LOS ANGELES, CA - On Tuesday night, it was Patrick Maroon facing his former team as the Oilers visited the Anaheim Ducks. Tonight, it's Milan Lucic's turn to take on his old squad for the first time as Edmonton tangles with the Los Angeles Kings in another important Pacific Division matchup.
After spending the first eight years of his NHL career with the Boston Bruins, Lucic was dealt to the So-Cal squad on June 26, 2015. The hulking left-winger played 81 games for the Kings last season, hitting the 20-goal plateau for the fourth time in his career and finishing with 55 points. He also had three points in five playoff games.
"It was a great year," Lucic said of his brief stint with the Kings. "I created great relationships with everyone in this organization… A lot of great memories here even though it was one year. But all said and done, I'm happy with where I ended up here with the Oilers."
So will the notoriously raucous LA fans be chanting "Boo!" or "Looch!" tonight when big #27 hits the ice at Staples Center in a different uniform?
"Even though it was one year, I thought I had a pretty good connection with the fans here," he laughed. "They welcomed me with open arms and I had a lot of fun playing in front of them. Whether they cheer me or boo me, I appreciate them being the fans they are and that's all that matters to me."
With five goals and four assists, Lucic is in a three-way tie for third on the Oilers in points this season. More importantly, though, the team has lost four straight games and looks to kick that streak to the curb against the Kings tonight.
"It was a lot of fun playing here, but when all is said and done, it's important to just worry about our team game and getting that win tonight," Lucic said. "It's been a bit of a tough stretch here the last couple of games, and hopefully we can turn things around tonight."
REMINISCING WITH NURSE
Tonight's game is also a return of sorts for defenceman Darnell Nurse, who will be back in the rink where he played his first NHL game on Oct. 14, 2014. Nurse played 18:04 and had two shots on goal in his debut.
"It was a nervous day, but a lot of excitement built up to play my first one," he recalled. "It definitely was a great memory that I'll never forget."
Fast-forward a couple years and Nurse play his 89th career game tonight, but his first one in LA will always stick in his mind.
"It's always going to be special," he said. "There are certain milestones that you hit in your career, and obviously I hope I hit a lot more, but the first game is always going to be special. When you step out on the ice, you definitely remember the moment you did that for the first time."
Nurse has scored twice and added a pair of assists for four points in 17 games this season.
The Oilers will look to end their losing skid against a Kings squad missing some of its superstars, namely Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar, due to injuries.
"This is a big one for us tonight," Nurse said. "They're always going to be difficult to play. They're very honest in their effort and how they come out and play. They're always big and strong. It's going to be a challenge, but we're definitely looking forward to it and going to be ready when that puck drops.
Jonas Gustavsson will make his second start of the season tonight, giving Cam Talbot a break after four games in a row and 12 straight to start the year before that. Gustavsson was excellent in his first start, stopping 24 of 25 shots as the Oilers beat the Red Wings 2-1 in Detroit on Sunday, Nov. 6.
"He's a mature goalie that's been ready and should be ready to play on nights like this," Coach Todd McLellan said of the 32-year-old Swede. "As we go forward, we're looking at him getting more starts, but one game at a time and we expect a good performance from him."
Up front, Jesse Puljujärvi will be back in the lineup after not playing Tuesday against the Ducks. Anton Lander will be scratched tonight. Puljujärvi will slot in on the right wing with Leon Draisaitl and Benoit Pouliot, while Patrick Maroon, Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle remain a trio, along with Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Anton Slepyshev, plus Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Tyler Pitlick.
No changes are expected on defence tonight, though Kris Russel has joined the team in LA and participated in today's morning skate. He could return to the Oilers lineup on Saturday in Dallas, as could forward Matt Hendricks, who has missed the entire season thus far with a lower-body injury.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (9-7-1) at KINGS (7-9-1)
TV: 8:30 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet 360
This is the first of five meetings this season between the Oilers and Kings. Three of those games will be in Edmonton and two will be in L.A.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers have dropped their last four games and are looking to get back on track. Fortunately, due to a great start to the season, the Oilers remain tied for top spot in the Pacific Division.
Connor McDavid has 19 points on the season (5 goals, 14 assists) to lead the Oilers. His assist total puts him in top spot in the entire NHL.
Five players on the Oilers have five or more goals this season. In addition to McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Tyler Pitlick and Milan Lucic each have five goals. Patrick Maroon leads the team with six.
Kings team scope:
The Kings have also lost four games in a row. The slump came on the heels of two big victories: 5-0 over Calgary and 7-0 over Toronto. On Tuesday, L.A. dropped a 4-1 decision to the Colorado Avalanche.
L.A. has been bit by the injury bug. Anze Kopitar remains out due to an arm injury. Goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff are also on the shelf. Marian Gaborik is also injured.
Jeff Carter is the Kings leading scorer with five goals and 11 points. Tanner Pearson is tops on the Kings in goals with six.