EDMONTON, AB - Still perfect in the exhibition season after their 6-2 drubbing of the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, the Oilers will look to turn aside the Carolina Hurricanes in the first of two meetings this week. Edmonton will host the Hurricanes at Rogers Place Monday night, then the teams will meet again Wednesday in Saskatoon, SK, for a neutral site match.
At the end of Sunday, only the Oilers (5-0-0), San Jose Sharks (3-0-0) and Ottawa Senators (3-0-0) own clean slates among the National Hockey League. There's very little merit put into the pre-season and Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan believes there are many areas the team needs to improve in, including discipline.
"We haven't even begun yet and we need to improve in every area," said McLellan. "There's polish that has to happen on special teams, there's chemistry with lines, there's defending better, there's adapting to the new rules - we still have to do a better job of that, we can't keep marching to the box."
McLellan went as far as to put the successful pre-season into perspective.
"I think Colorado (Avalanche) went 6-0-0 last year, so when the real stuff starts, that's when you better be winning games," he said.
For sophomore Matt Benning, it's all about re-calibrating his game and finding the same rhythm he had previously.
"You can't be perfect but getting back to where we left off, or I left off, is what I'm trying to find," the rearguard, who has one assist in two pre-season games, said. "Getting my good gaps back, playing in guys' face and giving them no time and space."
There's a gentlemen's agreement between McLellan and Carolina Hurricanes Head Coach Bill Peters prior to the doubleheader. The bench bosses are good friends and talked to one another regarding what type of teams they would ice this week.
"Bill must have been bored because he phoned me real early in August and he was planning his lineup," said McLellan. "That shows his work ethic; he's a great coach and a good friend but he talked about maybe a little bit of a stronger (team) here and then some of the younger kids in Saskatoon. So, we built our lineup around that shared conversation. We look forward to that, we need some good competition to push and perhaps this will be as good as we've seen."
McLellan and Peters coached together for Team Canada at the 2015 World Championships. The Hurricanes enter tonight's match 3-1-0.
As McLellan indicated, the Oilers will administer a nearly complete roster. The top two lines - centred by Oilers Captain Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl - will dress and the bottom six forwards will be close to the opening night lineup.
Of note, winger Ryan Strome will get a look with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jussi Jokinen on the third line while Jesse Puljujarvi is expected to continue his promotion to the first line alongside Maroon and McDavid.
"I saw a couple of the clips that I thought could have improved on," said Strome. "It's kind of good to play with different guys, too, and I think you've just got to get your game where you want it to be."
Kailer Yamamoto will skate on the fourth line with Jujhar Khaira and Mark Letestu.
Said McLellan of the rookie: "When you're that young and you're entering in, the process that we've gone through benefits him because it's like taking a step each night. From his time in Penticton to now, he's played better with better players."