RALEIGH, NC - The Oilers understand the tough challenge that lies ahead tonight. In an attempt to halt their skid before it reaches three games, Edmonton will match up with the Carolina Hurricanes, on the tail end of a back-to-back.
"I think this team is top five in a few categories," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "One is obviously penalty kill, which is a huge challenge for us. Secondly, they're disciplined not only in a lack of penalty situations, but in their system play. And third, in work ethic, I think they're one of the top five teams in the League.
"That will be a story I will share with the players before the game tonight and it will be up to them to pick which type of response they're going to approach the game with."
The Hurricanes are 22-20-7 this season, currently in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division.
"They're a very good team," said Oilers defenceman, and former Hurricane, Andrej Sekera. "They're quick, they're fast, they're in your face all the time, they have good gaps and they know how to play hockey. They're very good. We've got to take care of them, manage the puck and don't give them time and space.
SOLVING THE PENALTY KILL
The 'Canes are the top penalty kill team in the League with an 87.8% shorthanded success rate. They've allowed the fewest goals against on the kill this season with just 15.
"We look at what they're doing and they're effective in all areas," said McLellan. "Sometimes penalty kills are good in the d-zone, sometimes they're good on the forecheck or faceoffs. They're good in all three zones. They do a tremendous job of staying fresh on their penalty kill, getting fresh guys on the ice and they play on their toes."
When it comes to making adjustments, the Oilers know it's a tough puzzle to crack.
"We'll look at trying to do a few things, but trust me there have been 29 other teams that come in here and they're bound and determined to solve it but they've only given up 15 all year," said McLellan. "The other thing they do a real good job of is not overworking their penalty killers. It's the lowest penalized team in the League and when you don't have to kill that often you play on your toes and you get more done than you would the other way."
The Oilers players understand this game could come down to potting some with the man advantage.
"Special teams are going to be big tonight," said Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. "I know these guys have got the top penalty kill and if our power play plays like it did the other night it's not going to be good for us. We need to be sharper off the bat."
THE HOME STRETCH
Oilers veteran winger Milan Lucic played in his 700th regular season NHL game last night in Nashville. It was quite the accomplishment for a player who was overlooked in his minor hockey career until drafted by the Boston Bruins.
While he's pleased with that accomplishment, there's another more short-term one ahead of him - and that's raising the level of his game to help his new team reach their goals.
While some of the Oilers roster - more specifically their young stars - are void of NHL post-season experience, Lucic is a vet. He has more than 100 playoff games under his belt and understands what the home stretch of a regular season means.
It's the perfect time for Lucic to step up and lead the way with his experience, knowledge and even abrasive style of play.
"I've always embraced the challenge and embraced the struggle," said Lucic. "You know how hard wins have been to get as far as this point. With 29 games left, they only get harder from here on out.
"For myself, I think I need to get back to what has made me a really good player in this League and it's bringing that emotion and that energy and that physicality and that big-man, straight-line type of play. If I raise the level of my game, I can definitely help this team make it to where they want to be and that's in the playoffs and playing for a Stanley Cup. It starts here tonight, with that final stretch, and seeing that light at the end of the tunnel as far as the season goes. It's a challenge for myself to raise by game and help this team win."
The Oilers did not hold a morning skate today, but McLellan hinted that Cam Talbot could start this second game of a back-to-back after playing last night. The bench boss left the possibility open that one or both of Anton Lander and Eric Gryba could see action depending on the situation following pre-game warmup.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (28-17-8) at HURRICANES (22-20-7)
TV: 5:30 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
This is the second and final meeting of the season between Edmonton and Carolina.
The two teams met in Edmonton back on October 18. Edmonton won 3-2 with Tyler Pitlick scoring the game-winning goal.
Oilers team scope:
After going eight straight games registering at least a point (7-0-1), the Oilers are facing some adversity having dropped each of their last two in regulation. Edmonton sits third in the Pacific Division with 64 points. They're one point behind Anaheim for second and three back of San Jose for top spot.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has done well in his career in games against Carolina. Nugent-Hopkins has six goals and four assists for 10 points in eight career games against Carolina. Jordan Eberle has also done well. He has 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) in nine games.
Cam Talbot is 4-0-0 with a 0.97 goals-against average and two shutouts in four career games against the Hurricanes. Laurent Brossoit has never played against Carolina.
Oilers defenceman Andrej Sekera played 131 games for the Hurricanes in 2013-14 and 2014-15. He had 63 points (13 goals, 50 assists) and 28 penalty minutes in those contests.
Hurricanes team scope:
Carolina went 6-7-0 in the month of January after a promising December that saw them go 7-4-3.
The Hurricanes are coming off a big 5-1 win over Philadelphia on January 31. Previous to that, they had lost five games in a row. Before the five-game losing streak, the 'Canes had won four straight so they've been on a bit of a roller coaster as of late.
Cam Ward is 5-4-2 with a 2.64 GAA in 11 career regular-season games against Edmonton. Eddie Lack has never appeared against the Oilers. Ward is likely to get the call tonight but with a back-to-back, the Hurricanes may consider Lack. Eddie Lack has only appeared in five games this season, however. He has a 1-2-0 record, 3.78 goals-against average and .872 save percentage.
This weekend's games vs. Edmonton and at NY Islanders mark the 11th back-to-back set for the Hurricanes this season. Carolina is 5-3-2 in the front halves of back-to-back sets, and 6-4-0 in the back halves of the sets.
Jeff Skinner leads the Hurricanes in scoring with 18 goals and 36 points in 48 games.
Lee Stempniak has nine goals and 24 points in 49 games. He has 17 goals and 31 points in 36 career games against the Oilers, including a pair earlier this season when the teams met at Rogers Place.