EDMONTON, AB - The Minnesota Wild come to town fresh off their 5-3 win in Calgary last night. They have won two straight after dropping 13 of 14 games. Now, under interim coach John Torchetti, the Wild have a bit of a jump in their game.
“I think it’s a little rejuvenation for them,” said Oilers defenceman Mark Fayne. “It’s just a spark, whether it’s getting a new coach or a big trade or something like that, a team usually gets a pretty big jump for a few games. Hopefully, we can shut that down.”
“I think there’s that natural tendency to take it up a notch,” Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan said is typically the case with mid-season staff changes. “It’s probably a timeframe where if anybody was, in the back of their mind, blaming a coach or a coaching staff, that excuse is gone now. Sometimes panic sets in and it’s the player’s responsibility that, ‘oh, I better get going.’ Don’t take my comments and apply them to Minnesota or anything like that. I don’t know what’s going on with their team and, frankly, I’ve got enough work here, so it’s hard to answer questions like that.”
The Oilers are expecting that energy boost to continue tonight for the Wild.
“I would expect a desperate team,” said Oilers blueliner Adam Clendening. “They kind of dropped out of it a little bit and they’re a good enough team to definitely get back in it and they know it. Some jobs are on the line, guys are trying to stay there or whatever it is, and I would expect a desperate team trying to get back in the playoff race.”
Although the Wild are on the second half of a back-to-back, the Oilers can’t start slow.
“They’re kind of in game-mode right now,” said Fayne. “They’re coming off a big win last night and I think it’s their second in a row. We have to shut down their momentum early.”
UP AND ADAM
With Oilers defenceman Eric Gryba out for a month with a knee injury, the club is needing to shuffle up its blueline. They’ll miss the physical tone that Gryba has brought to the lineup this season.
“Penalty kill, size, occupies a lot of space, plays with an edge and physical element. All things we need in our game and he enhances that,” said McLellan. “He’s also a good guy in the locker room. The general fans and you as a media sometimes get to interact with him, but on the bench and in the locker room, when we need some stability he provides that.”
Tonight, the Oilers turn to Clendening to step in.
“A good, solid night,” said McLellan of his expectations of Clendening. “He’s a puck mover, move the puck. He’s got the ability to run the power play, run the power play, if he gets that opportunity. He’s been in and out of the lineup… great opportunity in front of him. I think some of our players, right now over the next month, are going to get opportunities that they’re either going to seize or they’re not.”
This season, and Clendening’s NHL career for that matter, has been tough on the defenceman when it comes to getting in a rhythm. The 23-year-old has not strung together several games very often. Perhaps, with Gryba out for several weeks, Clendening can earn a regular spot in the Oilers lineup.
“It’s not easy going in one, coming out a couple and going in one,” said Clendening. “You don’t really get too much of a rhythm going. It sucks, but hopefully with Gryb’s injury, I could get a little more consecutively and start to get things rolling and prove myself.”
The Oilers lineup for tonight will be a little bit of a mystery, in terms of forward lines. What we do know is that Zack Kassian will not play, as he continues to heal from a bout with illness.
“He ate breakfast this morning, which was a good sign,” said McLellan. “He skated for the first time and he won’t be in the lineup tonight. It’s not fair to put him in that situation. His energy level is low, but we think he’s come out of it and he’ll be good to play on Saturday.”
With Clendening entering the lineup, he could slide in with Brandon Davidson. Those two were paired together in practice yesterday. Andrej Sekera and Justin Schultz were together, as were Fayne and Darnell Nurse. Nikita Nikitin, who was recalled yesterday, has arrived in Edmonton.
Also during practice yesterday, Matt Hendricks skated with Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle. Benoit Pouliot was with Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov. However, we could see some changes, as today was an optional morning skate and McLellan says the lines will be determined at game time.
In net, Cam Talbot makes his eighth start in the last 10 games.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
WILD (25-22-10) at OILERS (22-30-6)
TV: 9 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, SNW, NHL.TV
Season series: Ryan Suter scored two goals and Thomas Vanek had two assists, helping the Minnesota Wild to a 4-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Xcel Energy Center on Oct. 27. Taylor Hall had a goal and an assist for the Oilers.
Wild team scope: Minnesota will try for its third straight win since interim coach John Torchetti replaced Mike Yeo behind the bench on Saturday. Defenseman Marco Scandella is questionable with an undisclosed injury. He did not play in a 5-3 win against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday and Torchetti did not have an update on him after the game. Nate Prosser took Scandella's place in the lineup, but Christian Folin absorbed more minutes, finishing with a career-high four shots on goal and was a plus-1 in 20:02 of ice time. "Marco wasn't in, so here you go, this is what you want," Torchetti said. "Take advantage of the opportunity. [Folin] was big and strong. That's what we want from our young guys." Torchetti wouldn't disclose his starting goaltender; Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves against the Flames, meaning Darcy Kuemper could start.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton has some lineup questions. Forward Zack Kassian did not practice Wednesday because of an illness and is questionable. Defenseman Eric Gryba was placed on injured reserve and could miss a month after he sustained a knee injury against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. The Oilers recalled defenseman Nikita Nikitin from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League to take Gryba's roster spot. "We hardly did anything line rush [in practice on Wednesday]," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers' website. "We'll make some line decisions [on Thursday] when we know who's healthy." Edmonton also recalled goaltender Anders Nilsson from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League and assigned goalie Laurent Brossoit. Nilsson is expected to serve as Cam Talbot's backup.