ANAHEIM, CA - Tonight’s Oilers lineup against the Anaheim Ducks may be uncertain, but their game plan sure isn’t.
Coming off a disappointing six-game homestand that saw the team earn just three of a possible 12 points, Edmonton desperately needed a bounce-back effort on Thursday as they visited the Los Angeles Kings.
They got just that, holding the Kings scoreless and taking a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes. The Pacific Division front-runners rallied in the final frame to eek out a 2-1 decision, thanks in large part to a near-perfect game from goalie Jonathan Quick. But the Oil were able to generate some positive momentum from their effort.
Tonight, they’d like to take another step forward and turn that effort into a victory against another tough divisional opponent in Anaheim.
“We did have a better effort, and that’s a step in the right direction, but that’s expected on a daily basis from our group, so we’ll get tested there again,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “To hang with teams is not our goal, when it’s all said and done. We can take some solace in the fact that we competed against a heavy hard team, but just to hang around with teams is not what we’re in the League to compete for.”
“It was definitely a step forward from where we had been over the past four or five games,” added veteran centreman Mark Letestu. “Especially early on, there was a lot of jump, a lot of speed to our game. The communication part was good, we just ran into a really hot goalie. He won them the hockey game. We’ve got to finish a few more chances.”
As tough as the Kings are to square off against, the Ducks may present an even greater challenge. The Orange County squad has been nearly unbeatable lately, winning six in a row, in addition to a 20-4-2 record in their last 26 games.
“Tonight we’re going to have the same type of matchup,” McLellan said. “A team that’s played incredibly well for a long period of time now. We know the challenge ahead of us. I expect the same amount of effort, grit, grind and determination to show up in the lineup as we had last night. Back-to-back (games) doesn’t help, but it’s still there and it’s in us. We’re going to have to execute properly.”
Teddy Purcell, Justin Schultz and Iiro Pakarinen were all healthy scratches on Thursday vs. LA, but Coach McLellan was unable to provide any clarification on their status or any lineup changes for tonight.
“There’s going to be some maneuvering around, some changes to people we thought might play and maybe not,” he said. “And that could change throughout the day.”
Prior to yesterday’s game, the bench boss said there was “a real good chance” Anders Nilsson would start in net tonight in Anaheim. However, McLellan announced today Cam Talbot will start again tonight after posting 34 saves against the Kings.
Nilsson hasn’t played for the Oilers since an appearance Feb. 7 against the Islanders, but he did post back-to-back victories during a brief stint with AHL Bakersfield.
Coach McLellan had nothing but positive things to say about the play of recently-recalled defenceman Jordan Oesterle in his first two games with the Oilers this season.
Oesterle, brought up from AHL Bakersfield on Sunday, played a solid 18:24 in his season debut on Tuesday and was rewarded with even more ice time last night vs. LA, logging 21:07.
“He’s given us two pretty strong games,” Coach McLellan said. “I like his mobility and I like his courage. And when I say courage, it’s not about going up to try and run over Milan Lucic. It’s about jumping into plays, jumping into open ice, taking strides with the puck and moving it. I get a sense he understands who he is physically, so then he’s able to play more positionally with a good stick… In two games, we’ve been quite pleased with his effort and his play.”
Paired with Brandon Davidson, who played a team-high 22:17 against the Kings, Oesterle had a couple shots on goal and an even rating. He had three shots on Tuesday vs. Ottawa as he looks for his first NHL goal. Oesterle has contributed two goals and 20 assists in 39 games with the Condors.
Also on the call-up front, Jujhar Khaira got the nod from Bakersfield on Wednesday and played 13:51 on a line with Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov vs. LA.
The big forward had been putting up points consistently with the Condors, accumulating 15 in his 16 games prior to this week's promotion.
“I thought we were good,” Khaira said of his line after the game last night. “I thought we kept it simple out there, just chipped pucks in and out, and when we could make plays I think we took advantage of that. Yak and Anton played really well and made it pretty easy for me.”
Of course, he would have preferred a win in his return, but Khaira was nevertheless pleased to be back in the NHL.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I’m always happy to be here whenever that is and I felt like I had more confidence this time than last time. I know what to expect, I know the guys and it was a lot of fun.”
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (22-34-6) at DUCKS (32-19-8)
TV: 10 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-W, NHL.TV
Season series: The Anaheim Ducks are 2-0-1 against the Edmonton Oilers this season and 6-0-1 in their past seven games. The Oilers won 4-3 at Honda Center on Nov. 11 when Teddy Purcell scored 1:16 into overtime. Anaheim has won twice at Rexall Place; 1-0 on Dec. 31, with John Gibson making 21 saves, and 5-3 on Feb. 16.
Oilers team scope: Forward Teddy Purcell and defenseman Justin Schultz were scratched Thursday, but coach Todd McLellan said after a 2-1 loss at the Los Angeles Kings that they might play against Anaheim. "If they're available to us and ready to play, we'll consider using them tomorrow," he said. The Oilers, who have lost six in a row (0-5-1), led 1-0 entering the third period but were unable to hold off the Kings. "For about two-and-a-half periods, that was our best game in a long time," McLellan said. "But at the end of the day, it's still a loss." Goaltender Cam Talbot has started and lost each of the Oilers' past five games; he made 34 saves against the Kings. Backup Anders Nilsson hasn't played an NHL game since Feb. 7.
Ducks team scope: Anaheim is seeking a season-high seventh consecutive victory and sixth in a row at home. The Ducks are 13-1-1 in their past 15 games and 20-4-2 since Christmas after a 1-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday. Goalie Frederik Andersen got the shutout against Buffalo after Gibson played the previous two games. With Anaheim surging, general manager Bob Murray said Thursday that he's not planning to make a lot of changes prior to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday. "You can do too much and confuse the issue on the hockey team when there's chemistry. It looks like there's chemistry now," he said. "Everybody has fit into a role, so to speak, and is accepting their roles, which is huge." The Ducks claimed center Chris Wagner off waivers from the Colorado Avalanche and sent him to San Diego of the American Hockey League. They had lost Wagner to the Avalanche on waivers in November.