EDMONTON, AB - The inconsistency the Oilers have displayed this season, and particularly down this home stretch, has been frustrating. Frustrating for the fans, players and coaches.
“There’s a lot of question marks right now with our group, the way that we play and what kind of game are we going to play tonight? It’s been a constant all season long, we don’t know what group we’re going to get or what type of play we’re going to have,” said Oilers winger Matt Hendricks.
“We need to keep doing all the same stuff we said since training camp that we want to build our game, continue to grow our game, become a more consistent hockey team. I think we’ve got 12 games to go right now and this is the time of year where, obviously, we’re not going to make the playoffs but every guy in this room has to think about himself also as an individual. You’ve got to look at yourself as you’re getting watched every night from the organization and it’s almost like a test. We need to show up and play our game, each man as an individual and it will help our team in the long run.”
The Oilers had a successful road trip in which they went 3-1, then returned home for a 3-0 shutout loss to San Jose last Tuesday. They went back on the road for one game and beat Minnesota 2-1, then returned for a 4-0 loss to Arizona on Saturday night.
Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan expressed his displeasure following Saturday’s game and at practice on Sunday.
“It’s kind of normal that he’s a little frustrated,” said Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl. “It’s kind of hard to understand, even for our players, that we can play such a good game and the next night we just don’t really show up. We’re not playing smart, we’re not playing the right way and I think we can all understand the coaches are frustrated about that. Today is a new day and we get another chance to get two points and that’s the most important thing.”
Edmonton hosts Nashville to begin the final 11-game stretch of the season. The Oilers are looking to find internal motivation and, like Hendricks said, treat it as an audition.
“At this time of the year you put in a lot of grind time to try and take a shot at the playoffs and, obviously, we’re not in that position. It becomes a mental battle night in and night out,” said McLellan. “The cliche is we’re professionals and should show up and play hard but it does become taxing mentally. I think there’s too many guys in that room that have way too much to play for to decide to take a few nights off. That starts with free agents, that starts with unrestricted free agents, that starts with players that are coming back and are battling for positional status.”
McLellan doesn’t believe any player in the locker room should have reason to under-perform, considering what’s at stake moving forward. As young players come up this season and show potential, like Jordan Oesterle, spots become more difficult to lock down.
“To get comfortable and just say I’m going to come back here and get into my spot in Edmonton, I think would be a grave mistake on many of our players including our upper-end guys,” said McLellan. “I did a study the other day and went back and looked at Edmonton’s roster last year and the number of players that played in an Oilers jersey at one point. If I’m driving home in the call and saying to myself ‘if it’s not in Edmonton then it’s somewhere else.’ I’d go do that homework, because for a lot of them it was not somewhere else. It was nowhere. We’re in 28th, 29th, 30th range and those players aren’t quite as desirable as the Stanley Cup champs, even if it’s on par.”
Laurent Brossoit struggled March 4 in Columbus in his last Oilers start, allowing six goals on 27 shots. He approaches his start tonight against Nashville as a chance to get back on track.
“A little bit of a redemption shot and I’ll be sure to be prepared,” said Brossoit.
It’s a bit of a transition period for Brossoit, who is used to being the number one at his previous stops. Now, with Cam Talbot established as the Oilers top netminder, Brossoit needs to settle into a roll that provides more time off between starts.
“To set that up for LB and everybody, Cam is our starter and go-to guy and will be for a long time, the way he’s played,” said McLellan. “That’s a situation LB is going to have to get used to, playing at the National Hockey League level. If he has the ability to overcome longer periods after starts and he can recover then we’ve really got a good one. If he doesn’t then we’ve got a lot of work to do and we’re going to find that out over the next little bit. He’ll play tonight and he’ll play a few more games as the year goes on but I think Cam has clearly established himself as a go-to guy here. LB’s starts at the NHL level, and I’ve been lucky enough to see all of them, some have been tremendous and one wasn’t that good. Where do we go from here?”
McLellan says Brossoit has worked with Goalie Coach Dustin Schwartz to patch up some of the shortcomings in his game exposed vs. Columbus. Brossoit starts only his fourth NHL game tonight.
As for the rest of the lineup, the Oilers had an optional morning skate but what we know is Hendricks makes his return to game action after missing the Arizona game. Patrick Maroon is expected to flank Connor McDavid, along with Jordan Eberle.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
PREDATORS (34-22-13) at OILERS (27-37-7)
TV: 9 p.m. ET; FS-TN, SNOL, NHL.TV
Season series: The Nashville Predators have defeated the Edmonton Oilers twice. Pekka Rinne made 31 saves in a 2-0 win on Oct. 10 and Mike Fisher scored twice in a 4-1 win on Jan. 23. Leon Draisaitl scored for Edmonton.
Predators team scope: Nashville's franchise-record 14-game point streak ended with a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. The Predators are seven points ahead of the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. "It's a tight playoff race, and you need all the points you can get," Josi told The Tennessean after the loss Saturday. "It got us some separation from the teams below us, but it's still a tight race. We're nowhere near the playoffs yet, so we've got to keep going and get points along the way here." Forward Colton Sissons has two goals and an assist in three games since being recalled from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League. Sissons replaced center Paul Gaustad, who has been out since March 5 because of an upper-body injury.
Oilers team scope: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who missed 24 games because of a broken hand, returned in Edmonton's 4-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. It was the seventh time the Oilers have been shut out this season. "The last couple of home games we've gotten off to bad starts," left wing Taylor Hall told the Edmonton Journal. "We've had some uncharacteristic odd-man rushes against, something we have to clean up." Saturday was also the first time forwards Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Connor McDavid played in the same game this season. McDavid has 23 points in his past 21 games. Monday marks the last of defenseman Darnell Nurse's three-game suspension.