EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers are back home following a three-game road trip out east, in which the orange and blue went 1-1-1 with their lone win coming in Chicago. Defensively, Edmonton has been solid. They kept opponents to five goals against on the trip, backstopped by Cam Talbot who made 94 saves on 98 shots.
The challenge ahead of the Oilers right now is finding offence. They scored only four goals on the trip and are last in the League in goals per game (1.88) this season. This is despite Edmonton ranking second in shots per game (37.8) behind only Montreal. Those shots just haven't been going in.
"We're looking to find some spark here," said Oilers forward Ryan Strome. "We have to find a way to score goals, if we can do that we will probably have a better record."
In looking for that spark, the Oilers have mixed up the forward lines ahead of tonight's tilt with Dallas. It appears as though Leon Draisaitl has been moved back to Connor McDavid's wing, which has been quite the combination in the past.
"We need some offence," Head Coach Todd McLellan said of the move. "They're a dynamic pair. We're on home ice. We get a chance at the last change. That's it."
It's still incredibly early in the season, and the Oilers only just got Draisaitl and Drake Caggiula back up front last game. It seems like it's just a matter of time before the goals start to come.
"It's nine games into the year, not 80," said Oilers winger Zack Kassian. "Ask me that in 20 games. There's not a player (or team) in the League that goes without slumps in a year. Ours is right now in the beginning of the year. It's in the schedule where there haven't been games every day, giving people lots of time to talk. We're confident in our abilities, we'll get out of it. We have to get out of it sooner than later though."
Rookie Kailer Yamamoto has been a bright spot for the Oilers so far, playing on the top line and coming very close to scoring his first NHL goal many times. He has been particularly successful at creating offensive chances in and around the blue paint.
But when the Oilers took line rushes during their morning skate, it appeared as though he will sit against Dallas. That's not necessarily set in stone, however, according to McLellan.
"We're still going to look at him as an option for tonight but this Dallas team is a big, grinding, hard team down in the offensive zone," said McLellan. "It'll be one of the bigger teams that we've played against to this point this season. Some of that factors in and the way we have our lines set up, Yamo has to play in the top six or top nine to be effective."
PENALTY KILL HEADING IN RIGHT DIRECTION
The Oilers penalty kill hasn't been where it needs to be this season, ranking 27th overall and 31st at home. But that particular aspect of the Oilers game seemed to take a step forward on the recent trip. They killed nine of the 10 penalties they faced, and blanked one of the League's best power plays in Pittsburgh (3-for-3).
"We've gotten back to our details and being in the right positions," said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse. "Having our sticks on the ice. Talbs made some big saves for us on the road. As a whole, it's coming and something that needs to continue to grow because you don't want to give teams in this league the opportunity to be on the power play, but when they do come up you want to be able to shut them down."
Paying attention to the details is a common theme among the team's killers when asked why they've been more successful as of late.
"Just getting back to the attention to detail," said Kassian. "Working in a unit of four. A lot of the times when your PK slips that much, it's not drastic. It's little things, little breakdowns. If we clean that up, we have to continue to do that if we want to win hockey games."
QUICK HITS/LINEUP NOTES
If Yamamoto is out, we could see Mark Letestu play on the right side of the second line with Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins… Jussi Jokinen and Anton Slepyshev are both prime candidates to return to the lineup tonight, based on morning skate… Dallas Captain Jamie Benn comes to Edmonton on a three-game goal streak and has points in six of his last seven games… Former Oilers forward Tyler Pitlick has two goals and two assists in nine games for the Stars…
-- Chris Wescott, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (2-5-1) vs. STARS (5-4-0)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game is the first of three meetings between the Oilers and Stars this season. The clubs will see each other again in two matinee matches. The next is on November 18, 2017 in Dallas. The season series will conclude when the Oilers visit Dallas again on January 6, 2018.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are back from a three-game road trip that saw them touch down in Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The club finished the trip 1-1-1, nabbing three points out of a possible six.
Edmonton welcomed back forwards Leon Draisaitl and Drake Caggiula in the last outing of the trip against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Oilers had an off day on Wednesday but will look to improve their 2-5-1 record. At home this season, the squad is 1-3-0.
Stars team scope:
The Stars are 5-4-0 in 2017-18, having accrued a road record of 1-3-0. The squad has favoured much better at home, where they are 4-1-0.
Dallas is currently on a five-game Western Conference road trip, having started it with a loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. The Stars are 1-2-0 when facing Pacific Division clubs, with two of those victories coming against the Arizona Coyotes.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers are averaging 37.8 shots a game. They trail only the Montreal Canadiens for most in that regard, who average 38.2 shots per game.
At home on the power play, Edmonton is clicking at a 14.3 percent clip - good for 19th in the League. Shorthanded at Rogers Place, the Oilers penalty kill is a League-worst 60 percent.
Dallas has allowed the bulk of their goals against in the third period with 12. The club's road power play is tied for fourth in the League at 30 percent. Dallas' road PK is a respectable 83.3 percent, which is tied for 13th.