DENVER, CO - The Oilers visit Denver looking to expand on their current run of two straight wins.
Both wins were done in a very convincing fashion, with a 5-2 victory in Dallas this past Saturday night and on Monday a 5-0 win over the top team in the Western Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks.
"I think any time you're playing against the best teams in our conference or the best teams in the League and you win, it makes a statement but at the same time it's just one game. We've passed a lot of tests and still have room to grow. We know our game can get better but it was a good game for us to get out there and play the way we did," Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said.
The lineup for tonight's game will be the exact same as the last two, with Mark Letestu, Benoit Pouliot and Eric Gryba once again healthy scratches. Despite the success the team has had, it wasn't easy for head coach Todd McLellan to sit three key veterans for the third-straight game.
"We debated deeply today on what we were going to do with our lineup," McLellan began. "At this point, obviously we decided to keep it the same. We put a lot of factor into consideration: fatigue, illness, injury, performances. But I think when you score 10 goals and don't give up anything five-on-five (over two games), regardless of how it was done, you have to give that group another opportunity to play. And that's what they'll get tonight."
The lines and defence pairings tonight will be as follows:
Klefbom - Larsson Sekera - Russell Nurse - Benning
Cam Talbot starts in goal.
REASONS FOR SUCCESS
McLellan talked about why the team has had the turnaround it has. Coming off a five-game losing streak, the Oilers once again look like the team that opened the season 7-1.
The big reason has been a complete team commitment to defence.
"We've cut back on - for lack of a better term - the boneheaded mistakes that we've been giving. We took that away from the other team so they don't get a free one every night."
"We've tightened up as far as checking. That could be in all three zones. We've given up less. Funny when you play a little better defensively you get more chances offensively," McLellan offered.
"It's the entire group. You talk about that position, the defenceman. But it's the whole group. The five playing together, committing to doing it right before leaving the zone."
The Avalanche have won their last two as well, and four of their last six so they will be a tough opponent despite missing their captain Gabriel Landeskog. McLellan made sure to caution against the Avalanche.
"Those two are behind us now, they're in the bank. We're back on the road against a team that played really well the other night in Columbus. We'll have our hands full."
Kris Russell agreed with his head coach.
"They've got a lot of high-end skill with a lot of speed. You've got to make sure that you take their time and space away. You've got to be good in the neutral zone, make sure we're getting pucks deep. You can't be turning pucks over because they have a quick transition.
"We've got to focus on our game and make sure we're playing a fast, solid game. We've got to try and outwork them."
This is the first father's trip that the Oilers have done in quite some time and certainly the first since McLellan became head coach, but it's something McLellan is quite familiar with. In his 12 seasons coaching in the NHL as an assistant or head coach, it is the seventh time he's had a father's trip.
"You can have a lot of fun when you win games," McLellan said. "It's not so much fun when you get on (the bus after the game), you're sitting next to your dad and he's looking at you like 'what the hell were you doing all night?'"
Along those lines, McLellan recounted a great story from his time in Detroit.
"I've had a lot of different experiences with it. You go back to my Detroit days with some of those Hall of Famers, Mr. Chelios getting on the plane and holding everybody accountable was an interesting experience," he said, adding that there's four goals that this trip truly tries to accomplish.
"One is to win games. Two is to give thanks to them - and it's appropriate that it's Thanksgiving.
"The third thing we wanted them to experience life in the NHL. I think it's a hard thing to explain to people. They think you're jetsetting around the country and staying in great hotels and eating great - which we are. But the workload, the fatigue that goes with it. The demands that are put on everybody in the organization isn't as glamorous as some people think.
"The last thing is, we want to make them proud of us. We can do that by playing hard as a group."
With Gabriel Landeskog out due to injury, the Avalanche had to shuffle their lines around a bit:
Weircioch - Zadorov Beauchemin - Barrie Tyutin - Johnson
Semyon Varlamov gets the start in goal.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (11-8-1) at AVALANCHE (9-9-0)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
This marks the first of three meetings between the Oilers and Avalanche this season and the first of two games in Colorado. The next time these teams will faceoff is March 23rd in Colorado.
The last time these two teams met was March 20 in Edmonton when Colorado won 3-2.
Oilers team scope:
After dropping five straight, the Oilers have won two in a row. At 11-8-1, the Oilers are in first place in the Pacific Division and are eight points ahead of where they were after 20 games last year.
Connor McDavid moved back into top spot in NHL scoring on Monday, with two points in a 5-0 win over Chicago. McDavid now has 24 points (8G, 16A) in 20 games. ... McDavid also registered points in his first career game against Chicago, leaving only four NHL teams against which he has not registered a point in his 65 game NHL career. McDavid has not faced Boston, Florida in Tampa Bay, while Carolina is the only team that his held him scoreless to date. ... McDavid leads the NHL in assists (16), multi-point games (7) and 3-point games (four). He is also tied for fifth place among all NHL forwards in average ice time (21:06), tied with Jonathan Toews of Chicago.
After going 27 games without a goal (over the course of 363 days) defenceman Oscar Klefbom has now scored goals in three consecutive games. Klefbom scored in the Oilers' 2-4 loss to Los Angeles on Nov. 17, on Nov. 19, 2016 in a 5-2 victory over Dallas and on Nov. 21 in 5-0 win over Chicago. ... Klefbom's last goal before scoring against Los Angeles was on Nov. 20, 2015 vs. New Jersey. Klefbom's last game in 2015-16 was on Dec. 11, 2015, as he missed the balance of the season due to injury. ... The last Oiler defenceman to score in three consecutive games was Sheldon Souray who did it in March, 2009.
Avalanche team scope:
Colorado is exactly .500 with a 9-9-0 record but have won their last two games and four of their last six heading into this one.
Nathan MacKinnon leads the way in scoring with 13 points (4G, 9A) in 18 games. Matt Duchene has 12 points (7G, 5A) in only 14 games.
St. Albert native Jarome Iginla is off to a slow start this year with only two goals and four points through 18 games. Iginla also has 27 penalty minutes to lead the team in that category.
Calvin Pickard has done very well for the Avs in goal this season. In five starts, he has a 4-1 record, 2.07 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. In 13 starts, Semyon Varlamov has a 5-8 record, 2.92 GAA and .907 SPCT.