EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers haven’t liked the starts to their games in recent contests.
The result of slow starts has meant engaging in comeback attempts, something the players say is too hard to do on a regular basis if they want positive results.
Not digging themselves into a hole is the messaging tonight as the Oilers host the struggling Flyers, who are on an 0-3-1 skid.
“We spent some time yesterday reviewing our starts over the last five games and how hard we have to work to get back into it,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “You don’t give yourself a chance to have success putting in first periods like we have. Not ready to play, slow to start, I think that’s an individual thing first of all. I think you’ve got to bring an energy and passion to the beginning of the night. You also have to believe you’re going to win and you can’t be uptight and wait for negative things to happen. We seem to get better once we get the crap out of the way and full behind and away we go. That’s not a good formula. We could be a good club. We will be a good club. Let’s start that way and believe that way. We’ve got them believing right now that they shouldn’t fold their hand and they have to stick with it but maybe we’ve gone so far that way that we’ve omitted the beginning of the night.”
Knowing the Flyers are on the back end of a back to back means the Oilers have to jump on them early. That’s something the team was disappointed they did not do in their last game against Calgary, allowing the visiting Flames to jump out to a 2-0 lead.
“Last game was the same against Calgary and we didn’t do that,” said Oilers winger Benoit Pouliot. “It was a slow start again and we were down 3-1 after the first. It’s tough playing back to back. The second game is always tough, and especially out west, coming from the east. We need to really be ready from the beginning. If we can get them tired early, we can take advantage of that and then play the whole game the way we want.”
The Flyers come to Rexall Place having been outscored 12-5 in first periods, and are 4-5-2 this season.
“They’re off to a little bit of a slow start like us, so we’ll see,” said Pouliot. “They played last night too, so we’ve got to take advantage of that. Once we get on the ice, we’ve got to dictate the game. We’ve got to take it to them right away. If we take too many penalties, they have a good power play and have weapons on there so we’e got to watch out for that. It’s going to be a good game. It’s going to be fun.”
Pouliot likely should have four goals in his last five games, but one was taken away by a coach’s challenge against Calgary. That means he has three in his last five and saw a five-game point streak come to an end against the Flames.
“I feel pretty good,” said Pouliot. “The start was a little slow at the beginning of the year but I feel great right now. I think a big part of it is my linemates and who I’m playing with. We’re doing the job. We’re doing the job well and it helps my game a lot and I’m sure it helps them too and I feel very good.”
Pouliot is on a line with Connor McDavid and Nail Yakupov, who are also on a productive run for the Oilers. It’s been a process for Pouliot to gain a comfort level with them but he has settled in now.
“It’s always being at the right spot for them and supporting them,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge but it’s more of a responsibility that we have. For me, it’s always been my game for the past two or three years. I feel really good doing it and as much as I can help Connor and Yak, it’s going to be alright.”
GETTING HEALTHY & LINEUP NOTES
The Oilers have had a laundry list of injuries recently, but they get two bodies back tonight. Matt Hendricks and Griffin Reinhart will join the Oilers after missing the last several games with different ailments.
Hendricks will immediately provide an emotional boost to the bench, as his head coach says the team is different with him in the lineup.
“The energy and the passion that this guy brings to the bench, he’s vocal but in the right way,” said McLellan. “He creates a little bit of a stir around the guys. You could sense it in practice yesterday and I think our group needs that right now. We’ve got a quiet group that needs to be stirred a little bit and Matty tends to do a very good job of that.”
Hendricks hasn’t played a game since October 17.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “You want to be out there with them, digging and clawing for points… I know that Montreal game was something we can build upon. I look forward to getting back, being in the room and being able to talk amongst the group.”
Hendricks is on a line with Mark Letestu and Teddy Purcell. Reinhart will be paired with Eric Gryba, in his first game since October 18.
“I think it’s just important the first couple shifts to make them short, play hard, make good, simple, smart plays and not try to do too much. Get my legs going and after that, start to get back to where I was before,” said Reinhart.
The injuries have allowed one young player to continue to earn more opportunities. Brandon Davidson remains in the lineup after posting two goals in his last two games. He is paired with Oscar Klefbom.
“His shot is one that’s caught our eye over the last little bit but we believed that was there in exhibition season,” said McLellan. “He just looks more and more confident and he’s defending well. He doesn’t show up in a lot of the chances against. Collectively, he might. But individually, as far as errors, he’s not there a lot. He’s been able to provide us with some offence. I like that he’s aggressive. I like that he wants to jump up in the play and he wants to get back hard. I think at times we move the puck up and we get stationary kind of in that rocking chair. We don’t get up the ice, but he’s going and then getting back. It kind of creates some speed back there.”
The rest of the lineup, based on morning skate, is as follows:
Season series: The Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers split a two-game set in 2014-15; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored one of his two goals in overtime to lift the Oilers to a 5-4 win on March 21 at Rexall Place. Flyers forward Jakub Voracek had two goals and three assists in two games against Edmonton.
Flyers team scope: Philadelphia enters having lost its past four games (0-3-1). The skid continued Monday when the Flyers dropped a 3-1 decision at the Vancouver Canucks. Philadelphia is 1-3-1 on the road this season. "We have to come back. It's a quick turnaround for [Tuesday night]," coach Dave Hakstol said. "A tired group, as they always do, stick together and come back with a similar effort [Tuesday." Michal Neuvirth could get the start in goal after Steve Mason made 30 saves Monday. Neuvirth is 2-1-0 with a 1.91 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton is hoping to have forward Matt Hendricks (ankle) and defenseman Griffin Reinhart (undisclosed) in the lineup against Philadelphia. Hendricks, who hasn't played since Oct. 17, practiced on the Oilers' third line Monday with Mark Letestu and Teddy Purcell. "I don't really have an exact date," Hendricks told the Oilers website. "I think it's coming along well, so I would guess pretty soon. [Monday] was the best day I've had so far. I think having a day off [Sunday] and being able to just rest it, no rehab on it, no putting it in the skate, no real grind on it at all, it's come along well. Hopefully here the next game, tomorrow or the next game after that." Forward Rob Klinkhammer (lower body) and defenseman Justin Schultz (back) did not practice Monday and are not expected to play. Center Connor McDavid was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for October. He had five goals and seven assists in 12 games.