EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers are looking to secure their second-straight win at home before they disperse for their All-Star “Olympic” break, as Head Coach Todd McLellan refers to it.
The Oilers are 13-9-1 at home this season, after their 2-1 shootout win over the Calgary Flames on January 17, where Mark Fayne scored his first of the year to tie the game in the third and edge Edmonton towards victory.
The Oilers then went 1-2-0 on the road, with a win over Florida and losses to Tampa Bay and Dallas. Now, Edmonton looks to add another tick to the home win column as they close out their pre-All-Star schedule by hosting the Nashville Predators tonight.
“This game scares the hell out of me all the time. Your team is either really, really in it and their focused and have energy knowing they have a little bit of time off, or they’re already off,” said McLellan.
“I hope our group — I believe our group — will come in and compete really hard. You always prefer to have both teams on their break right away but I think Nashville still has two more games and a lot of road trip left so their minds are that they’re quite a ways down the road from their break.”
Nashville has an 8-11-5 record on the road, but has started this particular trip on a high note in Winnipeg with a 4-1 victory, Thursday night.
“They played pretty well in Winnipeg the other night and (Ryan) Johansen does give them that big, strong centreman down the middle,” said McLellan.
“They lost a very good defenceman but they’re so deep back there, they have 21 goals from (Shea) Weber and (Roman) Josi, that’s more than all of our [defence] put together. They’re very, very deep there. It gives you one more offensive piece to worry about and certainly the size.”
On Friday, the Oilers recalled defenceman Griffin Reinhart from their American Hockey League affiliate team, the Bakersfield Condors, after Brandon Davidson — now placed on injured reserve — sustained an injury Thursday night against the Dallas Stars.
“When I first went down I was a bit upset and, mentally, it was tough to overcome — or (I was) a bit disappointed I should say,” said Reinhart.
“But I think I’ve bounced back pretty strong. I started showing up a bit earlier, I started staying out a bit later and doing some more off-ice things and I think it was starting to pay-off.”
Reinhart, who scored one goal, added four assists for five points in 14 games with the Condors, says he is prepared for the level of play he plans on bringing for the game against the Predators tonight.
“Just I think intensity and I think it’s getting back to pucks quicker. Being harder on guys, harder to play against, closing the gap quicker — not necessarily in the neutral zone but in the d-zone — I think I can do a better job of getting it out to guys a bit quicker and I think that started to show a little later on in my hockey game down there.”
HENDRICKS’ CLOSE CALL
As McLellan puts it, any male would cringe — and they most likely did — when viewing the snapshot Oilers forward Matt Hendricks shared on Twitter: his protective cup mangled and torn after blocking a slap-shot.
“We’ve all been dinged there before, but not like that,” said Hendricks. “I was worried there was some damage but there wasn’t. The equipment protected me like it was supposed to and I was able to keep playing.”
He may have been down for a few minutes, but if Hendricks was at all rattled, he shook it off and kept playing.
“It’s part of the game, that’s why there’s protection there and he recovered well and moved on,” said McLellan, impressed but not surprised with his player’s ability to — as Taylor Swift may put it — shake it off.
“He drives our team when it comes to those intangibles of toughness and commitment level and pushing the envelope as far as fatigue and injury, bumps, bruises, sacrificing, I could go on and on in using all kinds of adjectives to describe him.
“That’s something our team needs — that’s something every team needs — but we really need that as we take some of these younger players and move them forward. It’s not always about scoring the goals or being the first star or second star. It’s all those little things that often go unnoticed. Nobody would be talking about his blocked shot if a piece of equipment wasn’t destroyed.”
The Oilers just can’t seem to catch a break from players sustaining injuries and are adapting by shuffling the lineup where they can afford to move players around.
“It’s every night for us right now. We’re trying Benoit Pouliot in the middle. He hasn’t played there a lot throughout his pro career, a little bit in junior, but we don’t have a lot of other options so we’re trying to do that,” said McLellan.
“Obviously we’d like to protect him, especially here at home from Ryan Johansen, or somebody like that. But once you start trying to protect one group you leave another exposed. We’ll try and do certain things to help Benny out in the centre ice position but after that it’s game on for the rest of the lines.”
On Thursday, Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins underwent surgery to repair a broken hand after blocking a shot Monday night against the Florida Panthers. It’s uncertain as to whether Nugent-Hopkins’ recovery time will now be extended due to the surgery. He is expected to miss 6-8 weeks, according to McLellan.
Goaltender Cam Talbot will start between the posts tonight for the Oilers.
Oilers forward Lauri Korpikoski, who has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, did not play against Dallas, though McLellan said he might return for that game. Reinhart is expected to be paired with Eric Gryba in his return to the NHL.
-- Meg Tilley, edmontonoilers.com
PREDATORS (21-18-8) at OILERS (19-25-5)
TV: CBC, SN, FS-TN
Season series: The Nashville Predators defeated the Edmonton Oilers 2-0 on Oct. 10 in Nashville. Forwards Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith scored for Nashville, and forwards Mike Ribeiro and Colin Wilson each had an assist. Goaltender Pekka Rinne made 31 saves.
Predators team scope: Forward Ryan Johansen had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win Thursday at the Winnipeg Jets and has nine points (three goals, six assists) in seven games with the Predators since he was acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 6. The Predators have killed 17 of 18 penalties over their past five games. Nashville is 3-7-1 in its past 11 games but is 2-1-1 in its past four and entered Friday one point out of playoff position in the Western Conference. "We've got to be consistent with what we're doing," coach Peter Laviolette told the Predators website. "There are a lot of things that go into it. We're at our best when we're playing with energy and we execute well. There's no question that (the win against Winnipeg is) just the first step to getting something going in the right direction. Now you've got to build off it."
Oilers team scope: Edmonton placed defenseman Brandon Davidson on injured reserve Friday and recalled defenseman Griffin Reinhart from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League. Davidson left a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars in the second period with an undisclosed injury Thursday. Left wing Lauri Korpikoski, who has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, did not play against Dallas, though coach Todd McLellan said he might return for that game. This is Edmonton's last game before the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game. After playing nine games in 15 nights, the Oilers will go nine days between games. They return to action Feb. 2 at home against the Blue Jackets.