EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers host the Buffalo Sabres tonight at Rexall Place and will try and make it three wins in a row to start this homestand after victories over Boston and Dallas. The Oilers have managed at least a point in four of their last five games. Similarly, the Sabres have at least a point in four straight and have three wins in that span.
“I got to see some of their game from (Friday) night,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “They are a team that’s in transition. They’ve done a very good job at restocking their team and putting a foundation in place. Their players have bought in and they’re winning some games. They’re a hard team to play against right now. I can see some graduation in individuals that are young players now turning into old ones.”
McLellan points out 2013 eighth-overall pick Rasmus Ristolainen as one of those young players who looks much improved this season. The 21-year-old defenceman has 18 points (4-14-18) in 26 games this season. Sam Reinhart (brother of Oilers prospect Griffin Reinhart) has seven goals in 26 games, while 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel has eight and is third on the team in scoring with 13 points (8-5-13).
As for the restocking of the roster, Ryan O’Reilly leads the team in scoring with 21 points (8-13-21) in 26 games. He was acquired in a trade back in June. Evander Kane came to Buffalo from Winnipeg in a February trade. He has been heating up, with four goals and two assists in his last three games.
“The presentation of Buffalo will be a tough one for us, the way they play and how they attack,” said McLellan. “For us, it will be mental and physical tomorrow. Our schedule has been grinding. We’ve played a lot of games in a short period. I would like us to play a smarter game than we played against Dallas. As far as the Xs and Os, we’re still working on that today and will be preparing them tomorrow morning for that.”
INJURIES CONTINUE FOR OIL
Sometimes, the injury bug just keeps coming and that has been a story for the Oilers all season. With Connor McDavid, Rob Klinkhammer and Nail Yakupov already on the shelf, two more were added to the Oilers list of injuries on Friday. Andrew Ference and Benoit Pouliot were both placed on IR and the club recalled forward Ryan Hamilton on emergency basis.
“We’re missing a whole line on offence and we’ve managed to get points in four of our last five,” said Hall. “That’s not easy to do and we’ve played some quality teams. You hope that this is the worst of it and once we get some guys back they stay back and guys like myself stay healthy. That’s the name of the game. You look at the best teams in the league and when they finish at the top of the standings they’re always healthy throughout the year and we need to try and stay healthy.”
The Oilers did get good news on the Brandon Davidson front. The Oilers defenceman is expected to return to the lineup against the Sabres.
“He should be ready to go tomorrow,” said McLellan. “Coming off the ice today, he was smiling and said it felt even better.”
Davidson has missed each of the last two games.
“I think that will be a good game for me to get back in,” said Davidson. “I’ve missed the last couple because of injury but I’m ready to go on Sunday. It’s nice to come back to a team that has won two (in a row). It’s good.”
While Oscar Klefbom and Jordan Eberle did not skate on Friday, they are both expected to be available for the game tonight, per McLellan.
NILSSON GOES AGAIN
By now, Oilers fans are used to seeing Anders Nilsson’s name as the team’s starter between the pipes. Nilsson will make his 13th start in 15 games when the Sabres come to town.
Cam Talbot has not played since November 27 in Detroit, when he made 28 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings.
“At some point we’ll have to get Cam in,” McLellan said yesterday. “Nilsson will play tomorrow, so there’s your starting goaltender.”
Nilsson made 42 saves in the Oilers 2-1 overtime win over Dallas on Friday. He has a 7-7-1 record this season with a .921 save percentage and 2.52 GAA. His save percentage is just outside the top 10 for goaltenders who have played more than 15 games this season. He has a save percentage of .947 in his last seven games.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
SABRES (11-12-3) at OILERS (10-15-2)
TV: SN, MSG-B
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers swept two games from the Buffalo Sabres last season, each 3-2. Anton Lander and Matt Fraser, who each played in one of the games, led Edmonton with a goal and two assists each; Teddy Purcell had three assists. Brian Gionta had three assists to lead Buffalo.
Sabres team scope: Buffalo called up forward Cal O'Reilly, the brother of center Ryan O'Reilly, from Rochester of the American Hockey League on Saturday, before the start of this three-game Western Canada trip. Cal O'Reilly hasn't played in the NHL since Feb. 15, 2012, but coach Dan Bylsma coached him with the Pittsburgh Penguins and told the Sabres website, "He can play in all situations; he plays a hard game down the middle of the ice, and he can make plays." At practice in Edmonton on Saturday, Cal rotated in on a line with Nicolas Deslauriers, David Legwand and Marcus Foligno. The Sabres have scored 17 goals in their past four games and won three.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton on Saturday recalled wing Ryan Hamilton on an emergency basis from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League and placed wing Benoit Pouliot and defenseman Andrew Ference on injured reserve. Defenseman Brandon Davidson, who has missed the past two games with an injury, is set to return to the lineup. "I've missed the last couple because of injury but I'm ready to go on Sunday," Davidson told the Oilers website Saturday. Defenseman Oscar Klefbom and forward Jordan Eberle missed practice for maintenance but are expected to play. "We've played eight games in 14 nights. There's a lot of guys who could have used maintenance days," coach Todd McLellan said. "They were a little further along." Edmonton is playing the third of a five-game homestand. The Oilers have won the first two games, one in overtime and the other in a shootout.