here, he’s pretty loud and outspoken. Those the type of things rub off. I saw (Nail Yakupov) jump in and help him out (against Carolina)… You stick up for teammates and he’s (got) the characteristics of a good teammate.”
KLEFBOM’S HOME DEBUT
Tonight, Oilers fans will get their first look, on home ice, at the former 19th overall pick in 2011, Oscar Klefbom. The Oilers defenceman has played four games so far, but began his NHL career on the road. Now he gets the opportunity to play on Rexall Place ice.
“I’ve been in a couple of camps here,” Klefbom said of the arena. “The last game I played (here) was in World Juniors actually, against Canada in an exhibition game. I have pretty good memories from here so it’s going to be a huge night.”
Klefbom fully expects tonight to be a big moment for him as he runs out of the tunnel for warm ups.
“I’m going to be very excited,” Klefbom said. “It’s going to be a lot of feelings for sure. This is what I’ve been practicing for all of my life. I’ve worked hard every day, especially with the injury last season. It’s going to be an incredible night.”
As a former first-round pick, Klefbom feels a certain pressure to perform, particularly in front of the team’s fans at home. However, starting on the road helped him get settled in and he now feels comfortable with the pace of the league.
“You want to be as good as you can in front of your fans,” Klefbom said. “That’s why you play. But I think it’s been really good to me that I played a couple of games on the road, just to get into the game, get into the NHL and play against some really good guys. I know I’m good enough to play in the NHL so it feels good to play back home now. I’m ready.”
Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins says he doesn’t like putting pressure or expectations on a young, albeit talented, player like Klefbom.
“For me there should be no pressure on this young man,” Eakins said. “I don’t care where he was drafted. This player has got four games. I don’t want him to be compared to anybody who has a hall of fame last name. I want him just to turn into who he’s going to turn into. I feel when you put all the pressure and all the expectation on the player, all you do is set him up to fail and we don’t want that. We just want Oscar to go into the games, play like he’s played, be very, very steady and that’s a good night for him. He fully understands that playing on the road and playing at home should be no different for any of our players and that’s how we’ve asked him to prepare for our game.”