EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers head to Vancouver tonight for a rematch of Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Canucks. Tonight’s game will close out Edmonton’s pre-season schedule, with their regular season firing up on Thursday in St. Louis.
It’s the Oilers final tuneup and they’re already getting closer to their final roster. This morning, the Oilers placed veteran defenceman Nikita Nikitin on waivers.
“It’s that time of year where we have to make decisions as an organization and get down in roster numbers. Niki was a victim of that,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We believe that he’s a National Hockey League player and needs to go down and work on some aspects of his game where he can get comfortable and confident and then perhaps bring it back here at some point.”
The Oilers lineup for tonight contains some tweaks to Friday’s practice lines. Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Teddy Purcell skated together this morning. Taylor Hall, Connor McDavid and Anton Slepyshev form the rest of the top six. Leon Draisaitl was on the wing with Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov. The fourth line will likely include Luke Gazdic, if healthy, Mark Letestu and Lauri Korpikoski in Vancouver. Matt Hendricks did not participate in the morning skate.
Predicted defensive pairings include Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne, Brandon Davidson and Justin Schultz, and Griffin Reinhart with Eric Gryba.
Cam Talbot will start in net for the Oilers and could play a full 60 minutes, but McLellan left the door open for that to change. Talbot wants to put Thursday night’s performance behind him and show he’s a better goaltender than the five goals against result.
“Play better. I’ve got a lot better (play) to show than I did last game. I know that I can do it,” said Talbot. “I’ve just got to go out there and prove it. The guys are counting on me to do that and I hold myself to a higher standard than they hold me to. I’m going to come out there and definitely have a better game tonight.”
It may be a little telling that Davidson will be paired with Schultz tonight. The 2010 sixth-round pick is battling to make the Oilers roster and has had a decent training camp. Being paired with Schultz shows the organization wants to give him a lot of responsibility and see how he handles it. It’s part of their evaluation process.
“It’s a big test for Brandon and it’s a big test for Justin as well,” said McLellan. “We’re going to see, I’m sure, the Sedins and Vrbata, Edler and those types of players. They’re going to have a very good hockey club in Vancouver. Obviously, they had a pretty good one here the other night and we didn’t perform. It puts Brandon in a situation where he’s going to get tested. We want to see that. We want to see how he handles situations. He’ll be on the ice against everybody, he’ll play in a lot of situations. But it’s not just Brandon we’re doing that with. We’re looking at a number of different players. We’ll see how our club responds after a poor effort and then come Sunday, come Monday, we’re making decisions.”
Davidson is very excited to get another chance to show the organization he’s ready to be an NHL player.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me,” said Davidson. “They’ve put me with one of the best players in the organization, I think. I have a job to do tonight. I have responsibilities to take care of and I’ve got to be good. I imagine we’ll be going against their top pairing, perhaps. That’s a challenge for me. It’s something I look forward to. I’m excited for tonight and hopefully things work out.”
Pairing Davidson with Schultz is part evaluation, but it also shows a bit of trust in the 24-year-old blueliner.
“I think they know what I’m capable of,” said Davidson. “I think for them to give me this opportunity, it’s huge. I think they’re letting me do what they want me to do. I think that as long as I can play a tough, physical game and make the first good passes I think I’ll be able to key off Justin and maybe help him out. I’m sure he’ll help me out as well.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (6-1-0) vs. CANUCKS (3-3-1)
The Oilers hope to bounce back from Thursday night’s 5-2 loss at home to the Canucks as they close out their pre-season schedule on the road in Vancouver.
Edmonton is 6-1-0 in exhibition play, following their loss to Vancouver. Taylor Hall opened the scoring in the first period and Nail Yakupov also tallied a goal for the Oilers. However, two goals by Bo Horvat and one each from Ben Hutton, Yannick Weber and Jake Virtanen gave Vancouver the win.
Cam Talbot played all 60 minutes in net for the Oilers, logging 24 saves.
Anton Lander leads all Oilers in points (6) and goals (5). Rookie centre Connor McDavid has five assists in four games. Justin Schultz leads all defencemen with two goals and two assists for four points. Nail Yakupov and Anton Slepyshev also have two goals. Anders Nilsson has not allowed a goal in 53 shots faced so far this pre-season.
At Friday’s practice, the Oilers forward lines were as follows: