DENVER, CO - On paper, tonight's Oilers matchup against the Colorado Avalanche looks completely different than last night's game against the Anaheim Ducks.
Second place in the air-tight Pacific Division standings was on the line in Orange County on Wednesday as the Ducks edged the Oilers 4-3 despite a three-point night from Connor McDavid.
While last night's showdown was rife with implications, tonight's matchup in Denver doesn't present the same stakes. The Avalanche are the 30th-ranked team in the NHL this season with just 43 points, but the Oilers know they have to treat them the same way they treated the division rival Ducks.
Tonight's game - as all remaining nine games will be down the stretch - is particularly important for the Oilers as they look to regain a share of second place, since the Ducks are idle tonight, and maintain their cushion on the Calgary Flames, who are one point back and take on the Nashville Predators.
The Oilers know two points won't come easy against the Avalanche, despite their position in the standings.
"You have to respect your opponent, first and foremost," said Oilers veteran Mark Letestu. "We were in their position last season. We knew what kind of pride we had. We wanted to spoil things for teams that were in the playoffs. We know they're a motivated group. I know some of their veteran guys, and there's going to be a lot of pride over there. They're going to play us hard.
"If we come in here thinking it's going to be an easy game on the second of a back-to-back and we can just coast through it, we're going to lose. I don't think our group is going to be like that, but we're made aware of it."
They may not be post-season bound this season, but the Avalanche feature plenty of firepower up front in Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, as well as Tyson Barrie on defence.
"They're National Hockey League players and they have a tremendous amount of talent," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "It hasn't gone their way, but this is a team that might and possibly could get in our way if we don't play them well. And even playing them well doesn't guarantee a win, but playing them poorly probably guarantees a loss. We've got to bring our A-game and we've got to respect what we can do."
The Oilers had outscored their opponents 18-5 in four consecutive victories heading into Anaheim last night. They got off to a strong start with a 2-1 lead in the opening frame, but the Ducks tallied three goals in a row and held off a late Edmonton charge to secure the 4-3 win.
"We've got to clean a few things up from last night and allow ourselves a chance at success," McLellan said. "I thought we had a great start… we didn't handle momentum swings well."
The Oilers surrendered goals to the Ducks in the final minute of the first period and 1:33 into the middle frame. A string of penalties stymied their attempts to regain their rhythm, and it took them until the final minute of regulation to get within a goal on Letestu's power-play marker.
"We got up, and then that goal at the end of first hurt us," McLellan said. "The number of penalties we took in the second period worked in their favour. But we were also able to somewhat re-establish (momentum) in the third period, so it's a sign of a team that's growing and we continue to be that growth team."
After surrendering four goals on 18 shots against the Ducks, the Oilers gave goalie Cam Talbot the rest of the night off as Laurent Brossoit entered the game and stopped all 16 shots he faced.
Coach McLellan confirmed Talbot will be back between the pipes against the Avalanche, looking to regain the form that allowed him to post a shutout streak of 148:18 that ended in the first period last night.
"He didn't get much work yesterday," McLellan said. "He's ready to go today."
Coach McLellan added that although he has faith in Brossoit's abilities between the pipes, going back to Talbot communicates a strong message to the team.
"We have a lot of confidence in going back to him," he said. "We're telling our team, by playing our starter in this game, that we're here to win."
The bench boss also said "a couple fresh players" will get back in the Oilers lineup among the forward group, and there could be a change on defence as well.
-- Ryan Frankson, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (39-25-9) at AVALANCHE (20-49-3)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet West
The Oilers play the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night and it's the second of three meetings between the two clubs this season.
In the first meeting, the Oilers defeated the Avalanche 6-3 back on November 23. The two clubs will clash again on Saturday night at Rogers Place.
Oilers team scope:
With the loss Wednesday in Anaheim, the Oilers are now two points behind the Ducks for second place in the Pacific Division and remain four points back of San Jose for top spot.
Milan Lucic had four points the last time the Oilers and Avalanche met back in November. Lucic had a goal and three assists on that night. Connor McDavid had a goal and two helpers while Jordan Eberle scored two goals.
Eberle has done well in his NHL career against the Avs with 12 goals and 24 points in 27 career games.
McDavid has five points (one goal) in three career games versus the Avalanche. With three points on Wednesday, McDavid now has 85 points on the season (25 goals) to lead the NHL. Sidney Crosby has 81 points and sits in second spot.
With a goal on Wednesday night, Mark Letestu now has 16 on the season and 33 points. The 16 goals is a career high for Letestu, eclipsing his total of 14 set with Pittsburgh in 2010-11. Letestu's career high in points is 34 which was set with Columbus back in 2013-14.
Avalanche team scope:
It's been a tough season for the Avalanche, who sit dead last in the NHL with 43 points. They are 20 points behind the Arizona Coyotes, who are second-last in the NHL standings. The Avs could potentially register the second-lowest point total in franchise history (not counting the 2012-13 lockout year). In 1989-90 while still the Quebec Nordiques, the club had only 12 wins and 31 points. The following season, they had 16 wins and 46 points and the year after that 20 wins and 52 points.
Colorado's leading scorer is Nathan MacKinnon, who has 15 goals and 45 points in 72 games. Matt Duchene has 17 goals and 37 points in 67 contests though is also a -33 on the year. Duchene has 29 points in 28 career games against Edmonton.
Defenceman Tyson Barrie has probably put up the most impressive totals on the club all things considered. The 25-year-old defenceman has 34 points in 64 games.
Gabriel Landeskog has had a difficult year. The 2011 second-overall pick has 15 goals and 29 points in 62 games.
Lac La Biche native Rene Bourque has had the Oilers number throughout his career. Bourque has 12 goals and 24 points in 34 career games against Edmonton. This season, Bourque has played 55 games for the Avlaanche and has 11 goals and 16 points.