COLUMBUS, OH - The Oilers are gunning for their fourth consecutive victory tonight as they make the third stop on their four-game road trip, visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets.
If the Oil are going to be able to achieve their second-longest winning streak of the season, they'll have to do it with a slightly altered lineup, as Head Coach Todd McLellan said a handful of players will be swapped out for the second game of the back-to-back.
Edmonton dominated the Philadelphia Flyers with a 4-0 shutout last night, thanks to a 35-save effort from Cam Talbot and goals from Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall, Patrick Maroon and Lauri Korpikoski. The matchup was a physical, penalty-filled affair, with some players requiring tonight’s game off in order to recuperate.
“We’re looking to make a couple changes for a few reasons: health, a couple guys are banged up, and also to get some fresh legs,” McLellan said. “A number of our players were taxed last night. Players that normally aren’t playing 18 to 19 minutes were playing that many due to the penalty kill. We’ll get some new players in if we can, and we’ll see what we have as far as energy levels go. That’ll be important against a heavy, hard team in Columbus.”
A disappointing six-game homestand in February is now a distant memory for the Oilers, as they’ve now put together five straight gritty, determined efforts, resulting in seven of a possible 10 points secured. They know this new brand of hockey they’ve implemented must be sustained if they want to enjoy continued success.
“Everybody has changed into this new mentality,” said blueliner Brandon Davidson, who had yet another monster game in Philadelphia, surpassing 25 minutes in ice time and going +2 with an assist on Maroon’s goal. “You see it on the ice with the passion… That’s the team we want to be is that scrappy and relentless team.”
While a post-season berth may be out of the picture for this Oilers this season, they want to close out their schedule by setting the tone for the future.
“You can see the shift, you can feel it in the air,” Davidson said. “Everybody in the organization to the fans, I think, feel that shift too. And it was needed. We need to win and that’s the bottom line. The mentality part definitely helps. We’re prepared to play that way, which is also a good thing. Kudos to the guys, everybody is stepping up right now and making sure this team is going in the right direction so we don’t end up in this situation again next year.”
LB! LB! LB!
While Coach McLellan didn’t specify which position players would be switching tonight in Columbus, he did confirm Laurent Brossoit will make his third-career start between the pipes. The coach said he hopes his squad will continue to lock it down defensively in front of the 22-year-old, just like they have been for Talbot.
“LB came here to develop and to play, and we’re in that situation right now with our record where he needs that opportunity,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in him based on the game he played earlier in the year. I’d like to think our group will rally around him and give him everything they have.”
Brossoit has been rock-solid in his two starts thus far, making 49 saves in his debut last season and turning aside 32 Winnipeg Jets shots on Feb. 13, unfortunately resulting in a 2-1 shootout defeat. Though he has yet to get that coveted first NHL win on his resumé, the six-foot-three puck-stopper is at ease but also focused.
“I feel like I’m getting better and better every day,” he said. “My game this year is more calm and controlled, rebounds are a little tighter. Going into tonight’s game I feel even more comfortable than I did last time.”
Davidson, who suited up with Brossoit for the AHL’s OKC Barons last season, confirmed Coach McLellan’s intention for the team to rally around the young netminder.
“I’m a big believer in (Brossoit) and I always have been,” Davidson said. “He’s tremendously athletic, almost like a freak. He’s a great goaltender. He did a great job showing that the last two times he’s started. It’s a little extra edge on us to hold our own and make sure he can have success.”
As noted earlier, Davidson had another exceptional performance against the Flyers on Thursday, the latest feather in his cap during an impressive first full season in the NHL. He’s now surpassed 20 minutes played in 15 consecutive games, and he leads the Oilers with a +9 rating, six better than Leon Draisaitl’s +3.
Coach McLellan said he’s gone from being pleasantly surprised by Davidson, to expecting solid performances from and relying upon the 24-year-old blueliner every game. Davidson’s internal drive has been key, the coach added.
“He’s lived up to his own standards, which is the most important thing as a player,” he said. “He understands what his limitations are on the ice, and each day he pushes those a little bit further and takes a little bit more on. He’s establishing boundaries and standards for himself as a player, and now he’s got to live up to them. That’s a powerful thing to have your own self-evaluation and your own standards. We’re happy for him and he’s a big part of our group.”
The Oilers made a pair of waiver claims and a trade on Monday, acquiring defenceman Adam Pardy and forwards Adam Cracknell and Maroon. All three have made good first impressions this week, especially Pardy, who has logged more than 20 minutes in back-to-back games, with a +3 rating and an assist on Maroon’s goal last night.
The hulking 6-foot-4 blueliner has also used his large frame to get in front of pucks and punish opposing players, with six blocked shots and four hits in his first two games with his new team. His physical presence has helped the Oilers continue to implement their scrappy new style.
“The most important thing I wanted to focus on was getting on the body, winning battles, being physical all over the ice and giving this team something that it needs,” Pardy said.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (25-34-7) at BLUE JACKETS (26-30-8)
TV: 7 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-O, NHL.TV
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1 at Rexall Place on Feb. 2. Rookie center Connor McDavid led Edmonton with three points (one goal) in his return to the lineup after missing three months because of a fractured left clavicle. Matt Calvert scored for Columbus.
Oilers team scope: Goalie Cam Talbot made 35 saves in a 4-0 victory at the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. It was his second shutout this season and third in five career games against Philadelphia. The Oilers, who have won three straight, including the first two of a four-game road trip, blocked a season-high 28 shots. "When they're willing to put their bodies in those shooting lanes and block the shots with not much padding, it says a lot about them, a lot about their willingness to win," Talbot said. "When we're doing the right things like that, there's not too many games we're not going to come out on top." Backup Laurent Brossoit is expected to make his second start of the season. Coach Todd McLellan said the Oilers realized something after going 1-4-1 on their Feb. 11-23 homestand. "We've learned by trial and error that the cute, fancy homestand we tried to play wasn't going to do it," he said. "We're a proud group, so we took it upon ourselves to be a scrappy, relentless, tenacious-type team. We're not always that yet."
Blue Jackets team scope: Columbus, which has won two of its past three games, tweaked its lines at practice Thursday, with Nick Foligno moving up to the second line and Brandon Saad dropping down to the third. Coach John Tortorella told The Columbus Dispatch he's looking to get more offense out of his second, third and fourth lines. "We've gotten a lot of offense out of [the top line centered by Brandon Dubinsky]," he said. "They're all over the scoring-chance sheet for us. I don't think we've been consistent enough with the other lines, so we switched those guys to see if we can spark something and get [Foligno] in a situation where he's playing with [center Alexander Wennberg]. We'll see. I'm not sure where it goes, but we'll see what happens." Foligno, who had an NHL career-high 31 goals last season, has scored nine in 55 games. Rookie goalie Joonas Korpisalo is expected to start; he allowed five goals on 35 shots against the Oilers on Feb. 2. The Blue Jackets know they will have to do a better job against McDavid this time. "He never, never, ever looks at the puck," defenseman Dalton Prout told the newspaper. "You can't defend him 1-on-1. You have to do it as a team."