EDMONTON, AB - The practices are over and the Oilers finally have a chance to right the ship Saturday as they host the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Place, who come into town on the heels of a back-to-back after pumping the Calgary Flames 6-0 on Friday.
Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan is proud of the effort his squad put into their practice sessions over the course of the week and wants to see significant improvements in many areas against the Sens.
"I want to see us play faster," said McLellan. "I want us to be productive without the puck. I think the production with the puck will eventually come. Be responsible on the defensive side of it and our special teams have to get better."
For the players, the focus will be attention to detail.
"Our previous two games, our details weren't there, especially compared to the first game," said defenceman Eric Gryba. "You're going to see a lot more guys in position, guys doing the right thing the whole night."
Last season, Edmonton dropped both their games to Ottawa - who surprised many among the hockey world by being one goal away from making it to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals.
This season, the squad is 2-0-2 despite playing without their captain and defensive stalwart Erik Karlsson, who scored 17 goals and added 54 assists for 71 points in 77 games in 2016-17.
"They're well-equipped to beat anybody in the League and they have a strong belief system," said McLellan. "They're a tough team to play against."
The Senators come into Edmonton led by the offensive production of Derick Brassard, Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris. Brassard leads the squad with five points while all the other aforementioned skaters have four.
YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE YOHANN
Defenceman Yohann Auvitu will make his Oilers debut tonight against the Sens. The Frenchman will pair up alongside Gryba on the team's third pairing.
"I'm very excited to start the season," Auvitu said.
"What else to add? I'm ready."
Auvitu admitted it's too early to say he's formed chemistry with Gryba but the tandem's dynamic works in their favour.
"He's a righty and I'm a lefty so it makes things a little bit easier out there," said Auvitu. "He's mostly defensive-minded while I think I'm a bit more offensive-minded, so it's a good match."
Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl continues nursing an eye injury, forcing McLellan to move some of his forward pieces around - including putting Kailer Yamamoto on the Oilers top line.
"We've flipped lines around somewhat during the week based on Leon's availability," said McLellan. "So, for the last couple of days, Yamo's been able to practice with that (first) line. I thought he looked like a different player against Winnipeg than he did against Calgary here at home. He was way less nervous, made a lot more plays, shot the puck on net. He'll get an opportunity tonight to settle in and play his game."
Zack Kassian has been skating on the Oilers second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic. He is expected to start the game there.
On the blueline, Darnell Nurse moves into the second pairing alongside Kris Russell.
Tonight's game marks the first of two meetings this season between the Oilers and Senators, the next time these teams will meet is on March 22nd in Ottawa.
The last time these teams met was on January 8th in Ottawa, where the Senators defeated the Oilers by a score of 5-3.
Oilers team scope:
After winning their season opener over Calgary, the Oilers have dropped their last two games, against Vancouver and Winnipeg. The loss against the Jets came on Monday, giving the team a day off plus three practice days to get ready for tonight.
Based on Friday's practice lines and with Leon Draisaitl (eye injury) likely out, Kailer Yamamoto could draw in on the top line with Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon. Yamamoto's played two games and looks for his first NHL point.
McDavid leads the Oilers with four points (three goals, one assist). Patrick Maroon has three assists and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has two goals.
Senators team scope:
Tonight is Ottawa's fifth game of the season. After opening the year with two shootout losses followed by a shootout win, their first game decided in regulation was last night in Calgary and it was a decisive 6-0 victory. Craig Anderson made 25 saves for the shutout, meaning Mike Condon could potentially get the start tonight.
Derick Brassard has two goals and five points in four games so far this season and is a +7. Bobby Ryan has four assists in four games and is a +9 to lead the entire NHL in that category.
By the Numbers:
Milan Lucic leads all Oilers in games played against Ottawa (42) and also has the team high in career points against the Senators, posting 26 points (9G, 17A). Jussi Jokinen has also played in 35 career games against Ottawa, recording 15 points (4G, 11A).
Connor McDavid (2G) and Patrick Maroon (2A) each posted two points against the Senators last season.
Cam Talbot posted a 3-2-0 record in five career games against the Senators, including a 1.61 goals against average.
OILERS -- Defenceman Andrej Sekera (knee) is out; Drake Caggiula (undisclosed) is out; Leon Draisaitl (eye) is doubtful.
SENATORS -- Erik Karlsson (foot) is day-to-day; Colin White (wrist) is out; Johnny Oduya (lower body) is day-to-day; Ben Harpur (shoulder ) is out.