EDMONTON, AB - Tonight the Oilers will host the Nashville Predators who, in their last six games, is 4-1-1. The Oilers, on the other hand, have lost their last six games and will look to break that streak without the help of their team captain. Defenceman Andrew Ference will sit out tonight’s game with a head injury.
“He took a shot in the head and they’re evaluating him,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said.
“He’s going to be greatly missed. Listen, he’s our captain and competes extremely hard every night. He’s been playing against the other teams’ top lines a lot. That is a big hole to fill and the whole group will have to try to pick up his minutes and what he does for our team.”
Tonight is the first time that Matt Hendricks will face his former team since the Oilers acquired him from Nashville in a trade on January 15.
Luke Gazdic will step back into the lineup for the Oilers.
Only 10 players skated this morning at the optional practice and Ben Scrivens is expected to get the start in net.
STICKING TO THE PROCESS, COMING BACK IN GAMES
The Oilers have improved their quality of play recently despite the losses that have followed. Edmonton has lost their last three games by one goal each and showed resiliency against the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday night when they battled back from a 4-0 deficit to suffer narrow 4-3 defeat.
Coach Eakins says that the better play has been a result of sticking to the team’s plan, which they need to continue to do in order to break free of this slump.
“It’s all about the process and if the process is right, the result ends up being better…We’ve had strong efforts, we need stronger efforts. We’ve got to kill the mistake and we’ve got to go into these games with the mindset that we’re not going to give up anything on our net, we’re not going to make one mistake and we get a chance we’re going to put it in the net. That’s the only way you can go about it when you’re struggling right now.”
Eakins also addressed how the Oilers have been able to come back in several games this season when trailing by three or four goals. That’s just the way the NHL is today.
“I think our group has grown a little bit, leadership wise, and it certainly doesn’t hurt adding voices like that. That’s the one thing in today’s game. It’s much different than it was 15 years ago. You’re never out of the game now. I don’t care what the score is, there’s a chance. It used to be you get up 3-1, that game was over. With all the less restrictions of holding guys up and hooking and all those things, it’s still free-wheeling out there and you can develop chances real quickly.”
Matt Hendricks, a former Nashville Predator, has been a welcomed physical presence on the Oilers’ fourth line. He has also been a veteran voice in the locker room and has been able to reiterate that even when a team gets down a couple of goals, they can still will themselves out of trouble.
“Hendricks has brought us another voice, another leader and I think part of it is too, our guys are learning that you don’t need to hang your heads if you’re down a couple of goals, you can still win the game,” said Eakins.
KEEPING THE TEAM FOCUSED ON TEAM GOALS
When a team is low in the standings and is struggling to string together wins, it is a concern that players begin to push individual goals such as contracts and trade rumours to the forefront. However, Eakins doesn’t think it’s that difficult to keep the team focused and working as a unit. It polices itself.
“I don’t find it to be that hard,” the coach said. “We keep hammering home our message. These guys are wired to play hockey games. That’s all they’ve ever done and that’s all they know so when they come in today for the game, they will be preparing to play and preparing to win. I think when we talk about that, like there’s a lot to play for individually, that’s usually being thought of maybe on a practice day when they’re driving home to their homes.
“They’re not thinking about it in the room. They’re so wired about being a team that, that kind of thought process isn’t going on. The thing for me is it always just comes down to how we are going to win the game and what are the important parts of what we’re trying to teach and make it a part of our identity here that we’re really going to stress and for me, you just never come off that. You can’t, no matter what your situation is.”
Big story: If goalie Devan Dubnyk starts for Nashville, it would be against the team that traded him there Jan. 15. Dubnyk has allowed nine goals in two starts for the Predators.
"I'm still trying to settle in and get comfortable with the guys in front of me, and let them get comfortable too," Dubnyk told The Tennessean after a 5-4 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on Friday. "It felt better than the first one, but four goals … have some work to do still. I'll keep at it, and be ready to go when I get called next."
Since Dubnyk arrived, Predators goalie Carter Hutton is 4-0-0, having allowed one goal in each of his past two games, including a 2-1 win at the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
Predators: Nashville has scored 22 goals in its past six games (4-1-1), an average of 3.7. It was averaging 2.4 per game prior to that.
Eric Nystrom had four goals by himself against Calgary, the second of a four-game Canadian visit.
"We've got three out of four points, we're going to take that," Nystrom told The Tennessean, "and we're going to go into Edmonton and play hard and give us a chance to keep this road trip going in the right direction."
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto, acquired from the New York Rangers in a trade for Kevin Klein on Wednesday, played 18:20 (24 shifts) and was plus-1 Friday after getting 13:15 of ice time (17 shifts) Thursday.
Oilers: Edmonton, on a six-game losing streak, held its team skills competition Saturday.
"With the atmosphere that we've been in for a long time here, you want to try to loosen up and try to enjoy the moment," forward Ryan Smyth told the Oilers website. "Today I thought that the players loosened up and had some fun, relaxed a bit, but it was nice to see the fan support that we got …"
According to STATS Inc., the Oilers are minus-40 in scoring margin during the first two periods and minus-11 in the third. They trailed the Phoenix Coyotes 4-0 three minutes into the second period Friday before losing 4-3.
"It's been a common theme this year, our consistency," forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins told STATS. "We might play good for the first period and then sag in the second and play good in the third. We have to find a way to stop doing that. We are killing ourselves with efforts like that, not playing a full game."
Who's hot: Predators defenseman Roman Josi has three two-point games in his past four. … Oilers forward Jordan Eberle has a four-game point streak. Forward Taylor Hall has 10 points in 11 games. Forward Matt Hendricks, traded to Edmonton as part of the Dubnyk deal, scored his first goal for the Oilers on Friday. Rookie defenseman Martin Marincin got his first point (an assist) in 15 NHL games.
Injury report: Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (hip) is on injured reserve. … Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference (upper body) left the game Friday but will play. Forward Nail Yakupov (concussion protocol) played Friday after sitting out since Jan. 16. Forward Ales Hemsky (left ankle) and defenseman Philip Larsen (illness) are practicing.