Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz left the game on Sunday 8:18 into the second period and did not return. The Oilers didn't have any further clarification on the extent of Schultz's injury following practice in Leduc on Monday.
“He had an evaluation this morning and we’re awaiting the results. He’s likely not playing tomorrow if he’s not on the plane so we’ll deal with it after that,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said, adding that as a result of not knowing the extent of the injury, the next steps haven't been decided such as whether the team might call another defenceman up.
“Pete (Chiarelli) and I just met a couple minutes ago to discuss what the next step will be. We want to find out where Justin is before any decisions are made.”
McLellan added that he has been happy with the play of Schultz so far, with the exception of one or two hiccups along the way.
“Justin’s made strides for us all throughout training camp. He had a little bit of a setback against Washington but real good strides. His game is improving defensively. He’s trying to figure out the offensive part of it but I think he’s an important piece to our potential success now and moving forward. We’d like to see him get healthy and back as quick as possible.”
With Schultz's injury coming partway through the game on Sunday, the rest of the five healthy blueliners had to step it up. Oscar Klefbom was asked about losing his defence partner.
“Obviously yesterday it was tough to lose Justin. He’s one of the best defencemen, I think, on this team. It’s tough without him but we have eight good defencemen who are ready to go every night so we’ll be fine,” said Klefbom.
The Oilers defenceman did add that he’s glad to be getting some additional power play time. In fact, his unit was on the ice when the Oilers scored the tying goal late in the third period on Sunday night against the Kings.
“It felt good to be on the ice and it was a nice goal. I felt pretty bad it wasn’t enough to go to overtime.”
McLellan touched on the team's decision at the start of camp to carry eight defencemen. It's a decision that right now is paying off with two injured.
“Eight’s not ideal but eight sometimes is important when it comes to injury, when it comes to developing young defencemen. We talked about asset management with Brandon Davidson and when you have a veteran that’s sometimes not playing like Andrew’s been in that situation, it makes it tough for him and it’s not always pleasant,” McLellan began.
“But he’s handled it rather well. He’s a professional. Those are some of the headaches with eight. Some of the positives are that we get everybody involved in reps. We save a little bit of energy on them and we get a chance to figure out what we want to do as a group.”
Monday's practice in Leduc was a lot more mental than physical, with the team walking through a bunch of scenarios that it found itself in over the past two games. Oilers head coach Todd McLellan talked about the need for the team to refresh itself on these situations and also grab a bit of a breather during a tough portion of the schedule.
“We looked at where we were in the schedule and how many games we’ve played. We’ve had a taxing stretch and it’s not going to get any easier until the end of this week so we didn’t want to over-tax them physically. We wanted to challenge them mentally so we walked through some of the scenarios that we wanted to clean up,” he said.
“We’d given up a couple of goals the last two games — important goals off neutral zone face-offs where our responsibilities really lacked. We cleaned up some things penalty kill so we walked through that and a couple game-specific drills for what we think Minnesota might throw at us.”
McLellan added that these types of drills are nothing new to his coaching repertoire but perhaps they're required a little more often just given the players' familiarity with his strategies.
“We’d be doing it in San Jose. Now that group was seven years in some of them, they could do it in their sleep. This group is still learning to trust each other. Everybody has a good idea of what they’re supposed to be doing but as soon as one guy doesn’t quite get his job done, the trust breaks down and everybody’s trying to cover up and it leads to more mistakes.”
Defenceman Griffin Reinhart took part in a full practice for the first time since suffering his injury and moved one step closer to returning to the lineup.
“Griffin won’t be playing in Minnesota (Tuesday) but he’s getting close. You saw our practice today, it wasn’t a real active practice but he’ll get work in after,” said Coach McLellan.
Reinhart said he's hoping to return soon and hopes that the birds-eye perspective he's had for a handful of games helps him as well.
“It’s getting closer. It’s not very fun watching, but at the same time, from up top the game looks different. You can learn a lot from up there and sometimes you feel like you’re getting better from watching. But hopefully (I) get back in the lineup pretty soon.”
The former Oil Kings blueliner was most frustrated with the fact that he was just starting to establish himself in the Oilers lineup when the injury occurred.
“It’s kind of unfortunate, just starting to kick my career off and getting three games in a row. I felt like I was getting better every game and it’s kind of a setback but it shouldn’t be anything too hard to overcome.”
One positive, if there is any, is that the injury is one that Reinhart has had before so he's familiar with the recovery process.
“I’ve had this injury before but it’s not something where surgery is required or it’s a chronic injury. It’s usually about the same timeline that I’m on right now. I guess I’m used to playing with it a little bit so that’s good for me. I know how to prepare for it and settle it down.”
Griffin added that he is looking forward to getting back together with the team as he will be on the plane to Minnesota and will skate at Morning Skate at the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday.
“It’ll be nice. It kind of sucks going in early in the morning and practicing by yourself — or with Ebs too — but not even being out with them. It’s been a bit distant from the guys so it’ll be nice getting back with them.”
Justin Schultz is not on the ice but seven other defencemen are: Brandon Davidson, Eric Gryba, Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, Andrew Ference and Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart is skating with the team at a full practice for the first time since his injury.
Forward lines are the same as last game:
It was a game that kept fans on the edge of their seats.
With less than seven minutes left in the game, Oilers Taylor Hall managed tie up the game on a power play, but the Kings were quick to answer and ended up walking away with a 3-2 win.
“Obviously we had some chances too to get a cushion but we couldn’t score. It felt like we were playing our game though, sticking to our game plan,” said Los Angeles Kings Anze Kopitar.
Having now won five games in a row, Tanner Pearson says it looks like the team has adjusted its sails from their first three losses and are getting into their groove.
“Obviously we got off to a slow start at the beginning of the year, but I think we’ve learned from that,” said Pearson.
Kopitar agrees with his teammate.
“We’re playing our game. Obviously when we’re going good, our specialty is going good. Minus the goal we gave up on the PK but again we came out with the big power-play goal by sticking to our system,” he said.
“We know how we have to play too when tie games like these and we stuck to our game plan really well.”
With rookies, there’s a decision to be made at the nine-game mark, whether or not to send them to the minors or keep them in the NHL. With Connor McDavid, there’s no conversation and no decision to be made.
The 2015 first-overall pick has earned the right to stay in the NHL and isn’t going anywhere.
“It’s made,” Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan joked about the team’s decision regarding McDavid and the nine-game window. “We can clarify that. It’s made.”
McDavid, in his nine games, has nine points. He has scored five goals and added four assists. The rookie is riding a five game point streak and has points in six of his last seven games. McLellan talked about McDavid’s first nine NHL games, following the team’s 3-2 loss to Los Angeles.
“The young man has experienced a lot already in his career,” said McLellan. “If you look at it in a nine-game perspective, you start on the road in some tough buildings, the team plays well enough to be in games but doesn’t win. He feels a lot of pressure on himself because he hasn’t scored. Finally, he gets one and gives himself permission, I believe, to really get going. He’s been a dynamic player ever since. He’s dangerous every time he’s on the ice. I think he’s getting much wiser to the pace and what he can and can’t get away with. It’s fun to watch him. He energizes a lot of our players right now.”
McDavid assisted on the Oilers first goal against LA and nearly potted the game winner with 3.8 seconds left. McDavid is tied for the lead in rookie scoring with Arizona’s Max Domi (3-6-9 in eight games).
He’s scored five goals in four wins with the Los Angeles Kings, but Tyler Toffoli says the team is still looking to find their groove.
“We’re finding our game slowly. It’s early in the season so we know what we have to do, we have to keep working hard, dig it in here and find some more wins,” said the Kings centre.
Keeping a level head, the Kings, who are 4-3-0, are gearing up to play the Oilers tonight.
“I’m just trying to do my best, help the team win games and whatever that means. Just trying to do the best on the ice and go from there,” said Toffoli.
“I think the same time last year I did the same thing, had a good start and kind of, my game trailed off, so I’ve got to find a way to keep it going and find ways to win games here.”
It’s a long season ahead, and Toffoli says the team has kept their cool by not overreacting when rebounding from their three losses to gain four wins.
They’re taking one game at a time and are analyzing what they have to do to come out with a win over the Oilers.
“They’re really skilled, they’ve got a good team. We’ve got to be ready to go right from the drop of the puck. Take away their speed and their skill and play our game,” said Toffoli.
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Anton Lander had, by all accounts, a very good training camp and pre-season. He led the Oilers in scoring with five goals and six total points. However, so far through eight games, Lander has been held scoreless in the regular season.
Head Coach Todd McLellan says you have to look past the boxscore to evaluate Landers performance.
“You have to watch Anton fairly close to understand his contributions. A good camp for him is three goals in one game and all that type of stuff. I don’t think he’s that type of player consistently so we don’t evaluate him that way. You have to look at faceoffs, you have to look at his ability to penalty kill, be responsible on the ice. You’re not going to drive home at night and get all excited about Anton and the plays and the smoothness in his game but if you go back and watch it again you’ll appreciate the details he has defending, doing some of the little things, taking and giving direction on the ice. He’s one of the few guys that actually is fairly vocal all the time, which is nice. He does do some things there.”
Lander played 19:54 against Washington on Friday night. He was even for the game with four shots on goal in the 7-4 loss.
Rob Klinkhammer has been given the opportunity to play with two highly skilled players in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He made the most of it on Friday night by scoring his first goal of the season, tipping in a centring feed from Hall.
What made the goal sweeter for Klinkhammer is that it was his chance for a little redemption.
“I felt it hit me. It hit my stick pretty hard. It’s kind of why I had that celebration,” said Klinkhammer. “I was pretty happy after it because that got me back to even on the night. That first PK goal was 100% my fault. It was a breakdown by me so it felt good to get back to even on the night.”
Klinkhammer is enjoying providing some size and heaviness to the top line.
“It’s great, obviously. Those two players are unbelievable,” he said. “They’re very creative, very high-skilled, two of the best players in the league. I’ve just got to keep up with them. I can’t slow those guys down. Get them the puck and get to the front of the net, kind of like last week.”