EDMONTON, AB - They won't be playing in front of their dads and family members when they host the visiting Minnesota Wild on Friday at Rogers Place but the Oilers will certainly look to keep their kin proud after coming from behind to defeat the St. Louis Blues by a score of 3-2 via shootout.
Edmonton ended their Father's Trip 1-1-0 and return to Oil Country dead set on compiling points, which won't be easy against a mature and deep Wild squad. Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock knows what to expect from Minnesota after years of coaching within the Western Conference.
"They don't crack very often," Hitchcock said at Friday's avail. "They play a very mature game, they play a very compact game and they don't beat themselves."
Left winger Valentin Zykov will make his Oilers debut. The Russian forward was claimed off waivers last week but couldn't suit up with the team on their road trip due to immigration issues.
Zykov, formerly a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, slotted in on the left side of Ryan Spooner and Ty Rattie. There's a sense of the unknown with Zykov from the Oilers coaching staff but the preliminary sightings of him on the ice have been positive.
"At practice, he looks like an exceptional player," said Hitchcock. "The way he releases, the way he shoots the puck, scores on every warmup drill. We think we've got the potential for a line - whether it's the one that he's going to play on tonight or another one - we've got the potential to put him in those scoring positions."
Hitchcock is prepared to be patient with Zykov but believes the forward's history as a Carolina Hurricane will transition nicely with the Oilers.
"The nice part is that having played for (Calgary Flames Head Coach) Bill Peters before, the terminology and language is almost identical to what we use," Hitchcock continued. "He's used to that part of it, so I think it's going to be a little bit easier transition.
"We got to be patient here but man, he's got an element we could sure use."
Linemate Rattie said Zykov's presence injects the lineup with some excitement. The Airdrie, AB, native is also well-aware of Zykov's release.
"We don't want to designate anyone doing anything but obviously, we know he can shoot the puck and plays his off-wing for a reason," said Rattie.
"If he's in a shooting spot, it's a good idea to give it to him and let it fly."
For the second consecutive game, Oilers netminder Cam Talbot will get the start between the pipes. Talbot performed well in St. Louis, making clutch saves to help will his team towards a comeback victory.
Hitchcock decided to reward his goalkeeper as a result of his last outing.
"If we're going to grow as a team, we've got to reward performances," the Oilers coach said. "Talbot was excellent in St. Louis and we knew we had two important games against two really good teams - Minnesota and Calgary - so we opted to reward Talbs."
Hitchcock added that he'd like to see both of his keepers get into a better rhythm.
"Rhythm is important," he said. "But it's also based on reward."
Talbot is simply trying to build off Wednesday's performance. The keeper acknowledged his slumping play in the past few weeks but is moving forward.
"Everyone goes through these kinds of stretches," said Talbot, owning a 6-9-1 record to go along with a 3.19 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.
"You don't lose your ability to play hockey in a month. It's just gaining that confidence back as a goaltender, going out there, staying focused, playing your game and trying to build off of every save," he added.
The only change in the Oilers lineup is Zykov swapping in for Patrick Russell.
Jujhar Khaira, who has three points in his last three games, will get another shake on the second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi.
Klefbom - Larsson Nurse - Russell Gravel - Benning
-- Paul Gazzola, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (14-12-2) vs. WILD (15-11-2)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game is the second of three meetings between the Oilers and Wild in the 2018-19 season. Minnesota edged a 4-3 win over Edmonton on Oct. 30, getting the game-winning goal from Mikael Granlund at 14:12 of the third period on the power play. The two clubs will conclude the season series on Feb. 7, in Minnesota.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads all Oilers in all-time points against the Wild with six goals and 13 points in 22 outings. McDavid is next-best with five goals and eight points in 10 career games versus the Wild.
On the other side, Mikko Koivu leads all Wild players against the Oilers with seven goals and 46 points in 63 games. Eric Staal has also been largely successful when facing the Oil, scoring 21 points in 19 tilts.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers returned to Edmonton following a brief two-game jaunt which saw the club face a pair of Central Division foes.
Edmonton's three-game win streak was snapped as a result of a 4-1 shortcoming against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday - without Oilers Captain Connor McDavid in the lineup due to illness - but Edmonton responded on Thursday with a gutsy come-from-behind 3-2 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues.
Oscar Klefbom tallied with under a minute left to send the game into the extra session, McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins scored in the shootout and Cam Talbot stopped Brayden Schenn to earn his 100th career victory as an Oiler.
The Oilers are 5-2-1 since Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock assumed the position. The Orange & Blue have been either tied or involved in a one-goal game following 40 minutes in each of Hitchcock's eight games at the helm.
Edmonton ranks fifth in the Pacific Division with 30 points, three back of the San Jose Sharks for third with two games in hand.
Wild team scope:
The Wild enter Edmonton on the heels of a back-to-back after getting blanked by a score of 2-0 versus the Calgary Flames on Thursday. Wild captain Koivu left Thursday's game late after colliding with Flames captain Mark Giordano.
Wild Head coach Bruce Boudreau did not have an update on the forward's injury post-game.
Minnesota is 1-1-0 on their current three-game Pacific Division tour, which ends in Edmonton. The squad is 1-4-0 in their last five, 4-6-0 in their last 10 and sit fifth in the Central Division - one point back of a Western Conference wild card position.
By the Numbers:
Oscar Klefbom has three goals and four assists in his last six appearances. ... Connor McDavid is tied for seventh in League scoring with 36 points and has 13 in his last 10 matches. ... The Oilers are 6-4-0 against the Central Division in '18-19. ... Edmonton is 6-2-1 when tied after 40 minutes this season, going 6-2 in games that extend beyond regulation. ... Edmonton is 10-3 in one-goal affairs this year.
The Wild are 6-0-0 when tied after two periods and 2-2 beyond regulation. ... Devan Dubnyk is 9-2-0 in 11 career starts versus his former Oilers, shutting them out twice and owning a 1.34 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. ... Former Red Deer Rebel Matt Dumba leads all NHL defencemen with 10 goals in the '18-19 campaign, four of them coming while on the man advantage.
OILERS -Andrej Sekera (Achilles) is on IR; Drake Caggiula (hand) is on IR; Tobias Rieder (upper body) is on IR.