EDMONTON, AB - It's been a long-awaited extended stay at home for the Edmonton Oilers.
A four-game homestand for the Blue & Orange begins with a visit from the Ottawa Senators to Rogers Place on Wednesday night after spending six of their last seven contests on the road.
The busy stretch included a back-to-back home and away set against the Vancouver Canucks this past weekend, where the spoils were shared after Josh Archibald notched his first goal of the season and the Dynamic Duo of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid eclipsed their 50-point plateaus through 29 contests in a 3-2 response over their Pacific Division rivals.
Head Coach Dave Tippett specifically highlighted the third period of his team's last victory, and how it was a point of emphasis in his team's morning meeting ahead of Ottawa's visit to Edmonton.
"If you look at the way we played in the third period, we talk about the 'five up, five back', and we were really strong in that area," Tippett said. "That's what we talked about today. We have to start this homestand off playing well and playing to our strengths. Hopefully that can turn into some wins for us."
The Oilers and Senators align for their first meeting of the season on opposites sides of the NHL's standings, with Ottawa 14 points back of the Oilers in the overall picture after dropping their fifth-straight game in a 5-2 loss in the first game of their back-to-back to the Canucks last night.
But make no mistake - the playing surface isn't tilted in any direction if you're the in the dressing room of the division-leading Oilers.
"There are 82 games and each one is unique," defenceman Darnell Nurse said. "Each and every team in this league, the parity within the league is so close no matter if you're top of the standings or bottom. You can lose every given night - that's what makes this league so special."
"But with that said, that means our focus has to be on the first shift and build from there because this is a team that offensively can make you pay."
Win by win, the feeling and belief in the Oilers locker room gets a little bit stronger.
"I think every win brings a little bit more confidence for the team," Mikko Koskinen, who's been integral its growth with a 10-2-2 record this season, said. "We try to build on that, but in this league, you need to put your best foot forward. So it's a big challenge for us tonight."
The preparation builds out from team meetings and video sessions, strengthened by each and every player's commitment to the process put in place by Tippett and his coaching staff.
"I think we have a lot of confidence in our group. A lot of confidence in each other that we're going to execute the way we draw it up on the board," Nurse said. "First and foremost, we have great buy-in from this group and to a man everyone wants to do what they can to win. It's never so much about the individual, it's about the team. It's kind of what we've embraced so far and we need to continue that."
The challenge that presents itself in a reeling Senators side that boasts an 11-16-1 record isn't one to be rested on, as the quickest way towards losing that winning feeling is knowing you've let down your guard in a game you could've won.
"I think we've been doing a pretty good job most of the year. But there's always room to improve for everyone," Koskinen continued.
"You can't be happy all the time. The moment you start to be happy, usually everything collapses. It's important we try to get better every game and improve like every other team in the league.
PERSSON OF INTEREST
Defenceman Joel Persson rejoins the Oilers lineup tonight after two weeks, six games, and five points (1G, 4A) with the Bakersfield Condors getting further acclimated to the North American game.
"It was a great experience for me to come down and play a lot, to be confident in my game, but now I'm excited to be back," Persson said.
Tippett was happy to see the Swede play big minutes in all situations down in Bakersfield, but his recall was by design to restore the righty-lefty element to his pairings.
"He went down and got some big minutes in big games," Tippett said. "Obviously his strengths are puck movement and the ability to make good plays out of our zone. He went down there, he played well, continues to learn the North American game, so he'll come up and hopefully he gives us good minutes tonight."
The 25-year-old took value from being put in every situation, but put added emphasis on the results related to knowing when to hold on to the puck longer or get it away on the smaller ice compared to Sweden.
"When you're on the ice more, you recognize more situations that you can pick up different stuff from," Persson said. "Sometimes you need to keep the puck and sometimes you just need the puck to go through the defensive zone. I think that part has been a little harder for me."
"It's one of the harder things to learn because back home I usually held onto the puck the whole time. There's a lot of time and a lot of ice, so here you just need to learn when to do what."
Persson will line up on the third pairing alongside Kris Russell at the expense of Caleb Jones, who was reassigned to Bakersfield in Persson's place on Tuesday. Tippett described Jones as a solid addition but reaffirmed his staff's desire to restore the righty-lefty dynamic on each pairing.
"I like his skating, he has a good stick and defends really well, but right now we're looking for the left and right," Tippett said of Jones. "We'd like to get a right-hand shot back on that right side, so we made the switch. Caleb was good. I talked to him yesterday before he went down and he was in good spirits, and he'll be back. He's a good young player."
Mikko Koskinen will make his 15th start of the season and is 10-2-2 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .921 save percentage overall in 2019-20.
Zack Kassian took part in this morning's optional Oilers skate but will not dress against Ottawa, along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenceman Matt Benning.
Wednesday's morning skate was optional, but lines are expected to carry over from yesterday's full practice:
Tonight's game is the first of two meetings between the Oilers and Senators this season.
The season series will conclude in the new year on March 18.
In the 2018-19 campaign, the Oilers and Senators split the season series, though Edmonton did gain three out of a possible four points.
Despite Ottawa's 68-105-18 record since '17-18, the club is 5-0-0 against the Oilers on the road in their last five visits to Edmonton, averaging 4.00 goals per game and a 40 percent power-play.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers recently wrapped up a weekend home-and-home series against the Vancouver Canucks, which saw the club lose the first game and win the second.
After the long five-game road trip then the weekend back-to-back, the Oilers now get a four-game home slate beginning Wednesday.
It's a nice change of pace for the players, who want to establish Rogers Place as a difficult building to compete in for opposing clubs.
"It's fair to say that our schedule since the start of the year has been crazy," Alex Chiasson said following Tuesday's practice. "It's felt like every time we've come home, it's been two games and then we go back on the road for three or four."
The Oilers are 7-3-2 at home this year and are first in the Pacific Division with 37 points.
Senators team scope:
The Senators enter Edmonton on the heels of a back-to-back after falling 5-2 to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, extending the club's losing streak to five matches.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau leads the Sens in goals and points with 15 and 21, respectively, while defenceman Thomas Chabot has three goals and 17 points.
Ottawa resides 29th in the National Hockey League standings with an 11-16-1 record and 23 points. The Sens are 4-11-1 on the road in '19-20.
By the Numbers:
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are the sixth and seventh different players in the last 25 years to reach the 50-point mark in 29 or fewer games. ... The Oilers are first in the NHL on the power play (32.5%) and second on the penalty kill (87.1%), being the only team to rank in the top five of both categories. ... Edmonton is 13-2-1 when scoring first, while Ottawa is 6-6-0. ... The Sens are 31st in the NHL on the PP, going 8-for-89 for a nine percent average.
OILERS - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (hand) is on IR; Matt Benning (undisclosed) is on IR; Zack Kassian (back) is day-to-day; Kris Russell (undisclosed) is day-to-day.
SENATORS - Craig Anderson (lower body) is on IR; Scott Sabourin (concussion) is on IR; Cody Goloubef (undisclosed) is on IR; Clarke MacArthur (concussion) is on IR; Marian Gaborik (back) is on IR; Christian Wolanin (torn labrum) is on IR.