EDMONTON, AB - New Year's Eve? Enter the New York Rangers.
The Oilers close out the calendar year and the decade at Rogers Place on Tuesday night, hoping to end 2019 on a positive note and break a 13-game losing streak on December 31 dating back to 2001.
While it's the end of another year, it's the start of a critical second half of the season for the Oilers in the Pacific Division race with four points separating its top-five teams.
"This is an important game as they all are, but tonight we want to start the second half well and get back in the win column," defenceman Ethan Bear said.
Intensity has been the theme of the last three practices for the Oilers that came after a disappointing 5-1 loss to provincial rivals the Calgary Flames following the Christmas break.
The practice time has been a welcome reset for the Oilers after a jam-packed schedule in November and December that'll see the club finish their 28th game in 61 days tonight against a Rangers side that's 5-0-0 in their last five games on New Year's Eve.
"We've had a little bit of practice time here to go over some things that we want to get better at," forward Sam Gagner said. "I think that's always nice. The schedule doesn't always set up that way, so I think we're all on the same page. It's important to get off to a good start tonight and make sure we're playing the right way."
The Oilers only play nine times in January, which plays into the hands of Head Coach Dave Tippett when it comes to finding practice time after his team's busy schedule over the last two months.
"I think it's great right now. We needed some practice time," Tippett said of his team's energy. "We had a couple of good practice days here, and the break did us some good. We had a really hard stretch before that."
"When you don't practice a lot, you're more concerned about saving energy and building your game. When you get some good practices, you can address some things in your game that you address all the time. But it's different when you see them on video compared to on the ice.
"We had a couple of good practices and I expect our team to play well tonight."
RESETTING THE CLOCKS
The calendar flips over to 2020 tonight, but the Oilers have had their internal clocks reset with a trio of hard practices in recent days.
They came at the right time, with the Oilers marred in a 2-7-1 slump over their last 10 games. But even in tough times, the players and staff know they're one solid win streak away from regaining their footing in the Pacific Division playoff race.
"I think everybody's had a good reset. It's been a good couple days of practice," forward Zack Kassian said. "I think the focus is we have to acknowledge we have to be better, but at the same time, the sky's not falling. We end up going on a little streak here and we're right back at the top."
"I think we just have to pay attention to the details of the game. I think we have to hit a bit harder in all of the areas, because in the second half goals are hard to come by."
The break and more practice time are welcomed, but there's still a sense of urgency in their drive to find ways to win in the season's final 41 games.
"There has to be a sense of urgency every day," Gagner said. "You understand how important points are the entire year. We had a stretch here where we were playing a lot of hockey and didn't get a chance to breathe and reset.
"We want to control what we can control, and that's our game. We've had the chance to have a few days of practice here to kind of get a mental reset and get back to the way we know we can play. We've got that here over the last few days where we worked on some system play and talked about some of the things we know can make us successful."
It began from the onset of the Training Camp, when Tippett and his coaching staff recognized the need for a positive start to the season. The Oilers went 5-0-0, and despite falling on hard times in recent games, the goal is the same - maximize the resources at your disposal to be a playoff team.
"Urgency started Day 1, not 41. If we're starting on 41 with the urgency, we're in trouble," Tippett said. "We had a great start, over the last month there's been some ups and downs, but our focus is the same thing."
"We want to be a playoff team and everything we do is geared towards that."
Defenceman William Lagesson will make his NHL debut tonight on a pairing with Adam Larsson.
The Swedish blueliner's game that's been successful over two seasons with the Bakersfield Condors comes from strong defensive discipline and the ability to chip in offensively, with Lagesson recording 39 points in 98 AHL regular-season and playoff contests.
"We'll put him in there and I'm excited to see what he can do," Tippett said. "He's a young defenceman and plays the game really hard. He's had a pretty good year in the American League so far, so we'll see what we can get from him tonight."
Lagesson hopes to follow in the footsteps of former Condors teammates Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones, who've vaulted their way into the NHL this season.
"Different kinds of defencemen," Tippett described the trio. "Bear is a puckmover, Lagesson is a penalty-killer and a good strong defender. He moves the puck very well in the American League, but we'll see if we can get up to the NHL speed."
"He's a real character and well-liked by his teammates. He's earned the right to get a chance to play in the NHL, so we'll see what he can do tonight."
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (20-17-4) vs. RANGERS (19-15-4)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet One
Tonight's game is the second and final meeting between the Oilers and Rangers this season.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined for five points on Oct. 12 when the Orange & Blue defeated the Blueshirts 4-1. Draisaitl recorded two goals and a helper while McDavid chipped in with one goal and one assist.
Kaapo Kakko, the second overall selection at the 2019 NHL Draft, scored his first career tally and former Oiler Ryan Strome had the only assist in New York's loss.
Oilers team scope:
Edmonton enters the contest having dropped two in a row, first falling to the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 before the holiday break then losing 5-1 versus the Calgary Flames.
Seeking an injection of energy and offence, the Oilers recalled forward Kailer Yamamoto and defenceman William Lagesson from the Bakersfield Condors on Sunday. Yamamoto lined up to Leon Draisaitl's right side in practice while Joakim Nygard was on the left wing.
"We're looking for a little more tenacity and some people who can make some plays up here," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said of Yamamoto on Monday.
"He's the guy that fit the bill."
Rangers team scope:
The Rangers jumped out of the three-day hiatus with back-to-back winning outcomes, beating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-3 on Friday and the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in OT on Saturday.
The two wins improved New York to 19-15-4 on the year. They are sixth in the Metropolitan Division with 42 points, three away from a wild card spot.
Artemi Panarin leads the club in scoring with 21 goals and 51 points in 38 games. Former Oiler Ryan Strome is second with 10 goals and 35 points.
By the Numbers:
McDavid has 11 points (5G, 6A) in seven career games vs. NY, registering multi-point nights in each of the last four tilts. ... The Oilers are averaging 3.62 goals-against in the month of December, ranking 29th in the League. ...
The Rangers are 26-22-1 with eight ties on NYE games, while the Oilers are 2-14-3 with one tie. ... New York is 5-2-1 in their last eight against Edmonton but the Oilers have won the last three meetings. ... Panarin has nine points (5G, 4A) in 11 career games against EDM and has 17 points (8G, 9A) in his last 10.
OILERS -Matt Benning (concussion) is on IR.
RANGERS - Libor Hajek (sprained knee) is day-to-day; Brendan Lemieux (fractured hand) is day-to-day.