SUNRISE, FL - The Oilers quick two-game tour of Florida will continue and conclude on Saturday as they start a weekend back-to-back with a matinee matchup vs. the Panthers followed by another afternoon affair vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.
Coming off a 3-1 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Oilers will look reverse their fortunes on the opposite coast of the Sunshine State.
The second and final meeting of the season between the Oilers and Panthers sees both teams very much in playoff contention with less than 30 games remaining on each of their schedules as the Oilers sit in second place in the Pacific Division and the Panthers just outside third in the Atlantic, two points back of Toronto with a game in hand as of Friday evening.
KEEPING IT LOOSE
Despite the hard-fought loss in Tampa on Thursday, the Oilers players that opted into the skate in Sunrise on Friday were a spirited bunch. It seemed the practice was more about a focus on the physical aspect of getting their legs moving and the juices flowing after a fast-paced affair on Thursday as they prepped for another on Saturday and a very busy schedule to follow.
"This next stretch, we have a crazy amount of games coming up so it's less about going out there and getting a good sweat and more about getting your legs back after a game like last night. It was a tough game with a lot of skating" said defenceman Matt Benning.
Knowing now what a deep Tampa Bay squad brought to the table, Benning is expecting nothing less from the Panthers who are in the midst of an intense playoff push of their own.
"Florida is a fast team too and we're going to have to to be ready for that. I think for some guys, it was best to stay off (the ice) today. For others, it's good to get out there and it's good to be light."
That light nature of the skate included forward Leon Draisaitl taking some reps on defence, much to the amusement of his teammates.
"He's got some poise back there, you could say," Benning said with a smile.
"it's funny, he'll give us a hard time if we don't get a puck through or pick up a rim, so there was a few times that he let a few of the rims go over his stick so we were laying into him, it's all in good fun. That's the best part about the dressing room, is chirping and giving guys a hard time after they call you out. He was laughing, we were laughing."
Forward Kailer Yamamoto was another who opted into Saturday's skate and echoed Benning's sentiment about the atmosphere feeling loose as the team looks to band together for two points against Florida before flying to North Carolina to conclude their back-to-back.
"Any time you can have a skate like that, it's a lot of fun. Guys are laughing & hopefully it leads into our game and we can have some fun tomorrow and get a big win," said Yamamoto.
With Friday's skate being optional and Saturday's game a 2pm MT affair, the lineup will be made apparent during pre-game warmup.
Of note is the ruling by NHL Player Safety on Friday to suspend forward Zack Kassian for seven games following an incident vs. Tampa on Thursday where he kicked Lightning defenceman Erik Cernak while the two were tangled up on the ice. With Kassian unavailable, the Oilers recalled forward Markus Granlund who joined the team in Sunrise on Saturday.
Head Coach Dave Tippett did note on Saturday morning that recently recalled forward Tyler Benson will be suiting up vs. Florida in what will be his third NHL appearance.
OILERS (30-21-6) vs PANTHERS (30-21-6)
TV: 2:06 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet West
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Oilers and Panthers. The two teams met previously on Oct. 27, in a game that Florida won by a score of 6-2.
Four Panthers players had two points in that game while Leon Draisaitl collected a goal and assist.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers competed hard but came out on the losing end of their match against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday with a 3-1 final.
The Orange & Blue continue to plod along without the services of Oilers Captain Connor McDavid, who is out for 2-3 weeks with a quad injury. Forwards James Neal and Joakim Nygard are also still sidelined while Kris Russell has been out of action on the back end.
"We had lots of compete in our game and Smitty was really strong," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said post-game on Thursday. "But mistakes ended up being the dictator in the game and we came out on the short end."
The Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers all have 66 points but the Oil idle in the second spot of the Pacific Division with 57 games played and 26 regulations wins.
Panthers team scope:
The Panthers were beaten by the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 6-2 on Thursday, dropping to 2-5-1 since the NHL All-Star Break.
Prior to the NHL All-Star Weekend, the Cats were on a six-game winning streak. The club is 24-3-2 when opening the scoring and 6-18-4 when allowing the first goal of the game against.
Evgenii Dadonov lead the Panthers in goals with 23 while Jonathan Huberdeau is the team's assist and points leader with 49 and 69, respectively.
By the Numbers:
Leon Draisaitl leads the NHL in assists with 58, points with 90 and points per game, averaging 1.58 PPG in '19-20. ... Draisaitl and the injured McDavid co-lead in power-play points with 37 each. ... Draisaitl is also the League's game-winning goals leader with nine. ... EDM is 15-12-2 away from Rogers Place this season and 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.
The Panthers have scored 197 goals for this season, sitting fifth in the NHL. ... FLA owns a plus-six goal differential on the season. ... The Cats are 16-11-2 at BB&T Center in '19-20. ... Huberdeau has 26 power-play points this season, good for 5th in the League.
OILERS - Joakim Nygard (hand) is on IR; Kris Russell (concussion) is on IR; James Neal (ankle) is on IR; Connor McDavid (quad) is out.
PANTHERS - Brian Boyle (upper body) is day-to-day; Chris Driedger (upper body) is on IR.