An optional skate this morning yielded just a few participants as most of the Edmonton Oilers rested after playing in Washington last night. Tonight the team will face a hot Pittsburgh team and try to get their first road win of the season.
"It'd be big," said defenceman Justin Schultz. "This is a good team, coming here, and we need to start getting on a roll. This is a good opportunity for us to come in here and get two points."
After last night's 4-2 loss to the Capitals, the Oilers will look to build off of the positives that have shown through their rough start to the season. It will be a tough task, one that their head coach knows well.
"It's a hard one to explain," said Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "It's something that we are preaching to our group, that we are doing things better. We are playing better. Eventually things will turn in our favour with wins. The hard thing for myself and the staff right now is, when your guys are doing what's asked of them, you want them to be rewarded with wins because it shows that this works.
"When you are doing things right and you're not getting the points, it becomes frustrating not only for the player but for the coaches as well. We don't want to change much here."
The Oilers coach said they missed their big, physical forward Jesse Joensuu 'terribly' the first time he was out with a back injury and now they'll have to push forward without him again.
Eakins confirmed that Joensuu is injured and that the team is going to 'send him back to Edmonton.'
RETURN OF THE YAK
The Oilers former first overall pick, 20-year-old Nail Yakupov, will return to the lineup tonight after sitting out two games.
Yakupov has yet to record a point in his first four games played this season. However, the young Russian will get a chance to get rolling tonight against a goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury who, after a great start to his season, allowed four goals on 18 shots against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
The Penguins have their fair share of offensive fire power on their roster including the highly-skilled Sidney Crosby.
Crosby is off to a fast start to the season with nine points including five goals in the first five games. The Oilers will need to keep a watchful eye on number 87 tonight.
"You've got to be aware when he's on the ice," said Schultz. "He's a very special player and he can make you pay if you're not ready. It's just being aware when he's on the ice and when (Evgeni) Malkin or any of those guys are on the ice and after that just worry about your game and play like you normally would."
RETURN TO THE START
Tonight Captain Andrew Ference will make his return to Pittsburgh to play against the team which made him the 208th overall pick in 1997, for the first time in an Oilers uniform.
"It's a good hockey city," said Ference. "It was a good hockey city when I came here. They care about the sport and I have a pretty great history of successful teams. It was great. The first few years in the league are just a whirlwind. You're just trying to keep your head above water for the most part, at least in my case. I have some great memories but it went by in a flash."
Ference played for the Penguins from 1999-2003.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
OILERS (1-4-1) at PENGUINS (4-1-0)
TV: SNET-W, ROOT
Season series: First of two meetings this season between the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins. They last faced each other more than two years ago, on Oct. 9, 2011, a game that featured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scoring in his NHL debut for Edmonton. Ales Hemsky had the shootout winner as the Oilers prevailed 2-1 at Rexall Place.
Big story: This game figures to be a critical test for the Edmonton defense and goaltending. Through six games the Oilers have allowed 29 goals, the most in the League. The Penguins, meanwhile, are averaging four goals per game. Their offensive capabilities are no secret.
Oilers: As much young talent as Edmonton possesses, the team needs more on the back end and in goal before any real turnaround is going to happen. Veteran Jason LaBarbera got the start in goal against the Washington Capitals on Monday and stopped only 16 of 20 shots in a 4-2 defeat. Devan Dubnyk is likely to be back in net on Tuesday.
Another area that bears watching is whether Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, gets back in the lineup. Yakupov has been a healthy scratch the past two games after failing to record a point in his first four.
"You can't carry baggage around," captain Andrew Ference said about the team's current mental state. "It's a lot of adversity. It's easy to be a good teammate and do the right things when you're winning and have a good attitude, but it's a real test when things aren't going your way."
Penguins: His first three starts of the season were brilliant. Marc-Andre Fleury was anything but Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning; however, this time Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh offense were there to pick him up.
Crosby recorded his eighth career hat trick and an unlikely source, defenseman Matt Niskanen, came through with the tiebreaking goal with 18.6 seconds left in regulation as the Penguins eked out a 5-4 win over the Lightning. Fleury only stopped 14 of 18 shots but improved to 4-0 with a still impressive 1.75 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
"It wasn't our best," Niskanen told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We had to battle through some sloppy play. … But we did a good job of battling back all night."
Who's hot: Veteran Boyd Gordon, who had 39 goals in 486 NHL games coming into this season has four goals in his first six games with the Oilers. … Crosby has five goals and four assists during a five-game point streak for the Penguins and led the League in scoring entering Monday's action. Niskanen added an assist Saturday and has five points in as many games.