That is what the Oilers are focused on tonight as the Washington Capitals (5-1-0) come to Rexall Place. After starting the year 0-4-0, the Oilers have rattled off three straight victories and look for their fourth tonight.
“Coming off four losses is not a good start, obviously, but it feels really good to come together as a group. I think we have real positive energy right now. We just want to keep going and hopefully play a solid game tonight,” said Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom.
“It’s big for sure,” Oilers rookie Connor McDavid said. “That’s kind of a mark that is nice. It’s not something you’re necessarily dreaming of, to be a .500 hockey team. When you start 0-4, you want to battle back and get out of that hole right away. We have a chance to do that tonight.”
It’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and getting another win. The Capitals come into tonight tied for the fourth most goals scored this season. They also have the league’s third-best man advantage.
“They have a really good power play, obviously,” said Klefbom. “We’ll try to stay away from the box as much as we can. We’ve played some good hockey lately so we’re going to build off that. Last game against Detroit, I think the whole team played really solid. Hopefully we can build off that.”
The Oilers have a record of 5-4-1 in their last 10 games against Washington and have won three of their last five meetings, including both last season.
Alex Ovechkin is one of the superstars in the league and he’s playing like it. With five tallies in five games this season, Ovechkin is tied for third in the league in goal scoring.
“You always watch someone like that,” said McDavid. “Obviously, he speaks for himself. It’s going to be pretty cool (playing against him).”
Ovechkin’s shot and his infamous one-timer on the power play are things the Oilers are wary of as they enter this game.
“I think his shot, obviously, and the way he shoots it from anywhere,” said McDavid. “He gets it off so fast that it’s pretty dangerous. That’s probably why he scores so many goals.”
Several Oilers players talked about how Ovechkin is “sneaky” on the ice because one second he won’t look like he’s much of a threat but as soon as you look away he has the puck and there’s a good chance he puts it in the back of your net.
“The first couple of times I’ve played against him, he looks so relaxed on the ice,” said Klefbom. “You barely notice him, he’s standing straight and then he gets the puck and it’s in the net. We’ve got to prepare for everything. He’s a really good hockey player. They’ve got a couple other guys too so we’ve got to be ready for everything but the biggest key tonight is staying with our game and our game plan.”
The Oilers will need to be aware of Ovechkin at all times, but need to not zero in on just him or the other skilled players on the Capitals will capitalize.
“They have a tremendous amount of talent on their team over there,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “They don’t even have (Niklas) Backstrom playing with him tonight. You tend sometimes to focus on an individual and three or four others do the damage. Collectively, we’re going to have to take care of the team but there will be a little more attention paid to how he gets his scoring opportunities, where they come from and maybe what some of his tendencies are.”
The players seem to be voicing the same messaging.
“They have a few guys who are really good hockey players,” said Klefbom. “We have to have a heads up with those guys. We’re going to play our game and hopefully we’ll win.”
NILSSON GETS THE NOD
Anders Nilsson starts tonight for the Oilers between the pipes. He is 1-1-0 this season and has stopped 81 of 85 shots against. Nilsson’s last start was a 2-1 overtime win in Vancouver on Sunday.
The change in net is not based on poor performance, as Cam Talbot made 28 saves in the Oilers 3-1 victory over Detroit on Wednesday.
“We have confidence in both of them and, more importantly, their teammates have confidence in both of them,” said McLellan. “They’re making it tough for us to decide. That’s what their job is and if we can keep two of them running and playing well, then all the more power to our team.”
Nilsson is familiar with Ovechkin, having played the Washington Capitals as a member of the New York Islanders.
“I think I’ve played him at least once in the NHL and a few times with the (Swedish) national team. I know he’s a good player and he has a good shot. It’s something we have to be aware of tonight,” said Nilsson.
The Oilers goaltender made 27 of 30 saves that night, but Ovechkin got the overtime winner as the Islanders lost 3-2.
The lineup based on morning skate and comments from McLellan is as follows:
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers swept two games from the Washington Capitals in 2014-15, including a 5-4 shootout victory at Verizon Center on Jan. 20 in their most recent game. Edmonton center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had two goals and an assist. Washington defenseman John Carlson had a goal and two assists, and forward Andre Burakovsky had three assists.
Capitals team scope: Goalie Philipp Grubauer will make his first start of the season. Washington is third in the NHL on the power play (27.8 percent) after going 0-for-2 in a 3-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, its fourth win in a row. Forward Alex Ovechkin scored his fifth goal in as many games this season late in the third period to win it for the Capitals. The third line had the other two goals; left wing Jason Chimera scored in the first period and center Jay Beagle tied the game early in the third. "It was really the Beagle line, they were the ones that put the work boots on and just went to work, and they sort of pulled the rest of the group into the fight," coach Barry Trotz said of Beagle, Chimera and right wing Tom Wilson. "We were able to tie it up and then cash in on a controlled breakout and two skilled players (Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov) making a pretty good play … but today we won because of the Beagle line." Carlson extended his point streak to four games with an assist on Beagle's goal.
Oilers team scope: Goalie Anders Nilsson is expected to start. He is 1-1-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. Defenseman Griffin Reinhart did not practice Thursday and might miss a second straight game because of an undisclosed injury. Forward Rob Klinkhammer, who has played three games in a row after sitting three of four to begin the season, skated on the top line with Nugent-Hopkins and left wing Taylor Hall. He was on a checking line in a 3-1 victory Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings, the Oilers' third straight win. Edmonton recalled 24-year-old forward IIro Pakarinen from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League. He had a goal and two assists in 17 games with the Oilers in 2014-15. Forward Andrew Miller was sent to Bakersfield. Discipline will be key against the Capitals, coach Todd McLellan said. "If we spend 12 minutes in the penalty box tomorrow, we're going to diminish our chances of winning by a lot, probably too much," he told the Oilers website. Edmonton's penalty kill is first in the League, having killed 23 of 25 shorthanded situations (92.0 percent). "Usually when it comes to the percentages and things like that, it's the little things that make the difference, and that's getting the clears and winning the battles and a lot of guys sacrificing to block some shots," said center Mark Letestu, who is averaging 3:02 of shorthanded ice time per game.