EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers are a wounded bunch right now with Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Griffin Reinhart, Matt Hendricks, Lauri Korpikoski and Rob Klinkhammer all either day to day or on IR. Darnell Nurse was recalled Monday and Leon Draisaitl was recalled this morning, ahead of tonight’s battle with the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
“Injuries are part of it. You’ve got to build in injuries, every team has them,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I don’t even like to really talk about them because then it tends to lend an excuse factor and we shouldn’t have that. The league doesn’t wait for teams that have injuries. It smells blood and it goes after those situations. Even when your team is not playing well, you may have healthy people but your team is sick. It’s not waiting for you to get healthy, it’s coming after you. We’re in that situation right now and I think a couple things can happen and we’re watching closely. Individuals can elevate their play and take more responsibility on and be more productive. We’re watching for that. The other thing that can happen… is you find players. Players come up, they get an opportunity to play and you find them. What ends up happening, if you can find one or two, they end up taking jobs away from the guys that didn’t elevate their play during the injured process. If you can’t do those two then you’ve got a lot of work to do, so we’re watching close.”
With all the injuries to the lineup, the Oilers will roll with seven defencemen tonight.
“It gives us an opportunity to use ice time more effectively. And what I mean by that is if you’re dressing six and backend guys are making the same mistakes over and over again, you’re more apprehensive to put them on the end of the bench and go with five, ten minutes into a game. In this situation, seven guys get an opportunity. I’m not sure all seven will play consistently, but six will and we’ll figure out what six they are,” said McLellan.
The Oilers have now lost two straight games by one goal, both coming in the third period. Against Los Angeles, Taylor Hall tied the game at 13:56 of the third. Tanner Pearson’s goal at 16:34 gave the lead right back to the Kings and some late drama and a no-goal call prevented the Oilers from having another chance at the victory.
Against Minnesota on Tuesday, the Oilers battled back from down 2-0 to take the lead at 3:38 of the third courtesy of Nurse’s first NHL goal. Unfortunately, they couldn’t hold on and Minnesota scored two goals in a span of 43 seconds to win 4-3.
“We’ve lost a couple games in the third period,” said Oilers forward Iiro Pakarinen, who scored against Minnesota. “We have to get our play up higher in the third period, not stop playing or have a couple bad mistakes in the third. Just keep our playing going. First periods and second periods have been pretty good, those games I’ve played. Just keep it going and don’t think about losing too much, think about winning. It’s tough when you lose a couple games by one goal. We just have to work a little bit harder and then we can turn those games into wins.”
Pakarinen says he does think third period losses like the last two creep into the minds of the players, but the team is in a good place, mentally, coming into tonight’s game against Montreal.
“I think, maybe, it does creep in a little bit. Especially, when you lose those games and a couple in a row in the third period. Maybe, a little bit,” Pakarinen said. “We have a good feeling about tonight and the whole team feels good. I think we’re ready.”
The Oilers have been outscored 13-6 in the third period this season. The focus tonight is playing a full 60 minutes in order to guard against any third period collapses.
“First of all, we’re really happy to be back and play good games at Rexall Place with our fans,” said Nail Yakupov. “It’s going to be a really hard game against the best team in the league right now. It’s going to be a real good battle but it’s all about us. We’ve got to play a full 60 minutes to win the game tonight. We’ve played really good, especially the last two games, it’s just we’ve got to play 60 minutes. That’s really frustrating to lose those two games when we kind of had two points. We’ll just move forward and see what happens.”
DRAISAITL ON THE WING
Draisaitl may be a natural centre but he’ll be asked to produce on the wing tonight. After being recalled this morning, Draisaitl didn’t take morning skate. He is projected to play on the right side with Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as his linemates.
“Leon’s situation is a lot like Darnell’s. We wanted him down a little bit more and gaining more experience but because of how deep we are injury-wise, he’s the next forward to come up,” said McLellan. “He’ll play with two very good players and we just want to see where he is. What’s happened in the last three weeks since he’s gone down there, has his game progressed? We’ll look at it in all three areas. We’ll see how he handles the speed and the pace of a very good hockey club, one of the best in the league right now, and it will be a good evaluation for us.”
McLellan says Draisaitl’s performance in the American Hockey League this season started slow, but he has picked up his performance the last few games.
The third-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft has played six games for the Bakersfield Condors, scoring one goal and adding one assist.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
CANADIENS (9-1-0) at OILERS (3-7-0)
TV: SN, SN360, RDS
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers have won three straight games against the Montreal Canadiens, including two last season. Ben Scrivens made 29 saves in a 3-0 win at Rexall Place on Oct. 27, 2014. Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had two goals and an assist against Montreal. Canadiens goalie Carey Price has not faced the Oilers since Oct. 22, 2013.
Canadiens team scope: Montreal did not practice Wednesday after a 5-1 loss at the Vancouver Canucks, so it remains to be seen if coach Michel Therrien will make any changes to the lineup he used throughout the Canadiens' record-setting start. The loss put an end Montreal's perfect 9-0-0 record; the Canadiens set an NHL record for the most regulation wins to begin a season and fell one victory short of the League record for most wins of any kind from the start of a season. Defenseman Jeff Petry will face his former team for the first time since Edmonton traded him to the Canadiens on March 2. "It's going to be good to go back into that building, but I'm going to approach it like any other game," said Petry, who had one assist in two games against Montreal before the trade. "There are going to be a lot of familiar faces, but once the puck drops it's a game and I'm not going to be friendly out there, by any means."
Oilers team scope: Center Connor McDavid brings a six-game point streak into his first game against the Canadiens. McDavid has 10 points through his first 10 games, including four goals and five assists during his streak. The No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft is 18, the same age Wayne Gretzky was when he scored a power-play goal in the Oilers' 5-3 win against Montreal at Northlands Coliseum on Dec. 14, 1979, in the first NHL game between the teams. Defenseman Darnell Nurse was paired with Oscar Klefbom and scored his first NHL goal in Edmonton's 4-3 loss at the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. "Obviously when you get to play with a guy like that it makes your job a lot easier," Nurse said. "I thought the two of us played pretty well together." The Oilers recalled defenseman Joey LaLeggia and forward Tyler Pitlick from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. Right wing Rob Klinkhammer left in the first period with a lower-body injury Tuesday and did not return.