EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers will host the Dallas Stars on Sunday afternoon in what will be Todd Nelson’s first regular season home game behind the bench at Rexall Place. The interim coach says he won’t be so much nervous as he will be excited.
“I think I’ll just be excited. Excited to get back in the fray and hopefully get two points,” Nelson said.
The last time the Oilers played the Stars, Dallas came out on top 3-2 on November 25.
Leon Draisaitl will sit out this game against the Stars and a starting goaltender has yet to be determined. The lines at Saturday’s skate were as follows:
Taylor Hall-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Teddy Purcell David Perron-Boyd Gordon-Jordan Eberle Nail Yakupov-Anton Lander-Tyler Pitlick Matt Hendricks-Mark Arcobello-Steve Pinizzotto
FOCUS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
When Nelson joined the Oilers from the American Hockey League, the one thing he really wanted to address was special teams. The Oilers power play is currently 27th in the NHL with a 12.5% success rate. Nelson’s Oklahoma City Barons have ranked in the top three in power play success in the AHL each of the last three seasons. They’re third this year at 23.6%.
“One thing is special teams, they’re always very important and we have to improve on that,” Nelson said.
The team worked on the power play on Saturday.
“For my unit, we’re just trying to shoot from everywhere, get that lane and get pucks to the net,” Justin Schultz said. “We’ve got Perron and Yak down there so they’ll get the rebounds or tip-ins. It’s just about getting shots, being simple and getting momentum for our team.”
The first unit was Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Purcell and Hunt. The second unit was Perron, Lander, Yakupov, Schultz and Petry.
“You saw us working on the power play (Saturday), we have to get that going,” Nelson said. “Another thing is the tempo of our game. We want to raise our tempo so we can maybe get into a position where we draw some penalties so we can go on the power play. I think it goes hand in hand.”
Lander, who was recalled on Friday, will see time on the man advantage against Dallas.
“It’s going to be fun,” Lander said of playing on the power play, “It’s the same spot I’ve been playing down there in Oklahoma, on the half-wall. I’m just going to focus on the right thing and that’s getting ready for tomorrow’s game.”
LANDING AN OPPORTUNITY
In 26 games in OKC this year, Lander recorded 27 points (8-19-27). During the month of December, Lander has four goals and seven assists for 11 points in eight games. Four of this last six games have been multipoint nights and Lander was on a four-game point streak when he was recalled.
“I’m excited to be back,” Lander said. “I’m going to work hard out there and try to win every battle. I’m going to help the team and do whatever I can to get a win tomorrow night.”
Lander has played 94 NHL games in his career with the Oilers, scoring just eight points (2-6-8). However, after two very successful and productive season in the AHL, Nelson feels Lander is ready for another opportunity.
“He’s had difficulty in transferring his game. But what I see now is a new maturity, he’s elevated his game down in Oklahoma City from what I saw when I was down there,” Nelson said. “I just talked to him today and told him when he comes up here to make sure he plays the same way. You’re going to be put in a position to succeed and we’re putting you in a position where you feel very comfortable. It’s up to him to take the next step and elevate his game.”
To put Lander in a position to succeed, Nelson has placed him on a line with Tyler Pitlick and has given him an opportunity to play on the power play.
“He’s going to play with Tyler Pitlick, who he’s very familiar with and they’ve had chemistry in OKC and we expect the same out there tomorrow,” Nelson said.
CRASH THE NET
One of the things Nelson had always preached as a head coach in Oklahoma City was putting an emphasis on driving the net. It’s a simple concept that going hard to the net leads to more greasy goals and havoc in front of the opposing goaltenders. The Oilers have been criticized for a lack of a net-front presence this season, but in a 4-3 loss in San Jose on Thursday night, there were some signs that the team was beginning to make it a real focus.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Nelson said. “If you look at all three of our goals, they were hard-working goals. We had traffic in front of the net, we had second and third whacks at the puck. Right now, when a team is having a tough time scoring goals, you need to score those greasy goals. The nice plays will open up after but we want that to be a staple of our hockey team where we go hard to the net and crash the net. It doesn’t matter how big you are, as long as we get people to the front and get shots through it’s going to create havoc in front of the goaltender.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
STARS (13-13-5) at OILERS (7-20-6)
TV: FS-SW, SNW
Season series: Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin scored two goals in a 3-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers at American Airlines Center on Nov. 25. Stars defenseman John Klingberg had one goal and one assist. Oilers goalie Viktor Fasth allowed three goals on 34 shots. The Stars have won 14 of their past 17 games against the Oilers and are 5-0-0 in their past five games at Edmonton.
Stars team scope: Dallas won its third straight game Friday, 2-1 against the Calgary Flames. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen made 21 saves and has won four of his past five starts. He has allowed eight goals, has a .930 save percentage and one shutout over that stretch. "I felt good, and the guys played very well in front of me," Lehtonen told the Stars website Friday. "The first period maybe wasn't our best, but after that it was really solid. We didn't give them too much." Defenseman Jordie Benn did not play Friday because of an illness but skated Saturday. Forward Curtis McKenzie was assigned to the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League on Saturday. Forward Ryan Garbutt is expected to return to the lineup after serving a three-game suspension for slew-footing Winnipeg Jets forward Dustin Byfuglien on Dec. 9.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton has lost 17 of its past 18 games and is on a six-game losing streak following a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his team-leading ninth goal and leads the Oilers in points (21). Rookie center Leon Draisaitl will be a healthy scratch, according to Oilers coach Todd Nelson. "Leon's been a bit tired as of late," Nelson said. "I think it's always good if the player can sit out and get to watch the game from above to get a different perspective." Nelson said Draisaitl will return against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday. The third pick of the 2014 NHL Draft has two goals and seven points in 33 games. Center Anton Lander was recalled from Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League on Friday. He skated on a line with Nail Yakupov and Tyler Pitlick at practice Saturday and with the second power-play unit. "I'm excited to be back and ready to do whatever I can to help us get a win," Lander said.