The Edmonton Oilers will host the Florida Panthers tonight and they do so with a lighter mood resonating throughout the roster. The team is coming off a dominating 7-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at home on Tuesday night and with winning comes happiness and an eagerness to continue their streak, which stands at two-straight wins for the Oilers.
"It's always good when you start winning games actually at Rexall Place with our fans," said forward Nail Yakupov. "Our fans were really excited about the last game so we have to keep going tonight and get two points tonight. I think for us, every point is very key for us and we've got to go up, up, up every game."
"Everyone is happy, our coach is happy," said Taylor Hall. "Like I said after the last game, when we play well and win, that's a great feeling. Everyone seems to be chipping in. (Devan) Dubnyk has been playing well. To come in (to the dressing room) after a win, it's a great feeling. It lets you relax for a couple of days."
Head Coach Dallas Eakins says that the team has looked completely different in the past couple of practices, now with a couple of wins under their belt and a growing confidence.
"You still have to find a way, even in the harsh times like we were going through, to somehow find some excitement on the ice and have some fun with it," said Eakins. "That's hard. You'd think that'd be an easy thing to do but it's extremely hard to come to the rink when you're in a terrible spot like that. Winning breeds a lot of things. It breeds guys feeling better about themselves, they're having fun on the ice and they're executing a lot better. Our practice yesterday was night-and-day from ten days ago. We were just basically handling the puck, handling the puck and that compared to a practice we had ten days ago, there was two different teams out there."
It's all coming together for the Oilers as they look to make it three-straight wins, tonight.
"We have four lines playing well," said Jordan Eberle. "All of our defence, Dubnyk has been playing well, our special teams… Anytime a few of those things come together on the night, you give yourself a chance to win."
PUTTING THE PAST BEHIND THEM
After their 7-0 victory over Columbus, it would be easy for the Oilers to lose that momentum and focus when they host the Panthers tonight. The Oilers' biggest task will be maintaining the focus that has led to recent success. That will take hard work.
"You've got to realize that sometimes, everything goes right in a game," said Eberle. "Then you go into the next game thinking it's just going to happen again. The biggest thing is, you've got to work. Work ethic is what gets you to that point. Out-battling gives you those opportunites to score like we did. We have to bring that same effort. That's the biggest thing."
When it comes to putting past games behind them, the Oilers will still hold onto the lessons learned during the dark points of the season, when the losses have piled up and the successes have been out of reach.
"I think the biggest thing is… you have to believe in your failure almost," said Hall. "You have to know why things weren't working for us and you have to know what has to change and I think we know that."
TAMING THE PANTHERS
The Oilers have played Florida 23 times, and have a winning record of 12-8-3-0 against the Panthers. At home, they are 6-3-1-0 agains the visitors from Florida.
The last time these two teams met was on November 5, when Mark Arcobello scored his first NHL goal and the Oilers out-lasted the Panthers, 4-3. In order to make it 2-0 this season against their opponent, Edmonton will look to accomplish much of the same they did earlier this month when they took the first meeting.
"We've got to do a lot of the same things we did last time we played them," said fourth-line forward Luke Gazdic. "We just kept it simple and got the puck behind their defence. We got in after them and forechecked them. We capitalized on the chances we had."
"We did a good job of chipping pucks by their defence," said Jordan Eberle. "We created a lot of odd-man rushes and had a lot of chances that way. If we can do that tonight and play the way we did last game, I think we have a chance."
FIVE FORWARD POWER PLAY
The Oilers have been experimenting with a five-forward power play unit consisting of Eberle, Hall, Yakupov, David Perron and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That unit saw much success against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, scoring twice on the man advantage. There are risks to suiting up five forwards and no defencemen on a power play, but with the recent success, Eakins will put them out there again tonight.
"I think it's good," said Yakupov. "He's just trying to score on the power play… I think it's a good thing. We've just got to work, got to shoot the puck and be fast… We'll see. But when you have that much power plays, when you play together, we had just a couple last game. So, we're going to get used to it. It'll be good."
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
PANTHERS (6-12-4) vs. OILERS (6-15-2)
TV: FS-F, SNET-EDM
Last 10: Florida 3-5-2, Edmonton 3-7-0
Season series: This will complete the interconference home-and-home series. The Edmonton Oilers beat the Florida Panthers 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 5 when rookie forward Mark Arcobello scored his second goal of the game 1:55 into overtime.
Big story: Each team has six wins, tying them for second-fewest in the NHL, but both have won two in a row. The Panthers come to Edmonton after a 3-2 shootout win against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. The Oilers featured a rare combination of overwhelming offense and stellar goaltending from Devan Dubnyk in a 7-0 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rexall Place on Tuesday. David Perron had two goals and a season-high four points in the victory.
Panthers: The Panthers don't visit Vancouver often, but when they do, they lose. That was the mantra for 10 games spread over 19 years; their last win in Vancouver came on March 7, 1994, at Pacific Coliseum during Florida's first NHL season. The Panthers had been 0-5-5 in Vancouver since then and had never won in Rogers Arena.
To end the drought, the Panthers turned to someone who had enjoyed some success in Vancouver. Goalie Tim Thomas, who shut out the Canucks in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to give the Boston Bruins their first championship since 1972, made 27 saves in 65 minutes of play and denied all three shootout attempts.
"Now we've all won here," Thomas told the Panthers' website, deflecting questions about his own success to focus on what it all meant for his team.
"I don't think having it be here is a factor," Thomas said. "It's more that we'd won two of three coming into this, we'd been putting some good efforts together, playing some quality teams, getting some points and just to be able to keep it going to make it three in four and win back-to-back games for the first time this year was huge. So, it's not so much about being here as that was a result we needed."
Oilers: Coach Dallas Eakins knows not to mess with success. Therefore, at practice Wednesday, when questions came about his four lines in the aftermath of the blowout victory against Columbus, status quo was his way to go.
"I don't like fooling around with them. When you've got a mix that can win the game, I don't know how you change it," he said. "Our lineup did change due to injury but it seemed like an even trade. [Philip] Larsen's a right-handed shot, likes to jump in the play, had been playing extremely well for us, breaking out the puck, getting up the ice. He couldn't go, and Schultzie (Nick Schultz) came back from an injury.
"But with the other lines I really hesitate on it. If you go and you mix them up and then it goes south on you, you're instantly beating yourself up. So I'm always very hesitant. I think it's important to reward the group and keep it going for as long as you can."
Who's hot: Panthers forward Shawn Matthias earned First Star honors Tuesday by scoring the tying goal 8:34 into the third period. Brian Campbell was held off the board in 32 minutes of ice time Tuesday but still has five points in his past five games. Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored the shootout winner Tuesday, has two real-time goals in his past three games. … Perron has three goals in his past two games, while Jordan Eberle has also scored in each of his past two. Ales Hemsky has a three-game point streak. Ryan Smyth's power-play goal against Columbus brought him within two of Wayne Gretzky and three of Glenn Anderson for the franchise record in career extra-man goals.
Injury report: Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver (illness) is questionable for Thursday, as is Scott Gomez (groin) who has missed seven games. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hip) is off injured reserve but has yet to play this season. … For the Oilers, Larsen was held out of the game on Tuesday with an undisclosed injury, while goalie Richard Bachman (lower body) has been out of the lineup since Nov. 2.