EDMONTON, AB- The Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes meet for the second time this week, converging in Saskatoon, SK, for a neutral-site tune-up at SaskTel Centre.
In Monday's game, the Hurricanes humbled the Oilers with their first loss of the pre-season - a 6-2 defeat in a game where special teams were the story. The 'Canes went 3-for-6 on the power play, scored a shorthanded goal and added two even-strength markers to storm past Edmonton.
"The performance wasn't acceptable, in my opinion, exhibition season or not," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
McLellan felt the heavy schedule last week dampened his club's pace. On Tuesday, Edmonton released four players (Ty Rattie, Dillon Simpson, Nick Ellis and Patrick Russell), allowing McLellan and his coaching staff to pick up the speed at practice.
"We have to get down in bodies so we can keep reps up in practice and keep the pace up in practice," said McLellan. "I thought that got away on us a little bit late last week when we played four games in six nights. You couldn't really run players hard. Getting down in numbers allowed us yesterday to have a good, hard practice."
CENTRE ICE STROME
For the first time with the Oil, Ryan Strome will move from right wing to centre. On his left will be Drake Caggiula, while Zack Kassian flanks his right.
"It's something we'd like to see," said McLellan, noting Strome's history as a pivot.
"He started his career there, played a lot of games and minutes there throughout junior (with the Niagara IceDogs) and then some at the National (Hockey) League level."
Since Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli acquired Strome, the forward's versatility was routinely touted as a facet the team would seek exercising.
"We'll see what he can do there and what type of comfort we have moving forward putting him there," said McLellan.
LAST CHANCE TO MAKE THE DANCE
McLellan isn't scared of telling how he really feels when it comes to the fringe skaters looking to crack the Oilers opening night roster.
"If you're here in this camp right now, you have a chance to play on our team," the head coach said.
Following Tuesday's cuts, 31 players remain with the club: two goalies, 10 defencemen and 19 forwards, and the final two pre-season games will decide who stays and who goes.
There's a number of players still hunting for a job, including Chris Kelly - who signed a professional tryout contract - and Brad Malone.
Said McLellan of Kelly: "I think he's done everything he possibly can to come in and compete for a job and that's why he's still here with us. He's mature, he's comfortable with the League, he understands its intensity and its length.
"But the question will be: can he push somebody out on a regular basis, not just on a temporary one?"
Malone, meanwhile, has delivered exactly what the management and coaching staff expected him to bring.
"He's a competitive guy and he plays hard," said McLellan. "He's pushing for a job."
Regardless of whether the players solidify their spot on the final roster or not, McLellan assured their services would not be overlooked.
"It doesn't mean you're forgotten and gone," said McLellan. "You're probably on the tip of a recall when injuries occur or when somebody's performance falls off."