EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers closed out their recent road trip with a record of 2-3, with their wins coming against Buffalo and New York. With five straight home games coming up, Edmonton is hoping to bolster their record with a few wins and move up the standings. A fast start is key and it begins tonight against the Ottawa Senators.
“It’s been such a different place to play this year,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said of playing at Rexall Place. “We’ve played much better at home this season, our crowd has been amazing with our guys and it has pushed us along in games that have been close or maybe somebody has closed the door on us. We look forward to coming back and playing. I think the challenge for tonight is, and it’s right across the league with this, when you’ve been on a long trip through multiple timezones you are coming back and you’re clearly tired, you’re clearly dehydrated and you’re trying to figure out what timezone you’re in. Our start tonight will be very important. If we can’t get our legs underneath us quickly it’s going to be a tough night just to get in the flow. We want to get off to this homestand on the right foot and we’ve planted the seeds mentally for a good start tonight.”
HALL SKATES, BUT WON’T PLAY
The Oilers star left winger Taylor Hall remains out with a sprained right knee. However, Hall did skate with the team this morning.
“It’s feeling good,” Hall said. “It’s nice to be back on the ice with the guys and be a part of the team again. It was tough watching them on the road trip, but at the same time I thought they played some pretty good hockey so it’s good to be back with them.”
Hall doesn’t have an updated timeline for his return other than he will know more in the next couple of days.
“Not too sure yet. In a couple of days we will be able to tell a little more. But obviously, if I’m on the ice with the guys it means I’m close. There are some games coming up I hope to play in and we’ll see how it goes the next couple of days.”
POULIOT FINDING POINTS
Oilers winger Benoit Pouliot has moved up to the team’s top line with Hall’s absence. In the last two games, Pouliot has two goals and an assist. The numbers haven’t been there for Pouliot this season, but he appears to be finding a rhythm with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
“He’s worked extremely hard, right from the start of the season,” Eakins said. “A lot of people run to the stats page and think that he hasn’t had any goals so he must not be playing well. There are a million different ways you can contribute on a team. We signed Benoit because he can close on the puck and he has an excellent stick and we thought we needed more of that speed in the lineup. He’s brought that. Did he have the stats early on? No, but playing with those guys he has filled in greatly for a pair of shoes that are very, very big in Taylor Hall.”
Pouliot says he felt good even without the points to show for it.
“I was playing well, it was just a matter of putting the puck in the net,” Pouliot said. “There was no need to panic or anything. Lately it’s been good so I’ve just got to keep it going.”
Playing with two of the team’s more skilled forwards has been a big help as Pouliot tries to fill the big shoes of Hall.
“It’s awesome,” Pouliot said of his new line. “Those two guys are smart hockey players, fast hockey players and they know how to play the game. It makes everyone on our line, their jobs a little easier. You know where they guy is going to go, you know what he’s going to do with the puck so you know where to be for him to get it to you. We’re playing well right now but it’s too bad we’re missing a big part of our team with Hallsy out. But at the same time, I have to fill in the hole and step up my game and I think we’re doing a real good job of that right now.”
Oilers winger Nail Yakupov has registered a point in three of his last four games. One of the bigger story lines with him is that he leads the team in shots with 40 through 16 games. Yakupov has shown an ability to pile up the shots, which his team wants more of.
Yakupov’s effort has lead to better play overall.
“I think his effort has been incredible,” Eakins said. “If effort equated to goals and assists, Nail should be leading the league in scoring right now. His effort level this year in practice and in the games has been outstanding. He’s playing with great passion, he’s growing into the game as he gets older here. He’s been sound defensively but he gets lots of looks offensively.”
Eakins continued, “He’s a guy that no matter how many minutes he plays per night, if it ends up being a night where he’s in that 12-13 range he is still a guy that could end up with five shots. He doesn’t need 19 minutes to get those five looks. We don’t want him to be nice. We don’t want him to be respectful of his linemates. We want him to be in the mindset of you’re going to think I’m shooting this puck first and if it’s not there then look for somebody. The biggest thing for me has been just his effort. When I say that, I don’t mean he wasn’t trying last year because he was. But his second, his third efforts and him being a dog on that puck has helped our team greatly.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
SENATORS (7-4-4) at OILERS (6-9-1)
TV: RDS2, TSN5, SNOL
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers swept two games against the Ottawa Senators last season and has won three straight in the series. Ottawa last won 5-3 in Edmonton on Feb. 12, 2011. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle each scored twice to lead the Oilers in the 2013-14 games.
Senators team scope: It's the middle stop on a three-game swing through Western Canada, and Ottawa is attempting to snap out of an 0-1-2 funk. As if playing in the NHL at the age of 19 isn't enough fun, forward Curtis Lazar is especially enjoying this road trip. The British Columbia native had the primary assist on Mike Hoffman's goal in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday in front of family and friends. Now he returns to Alberta, where he played 199 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. "This is about giving back to the community that meant so much to me," Lazar said. "I spent three solid years here in Edmonton with the Oil Kings and I'm looking forward to stepping on the ice [Thursday]. It's going to be pretty special."
Oilers team scope: This is the start of a five-game homestand for Edmonton, which has been streaky at Rexall Place this season. The Oilers lost their first two games on home ice, won four in a row and then lost their past two. The schedule has already thrown the Oilers a three-game road trip, a six-game homestand and a five-game road trip, which they completed Tuesday by losing 3-2 to the Nashville Predators. Coach Dallas Eakins was happy with their effort over the two periods after falling into a 3-0 hole. "Our next step is finding a way to play 60 minutes every night. That's how the playoff teams play," he said according to the Oilers website. Eakins praised the recent play of forward Nail Yakupov, who scored Tuesday. "His effort level is incredible right now," Eakins said in the Edmonton Journal. "… He's doing everything, (but) what Nail likes to do is score goals."