News and notes from Saturday's Oilers practice, including blogs on the Nurse-Bear D pairing as well as a look at the boost Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could provide to the club vs. the Sabres.
The Oilers will receive reinforcements from the return of Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the lineup on Sunday ahead of clashing swords with a Sabres side entering the second game of a back-to-back.
Nugent-Hopkins had been on the shelf for six games with a hand injury, while Kassian's return on a line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl tonight comes after having missed the last three with a back ailment sustained in a November 30 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
"It gets us back to where we were before a little bit, and when you're missing key players like that you juggle things around," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "We had Connor and Leon separated there for a few games out of necessity, so it gets us back to where we were and stabilizes us a bit."
Without the forward pair on Friday, the Oilers got plenty of hard-checking contributions up and down the lineup in a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings after having the message of bringing their road approach home emphasized at a Thursday morning meeting.
"We've done a good job of addressing what we need to do and not get into slumps," defenceman Oscar Klefbom said. "The games get tighter and teams start locking it down, so we just have to keep improving and keep getting better."
The Oilers have received plenty of bounce-back efforts this season, exemplified in Friday's victory and Mikko Koskinen's 35-save performance after being pulled on Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators.
But now, the team's sights are set on momentum and putting together a streak going the other way with win number two tonight.
"I thought we checked hard. LA has always been a team that's hard to generate a lot from, so we did a good job," Klefbom said. "We grinded away and found a way to get two points. Now we just need to get on a streak here.
"It's something you strive to do. Obviously to be a good team, you have to get on streaks."
Kassian's figured out a formula for playing the Dynamic Duo - it's playing the same game that's made him successful in an Orange & Blue jersey.
"I don't get away from my game too much," Kassian said. "I still have to be the forechecking guy and the net-front guy. They like to run their plays, they like to criss-cross, they like to make their plays with the D, but for me I think I won't get away from what makes me successful as a player in general."
Kassian, Buffalo's first-round pick from the 2009 NHL Draft, employs a heavy game that complements the fast play of McDavid and Draisaitl but possesses the speed to keep up with the likes of the NHL's top-two leading scorers.
"He's a guy that reads off both of those guys well," Tippett said. "He's got skill, and his skating allows him to play with good players like that. He's really bought into doing some things that help them."
The points have been there for the 28-year-old as a result, scoring nine times and adding 10 assists in 28 games this campaign.
"I think a lot of it is reading off Connor, and not just Connor but Leon too," Kassian said. "They're two players that like the puck, they want the puck in certain places on the ice, and I think with the way I play I do a good job of being the forechecker."
Goaltender Mike Smith will make his 16th start of the season between the pipes for the Oilers tonight, expected to counter Linus Ullmark in the opposing crease for Buffalo.
Full Oilers lines will be made apparent during warm-ups.
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (18-10-3) vs. SABRES (13-11-6)
TV: 6:00 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet
Tonight's game is the first of two dates between the Oilers and Sabres in the 2019-20 season.
The two sides will reconvene once again in the new year, on Jan. 2.
Goaltender Mikko Koskinen earned the victory in both meetings with the Sabres in '18-19, averaging a .938 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against in the Oilers 7-2 and 4-3 wins.
Connor McDavid led the Oilers offensively with one goal and three assists in two outings versus Jack Eichel and the Sabres.
Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt both had two goals in two games for the Sabres.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers sit at .500 on their current four-game homestand, most recently gutting out a 2-1 W against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Orange & Blue hold the top spot in the Pacific Division, but just by a single point, owning 39 compared to next-best Arizona's 38.
Leon Draisaitl and McDavid are first and second in National Hockey League scoring with 53 and 52 points, respectively. They are also one and two in League assists, with 34 (Draisaitl) and 33 (McDavid).
Edmonton is 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and 8-4-2 at Rogers Place.
Sabres team scope:
The Sabres enter Edmonton on the heels of a back-to-back, coming out on the losing end of a 6-5 OT decision against the Vancouver Canucks.
Buffalo is 0-1-1 on the current three-game Pacific road swing and 5-8-3 on the road in '19-20.
Eichel, coming off a two-assist performance, ranks first in key scoring metrics for the Sabres with 18 goals, 23 assists and 41 points. The Sabres captain is on a career-best 12-game point streak, scoring 22 points over that time (10G, 12A).
Buffalo keeper Linus Ullmark is 7-6-2 with a .914 save percentage and 2.94 GAA.
By the Numbers:
Edmonton is 1-3-0 against the Atlantic Division this year and Buffalo is 3-2-3 vs. the Pacific. ... The Oilers are 14-3-1 when scoring first, while BUF is 11-4-2. ... Eichel has nine points (5G, 4A) in seven career games against the Oilers. ... Kyle Okposo (7G, 7A) has 14 points in 14 outings against Edmonton. ... Buffalo is 11-6-1 against Edmonton since '05-06 and 4-2-0 in the last three campaigns.
OILERS - Zack Kassian (back) is day-to-day; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (hand) is on IR; Matt Benning (concussion) is on IR
SABRES - Evan Rodrigues (undisclosed) is day-to-day; Rasmus Dahlin (concussion) is on IR; Tage Thompson (upper body) is on IR; Vladimir Sobotka (knee) is on IR; Matt Hunwick (neck) is on IR.