EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers host the Vancouver Canucks tonight at Rexall Place for their final home game of the pre-season. Edmonton has won all six of their previous games. Tonight is about evaluating some of the remaining roster battles, as well as creating chemistry with some line combinations and pairings.
With Jordan Eberle out 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury, Teddy Purcell slides into his spot on the right wing with Benoit Pouliot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Leon Draisaitl gets his chance on the right side with Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid. Nail Yakupov is skating with Anton Slepyshev and Anton Lander tonight. The fourth line consists of Matt Hendricks, Mark Letestu and Rob Klinkhammer.
On defence, the Oilers will trot out the pairings of Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba, Andrej Sekera and Justin Schultz, while Andrew Ference partners with Nikita Nikitin.
Cam Talbot will start in net tonight, and is expected to play the entire game.
“I haven’t been in a game for a week so tonight will be a good way to get the game legs back under me and hopefully I’ll get more playing time on Saturday,” said Talbot.
THE YAK DECISION
Given Yakupov’s high draft status as a first-overall pick and the positional need on the right wing with Eberle out, one might assume Yakupov would be a fit to move up in his place. However, Yakupov will remain with Lander as the Oilers coaches look to build chemistry between that pair.
“Anton, believe it or not, is our leading scorer through the exhibition season. I’d want to play with that type of guy if I had Yak’s skill set,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We’re trying to create a little chemistry there, trying to have balance amongst lines and looking forward to who we might roll lines out against. In my opinion, Yak’s strength is with the puck and on the offensive side. He’s working on his defensive game. Sometimes, who you match up against also is important. We’ll try to put him in situations to succeed. It’s not just a given that your stat sheet automatically moves you up a line or because you’re first overall, you’re this or you’re that. Yak has shot the puck a lot in exhibition season. We’ve expected him to do that, and Anton and Slepyshev have gone and retrieved that puck for him again. There’s some chemistry there we hope can continue to grow.”
Reinhart will continue to get a long look for the Oilers as he gets closer to his goal of playing in the NHL full time this season. Reinhart survived the recent round of cuts and will be paired, once again, with Gryba.
“I think it’s a big opportunity for Griffin and a lot of players,” said McLellan. “Camp is getting much narrower now. Jobs are even more so on the line. Ice time is on the line. Griffin has had a pretty good camp to this point. He had to fight through a bit of an injury, so he missed some games. It’s nice for him to get back and get rolling. We’re going to watch him closely, like we will all the players. We’ll give him an opportunity to experience different situations and then evaluate him from there. We believe in him.”
Reinhart has looked poised and comfortable in his pre-season action.
PENALTY KILL PROWESS
The Oilers penalty kill is second in the NHL right now, at 96.3% effectiveness during the pre-season. They’ve received excellent goaltending so far in these exhibition games, something forward Mark Letestu attributes a lot of their success.
“I think right now, we’re working as a group of four and that’s the biggest thing leading to our success right now,” said Letestu. “The way it’s set up, the way the kill is, if there is any hesitation from anybody as a part of the unit, there’s going to be holes. Right now, I think the aggressiveness has worked, but it’s because all four, and I guess five if you include the goalie, are doing their jobs. Our goalies have been outstanding. I always figure your best penalty killer is your goalie and they’ve obviously been that way so far.”
Letestu would like an opportunity to test out the Oilers PK against some of the better power-play guys in the league. The Sedin twins would grant him that opportunity, as the Oilers play the Canucks twice to close out the pre-season. The Sedins are some of the best players in the league at cycling the puck on the PP, which provides Edmonton with a challenge.
“We’d really like to get a test, as far as the top power play units, to see where we’re at,” said Letestu. “Maybe we can play the Sedins the next couple of games to go against some elite, world-class talent and see how the penalty kill is going. We like where we’re at, but there’s always ways to improve.”
While the Swedish twins aren’t in Vancouver’s lineup tonight, it’s likely they’ll suit up for Saturday’s pre-season finale at Rogers Arena.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (6-0-0) vs. CANUCKS (2-3-1)
TV: Sportsnet 360
The Oilers will put their unbeaten pre-season record to the test when they host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.
Edmonton is 6-0-0 in exhibition games after handing both Calgary and Winnipeg two losses each and shutting out both Minnesota and Arizona.
On Tuesday night, the Oilers defeated the visiting Arizona Coyotes 4-0. Anton Lander recorded a hat trick and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also scored in the win.
Lander leads the entire NHL in goals this pre-season with five in four games. He is tied for third in points with six. Three of Lander’s goals have come on the power play, which also leads the league. The Oilers have 12 skaters with three or more points.
Oilers goaltender Anders Nilsson is tied with three other goaltenders with no goals allowed this pre-season. He has done it however with facing the most shots (53).
The Oilers power play is 12th in the league at 19.4%. They have the second best penalty kill in the NHL at 96.3%.
Vancouver is 2-3-1 and have allowed 14 goals to their seven scored this pre-season. Jared McCann leads the Canucks in goals with two. He is also tied with Ben Hutton for the team lead in points (four).
Jacob Markstrom has the best totals between the pipes for Vancouver, having stopped 55 of 56 shots. His 0.51 goals-against average is the best on the team, followed by former Oilers farmhand Richard Bachman who has posted a 2.81 GAA and .893 save percentage this pre-season.
Six different players have scored goals for the Canucks, while 12 have recorded points. Only two have multi-point pre-seasons so far.