BOSTON, MA - The Oilers continue their four-game Eastern Conference road trip tonight as they visit the Boston Bruins, looking to curb a mini two-game losing skid.
Edmonton opened the trip on Tuesday in Columbus, dropping a 3-1 decision as the Blue Jackets captured their 16th consecutive victory. The Oil (19-13-7) were outshot 35-22 in the loss and will look for a more competitive effort against the Bruins (20-16-4) tonight at the Garden.
"We need to up our work ethic a little bit," said Cam Talbot, who will make his NHL-leading 36th start between the pipes. "You could tell the other night we got outworked by a team that plays really, really hard. Tonight we're going to face another team like that. They've got a lot of skill up front and a pretty good-sized back end, and they all work pretty hard. We're going to have to outwork their big guys and bully our way to the net like they're going to do to us."
In an attempt to spur some offensive production, the Oilers have shuffled their forward lines for tonight's matchup, particularly on the right side.
Zack Kassian will play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic, while Leon Draisaitl is projected to play with Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon. Jordan Eberle is slotted on the right side of Drake Caggiula, with Benoit Pouliot on the left, while the fourth line will be comprised of Anton Lander, Mark Letestu and Jesse Puljujärvi.
Lander was recalled on Monday from the Bakersfield Condors, with whom he produced some impressive numbers. In 13 games with the AHL affiliate squad, the Swede scored 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points. Lander has a goal and two helpers in 16 NHL games this season heading into his return.
"More games helped me, so it was fun to play and get some confidence back," he said. "It's always a challenge (to come back up). It's the best league in the world, so you've got to be ready."
While Lander played top-line minutes with the Condors, he will likely see 10 to 12 minutes of ice time back at the NHL level. He knows his Oilers role is different, but that doesn't mean he can't look for opportunities to contribute.
"I will never get the points that I do in the AHL up here," Lander said. "It's not where I fit in on this team, but at the same time I've got to bring more offence too. It's a mix here. The biggest important thing for me playing here is faceoffs and penalty killing, but I've got to try to bring that offensive confidence I gained in Bakersfield."
"I just want to see him get back and get comfortable," added Head Coach Todd McLellan. "His confidence level right now offensively should be higher than it was when he departed with our team. But his role is faceoffs, penalty kill and to chip in with offence whenever he can. That's what we'll look to him to do initially, and then as he gets more and more comfortable again, if he can find his offensive game, great."
BACK IN BEANTOWN
A pair of Oilers will experience a homecoming of sorts tonight in Boston.
Milan Lucic played the first eight seasons of his NHL career with the Bruins before getting dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in 2015 and then signing with Edmonton this year. On the flip side of the experience spectrum, rookie Matt Benning will play his first game in Boston since he closed out a three-year NCAA career with the Northeastern University Huskies.
Benning has played at the Garden before, as the Huskies participated in the annual Beanpot Tournament and also captured the 2016 Hockey East title on Boston's marquee ice surface.
"It'll be a new experience playing on a bigger stage now," said the 22-year-old blueliner. "But it was definitely fun in college with some big rivalry games in the Beanpot… I was glad I got to experience that and get ready for the bigger stage."
Benning will have about a dozen former Huskies teammates cheering him on at the Garden tonight.
The Oilers currently have eight defencemen on their roster, with Jordan Oesterle recalled from the Condors on Thursday. He participated in the optional morning skate, but is not expected to make his season debut tonight.
There will be one change on the back end, however, as Eric Gryba will draw in for Brandon Davidson. Gryba did not dress on Tuesday in Columbus, but with Davidson battling an illness, the burly veteran will return to action. He'll be paired with Kris Russell, while Benning and Andrej Sekera will team up.
The good news is Davidson did participate in morning skate, and Coach McLellan said, "hopefully his energy level gets up and we're anticipating he'll be good for the weekend," when the Oilers visit New Jersey on Saturday and Ottawa on Sunday.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (19-13-7) at BRUINS (20-16-4)
TV: 5:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet
Tonight's game marks the first of two meetings between the Oilers and Bruins this season and the lone game in Boston. These teams will meet again on March 16th in Edmonton.
The last time these teams met was on December 14th in Boston, where the Oilers defeated the Bruins by a score of 3-2 in a shootout.
Oilers team scope:
Edmonton is coming off a loss to red-hot Columbus, who won their 16th straight game on Tuesday. The Oilers are third in the Pacific Division with 45 points, three back of San Jose and Anaheim for top spot.
Goaltender Cam Talbot has made 30 or more saves in 16 games this season, including 32 of 35 against last game against Columbus. Talbot's record in those games is 12-1-3. He also only allowed 3 or more goals in four of those games.
The native of Caledonia, Ont. leads the NHL in games played (35), minutes (2,091:13) and saves (978). With 18 wins, he ranks sixth place in the NHL.
The Oilers rank among the NHL leaders in the following categories:
45 points (19-12-7) - tied for tenth 109 goals scored - ninth in the NHL 1225 shots on goal - fourth in the NHL 31.4 shots on goal per game - sixth in the NHL 21.1% power play percentage - eighth in the NHL 966 hits - sixth in the NHL
Defenceman Adam Larsson ranks eighth in the NHL with 116 hits.
Defenceman Kris Russell, despite missing seven games to injury, ranks fifth in the NHL, with 90 blocked shots.
Bruins team scope:
The Bruins are tied for second in the NHL's Atlantic Division with 44 points. They are tied with Ottawa, but the Senators have three games in hand. They are two points ahead of Toronto, who also have three games in hand.
The Bruins have scored a power play goal in 4 of their last 6 games, going 4 for 19 over that span (21.1%). They have killed off 22 of their last 24 times short over their last 6 games for a 91.7% proficiency.
Boston is 20-16-4 thus far this season with a 9-9-0 mark on home ice … They are 2-2-0 vs. Pacific Division opponents and are 5-6-0 vs. Western Conference teams this season. The Bruins reach the halfway point of the season tonight with their 41st game … They will have played 19 games on home ice and 22 on the road.
David Backes has 12 goals and 20 points in 34 career games against the Oilers. Patrice Bergeron on has two goals and nine points in 13 career outings.
Brad Marchand leads the Bruins with 31 points in 40 games.