EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers are riding high from their come-from-behind victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. Down 3-0 after the first period, the Oilers came back to win 4-3. Two nights later, it’s time to leave it behind and get back to business.
“Montreal is a very good hockey team,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “That victory and that comeback was rewarding. It was something that was special for us, but it’s also in the past.”
Tonight, the Oilers play host to the Calgary Flames, their rivals from down the QE2. The Oilers are up in the season series 1-0 after a 5-2 beatdown of the Flames on October 17, in Calgary. Connor McDavid scored two goals and added an assist in the win, which began his now seven-game point streak.
“I think the two things go hand in hand,” said McDavid. “When things are going well for the team, that’s when personal success is going to happen. I thought the team played well and, obviously, that meant a couple guys got a couple points, which is always good.”
Playing in his first Battle of Alberta game was a night to remember for the Oilers rookie.
“It was very special,” said McDavid. “I obviously watched a lot of Hockey Night in Canada and the Battle of Alberta was always played on there. It’s a game I’ve watched for a long time and it was pretty special to play in it for sure.”
Brandon Davidson will play in his first Battle of Alberta game of the season tonight, having missed the series opener.
“I was biting my lip last game when I missed out in Calgary,” said the Lethbridge, AB native. “It’s something I’ve watched growing up, being an Alberta boy and I get to be a part of it here now. Very excited. It’s a childhood dream come true. A lot of emotion but directed in the right way.”
The Oilers liked the way they were able to combat the Flames defence in Calgary and will try to replicate that success tonight.
“I’ve played them so many times and their defence is the strength of their team,” said Taylor Hall. “They love to bomb it up and create those odd-man rushes through turnovers. A team like us, we can be prone to turnovers some times but in that game against Calgary we did a great job managing the puck and that set up our whole game. We’ve got to do that tonight.”
SHUFFLING THE DEFENCE
The Oilers rolled with seven D on Thursday against Montreal because of injuries. Tonight, they go back to six but have made significant changes to the pairings.
Darnell Nurse will skate with Andrej Sekera, while Davidson is on the right side of Oscar Klefbom. Andrew Ference and Eric Gryba round out the defensive unit for the Oilers. Mark Fayne will sit out, while Griffin Reinhart (IR) is not available. Cam Talbot was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate.
Davidson was the subject of praise from McLellan after the Oilers win against Montreal. The head coach said Davidson was one of the team’s best defencemen. After being a healthy scratch to start the season, Davidson has worked his way into the lineup.
“It’s nice to hear those guys say those things, especially after the start I’ve had,” said Davison. “It’s been tough, for sure, so it’s nice to hear those things. I think the relationship between the coaches and player and Todd and I, as long as I keep playing the way I’m playing and doing the little things right I think Todd will eventually get more comfortable with me and be able to use me more. That’s all part of it and making sure you do everything you can so the coaches can trust you and put you in the situations you want to be in. It’s all about building that trust and I’ve had a good step there the last couple of games.”
Davidson will get the opportunity to play higher up the defensive depth chart, paired with Klefbom.
“That’s another step for me too,” said Davidson. “It’s always about taking the next step. I think that when I get these chances and opportunities, I’ve got to make the best of them. I felt comfortable with Oscar last game. We didn’t play the whole game together, but the time we did I felt comfortable, I felt good and it was fun. As long as we keep it fun out there tonight again and play the same way we’ll be alright.”
LINES LOOK DIFFERENT
The defence wasn’t the only part of the team to get shuffled. At morning skate, the top six forwards remained the same but the bottom six looked completely different.
McLellan said he liked Anton Slepyshev and Iiro Pakarinen’s play last game and is giving them another chance tonight. Pakarinen centred the third line and Mark Letestu was skating on the wing on the fourth.
Based on the line rushes and what McLellan said, the lineup is projected as follows:
Season series: Forward Connor McDavid had two goals and an assist, and Cam Talbot made 22 saves for the Edmonton Oilers in a 5-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 17. Forward David Jones had two goals for Calgary.
Flames team scope: Goalie Karri Ramo, recalled Thursday from Stockton of the American Hockey League, will get the start for Calgary, which has lost four in a row (0-3-1) after a 6-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Friday. The Flames have have one win in their past nine games. "The good part of this is we have another game [Saturday] night and we have another situation where we have to roll up our sleeves, bare down on our chances and clean up our game defensively," coach Bob Hartley said. "That's where most of our problems are right now. There's turnovers, there's missed assignments, and the puck is in our net. It's tough to win games that way." The Flames have allowed an NHL-high 46 goals and have scored 22 goals (25th) in 11 games. "Obviously, there's still a lot of hockey left, and we believe in this group," defenseman Kris Russell said. "But we've talked a lot about it and now we've got to start doing it."
Oilers team scope: Edmonton, which opened a four-game homestand with a 4-3 win against the Canadiens on Thursday, should be getting reinforcements. Defenseman Griffin Reinhart, who hasn't played since Oct. 18 because of an undisclosed injury, might return Saturday. "I feel about 90 percent better than I did the first day. It's getting closer," Reinhart told Oilers TV on Friday. "We've still got to talk to the doctor, but it's a possibility for [Saturday]." Forward Matt Hendricks (foot) also is expected to return soon, and forward Jordan Eberle, who has not played this season after injuring his shoulder, skated with teammates for a second straight day. Recent recalls have eased the Oilers' pain. Defenseman Darnell Nurse has a goal and an assist in two games, and forward Leon Draisaitl had two goals in his season debut Thursday. "They're telling us they want to stay here. It's really, really good, powerful thing," coach Todd McLellan said. "It's powerful because there's pressure from below and it puts everybody on notice on the club right now."