SUNRISE, FL - The Oilers face quite the challenge as they attempt to bounce back from last night's 4-1 loss in Tampa. Tonight's opponent is the Florida Panthers, and they've been one of the League's hottest teams since the return of two of their better players. In their last 10 games, the Panthers are 8-1-1 and they're 5-0-0 in their last five.
"(Aleksander) Barkov and (Jonathan) Huberdeau coming back gives them two pieces to their number one line," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "The three of them are really holding onto the puck and creating a lot of offence. They'll give us all we can handle. The rest of their team has a strong work ethic. They've got a pretty mobile, dynamic blueline. Their goaltending has been good, their penalty kill is at the top of the League. They're one of those teams that are grasping the desperation fact right now and applying it to their game."
The Panthers are a tough opponent, but - as always - the focus for Edmonton is on themselves. McLellan says there are some key contributors who have to step up, given the time of year and the stretch ahead. Other teams around the League, the Panthers included, are playing desperate hockey. The Oilers need to develop that mindset.
"I've been trying to explain this and pound this into the players' heads, there's no such thing as comfort in this League," said McLellan. "There are a number of teams playing the ultimate, desperate hockey right now because time will run out on them. Their lifeline will escape them over the next 10-12 days. We have to understand that and we have to become that.
"I don't think we have enough experience right now to understand what it's like this time of year. There are some guys who are trying to explain it, but we need some players to pick it up a little bit and perform at a higher level."
When it comes to fixing the issues the Oilers have had in their last two games, it's hard to do with a lack of practice time. Edmonton is taking on Florida on the tail end of a back-to-back. While it's nice mentally to just put last night behind them and move forward, it would also be nice to have a few skates to make the right tweaks.
"We're a young group so the practice time is valuable with just refreshing some concepts," said Oilers centre Mark Letestu, who referenced a recent stretch in which practice time led to an offensive boost.
"I think we had those two days of practice and come back and score 11 goals, working on some of the things we worked on," he said. "I think it shows practice is important with this group. But with the schedule being the way it is, it's impossible to get the optimal rest as well. It's nice to get back on the horse here and play another tough team and see if we can get some positive vibes going into Washington. But we sure would like practice too to stay sharp."
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (32-20-8) at PANTHERS (28-20-10)
TV: 5:30 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
This is the second of two meetings this season between the Oilers and Panthers. In the previous meeting, the Oilers won 4-3 in overtime at Rogers Place on a goal by Connor McDavid.
Oilers team scope:
Edmonton dropped a 4-1 decision to Tampa Bay last night, ending a three-game winning streak.
Connor McDavid has never played a game in Florida. His lone game against the Panthers was a three-point effort back in January. He had a goal and two assists, including the overtime winner.
Jordan Eberle has six goals and eight points in nine career games against Florida.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has no goals and eight assists in eight games against the Panthers in his career.
Milan Lucic is the Oilers top point-getter in games against Florida with 10 goals and 17 points in 32 games.
Panthers team scope:
Florida is coming back from a five-game road trip where they won all five games. The successful stretch has vaulted the Panthers into a playoff position. They are currently in the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference with 66 points, one back of Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Vincent Trochek leads the Panthers in scoring with 21 goals and 42 points in 58 games. Jonathan Marchessault and Aleksander Barkov are second on the team with 35 points.
The ageless Jaromir Jagr is fourth on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 34 points in 58 games. In his career against the Oilers, Jagr has 16 goals and 41 points in 37 games.
Defenceman Keith Yandle has played 35 games against the Oilers in his career and has six goals and 24 points. The blueliner has 29 points in 58 games this season.