WINNIPEG, MB - The Oilers hope to keep their season momentum rolling in Winnipeg, despite the distractions of it being an outdoor game. Edmonton and the Jets face off in the 2016 Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field.
"It's going to be a huge experience," said Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom. "Games against Winnipeg are a really good experience and good games too. It's going to be tough out there for sure and two points on the line. We've got to be ready."
In terms of dealing with the atmosphere and the change of routine, the Oilers are happy they came in early to get the novelty out of the way and focus on the task at hand: getting another two points.
"I think that's why you come in a day or so earlier than you normally would," said Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot. "You get to have the night like we did (Friday) night, have a good dinner, come (Saturday), have some fun at practice but still work on some things. When you come to the rink (on game day), you know there's two big points on the line, both teams are going to be fighting for that and it's going to be on everyone's minds. I think both teams will be ready to go."
The Oilers got into Winnipeg on Friday, and practiced Saturday to help get some work in before the game. The Oilers coaches also spoke with the team to make sure they enjoy the event, but take the game against the Jets seriously. It's a business trip.
"We met (Friday) morning, prior to going on the ice like we usually do," said Oilers Head Todd McLellan. "We talked to the team about taking it all in and enjoying it. That's what you're here for. For some, it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. For others, they've done it a few times already. But take it all in and enjoy it. Create some memories with your family, with your friends, but the puck is going to drop and the two points have the same value they would have if we were playing at the MTS Centre.
"We have to be prepared. I thought our practice was honest this morning. It was to the point, which was a good thing for us. We needed it. We know the Jets are going to be excited and pumped to be playing in front of their own home fans here in this big building. We're encouraging them to enjoy it, but we also know we've got a tough task in front of us."
The Oilers have suffered several injuries so far this season. Matt Hendricks, Brandon Davidson and Drake Caggiula are among those not available to play. Despite all of that, the Oilers are 4-1-0 to start the year. A lot of that has to do with the added depth to the organization. It has, so far, allowed the Oilers to ice multiple line combinations and sustain injuries throughout the lineup.
"The difference in depth comes from adding different ingredients to our team," said McLellan. "We have some bigger, stronger, heavier wingers than we've had in the past. You think of Maroon, Kassian, Lucic and those type of people. It allows you to tinker with lines. Sometimes you need a bigger line, a stronger line, you're looking for speed, you put different players together. We have a variety of different players.
"We have several players drawing salary right now that are injured. We'd like to get healthy and really know what we have. Some of the role players that play and have a significant impact on the forecheck and that type of stuff are still out. We're still not sure what we have, but the depth is greater. It's deeper on the blueline. We're already two injuries in there and we're still able to do our own. Peter (Chiarelli) and his staff have done a tremendous job in creating that in a fairly short timeframe and it's something we're going to have to continue to do as an organization."
Sunday's game could contain a showdown between two highly skilled Finnish rookies. Patrik Laine, the second-overall pick in 2016, is already making an impact on the Jets. The big winger has four goals and an assist in four games to start the year.
The Oilers fourth-overall pick, Jesse Puljujarvi, has sat the last two games, but is expected to play in Winnipeg. Puljujarvi became the sixth Oilers rookie in seven seasons to score his first NHL goal in the team's home opener.
"They're both tremendous players, going where they did in the draft," said McLellan. "To be able to together put up tremendous numbers at the World Juniors last year. It speaks volumes to both of them. I know they have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. I'm sure they're going to want to outplay each other just like natural rivals do. Jesse will likely get that opportunity tomorrow. We look forward to him contributing to a successful day."
According to Saturday's skate, Puljujarvi was on the right wing on Leon Draisaitl's line with Patrick Maroon on the left.
The Oilers will not hold a morning skate before their game against the Jets. The lines at Saturday's practice were as follows: