PREVIEW: Oilers at Devils
Oilers play final game before the Olympic break in New Jersey
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NEWARK, NJ - Tonight, the Edmonton Oilers look to keep trending upward, having won five of their last six games, and they’ll attempt to do so against a New Jersey Devils team that is coming off of two overtime losses.
AT THE TEAM HOTEL
“They’re very aggressive in the d-zone,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “They are probably the most aggressive, swarming defence in the league. Obviously, they’ve got a couple of great goaltenders. As always with New Jersey, it’s defence first. They’re going to wait and see if they can pounce on a mistake. I just want us to get settled into our game again. I think against a defence like they’re going to deploy, we do have some tools with a number of our players to counteract that. But the most important thing for me is settle into a game where we’re not going to make any, or at least not many, mistakes and capitalize on our chances when we get them.”
The Devils are last in the league in shots for and first in shots against. They will however start a goaltender tonight who is performing at a high level. Cory Schneider is 6-2-4 with a 1.51 GAA and a .943 save percentage.
The first overall pick in 2012, Nail Yakupov, has continued to show improvement in his game which includes development in the defensive side of his game.
“You have to play strong in the defensive zone with no cheating, because when you cheat, (the opponent) has opportunities to score,” Yakupov said. “When you play good defence, you have more time in the offensive zone. If you don’t want to play in the defensive zone, just play hard in the offensive zone. Reach for the puck, get some battle and play hard in the corners.”
He earned a promotion to the Oilers top line and scored the game-winning goal in New York City against the Rangers last night.
“I think the improvements are slow and steady,” Eakins said. “I think he fully understands where he needs to go with his game to be a real complete player, a player that we can trust across the whole ice. He’s taken that to heart and you’ve got to realize, this is a guy with very little experience. We’ve been patient with him, he’s buying in and the thing I see lately is a little bit more fire in his game. He’s driving his legs again, he’s excited to have the puck and he’s showing some more passion when we don’t have it. When we shuffled those lines up, we were looking for a little bit of a different look to try to generate some offence and I thought his line and Nail were all good last night.”
Yakupov feels that last night may have been his best overall game of the season.
“Yeah, I think it was (my) top game this year,” he said. “But it’s all about the teammates, linemates we play with. Everyone helps me and I try to help my linemates too. That’s why you’ve got to play as a team.”
SCHULTZ IN A GROOVE
Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz will play in his 100th career NHL game tonight in New Jersey. The 23-year-old blue liner played over 27 minutes last night in a 2-1 win over the Rangers and he appears to be finding his groove on the ice.
“I think, I’ve got more confidence back there now,” Schultz said. “It helps playing with some veteran guys. I’ve been playing with (Nick Schultz), I played with (Andrew) Ference and they help a lot. They’re always talking to me so the whole team is playing better and it’s helping me.”
Schultz has 24 (8-16-24) points in 51 games this season.
HANDLING TRADE RUMOURS
Yesterday the internet was full of NHL trade rumours with the impending Olympic break just days away. Some of those rumours involved Oilers forward Sam Gagner. Coach Dallas Eakins addressed his plan of action when it came to handling Sam and the trade buzz surrounding his player.
“My phone was blowing up yesterday with all the insiders,” Eakins said. “Boy, they have great scoops except for they weren’t quite true. I just grabbed Sam yesterday to touch base and make sure he was alright. Sam’s been around long enough to understand the drill. His job is to play and how he plays is the most important thing and that should be his sole focus. I shared with him what I knew about the situation and that a lot of it was being blown out of proportion and that yes, he was playing and yes, he would be playing tonight and that him and I don’t control any of that, it’s out of our hands. He was great. He understands that. He’s been in the game for over 400 games, he’s been the (subject of) trade rumours before and he’s had lots of teammates around him over the years that have gone through it as well. Once again, all of that stuff, I think Randy Carlyle in Toronto puts it best, it’s white noise. You just focus on your task at hand and move on.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
OILERS (20-33-6) at DEVILS (23-21-13)
TV: SNET-W, MSG PLUS
Last 10: Edmonton 5-4-1; New Jersey 4-3-3
Season series: This is the second and final game between the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers rallied from a three-goal deficit Oct. 8 at Rexall Place to earn a 5-4 shootout win; Jordan Eberle and David Perron scored the only goals in the tiebreaker.
Big story: In an effort to spark the offense and generate more goals, New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer did a little line shuffling this week during practice. DeBoer removed center Travis Zajac from the top line and had Andrei Loktionov as the middle man between team scoring leaders Jaromir Jagr and Dainius Zubrus. Zajac was the second-line center between Patrik Elias and Damien Brunner.
Jagr leads the Devils with 17 goals and 48 points in 57 games. Zajac has 20 assists and 29 points with the 41-year-old Jagr on his right. The Devils are 26th in the NHL at 2.33 goals per game, but have averaged 1.83 goals per game over the past six (2-2-2).
"I know Jags likes consistent linemates," DeBoer said. "Some guys prefer that. Some guys don't mind change. I know he's said before that he likes to play with the same guys. At the same time, that only works if you're getting consistent production, and we haven't gotten enough there recently."
Oilers: Edmonton will close out a four-game road trip against the Devils. The Oilers have won two straight and five of their past six games.
Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 pick at the 2012 NHL Draft, has been playing much better of late. As a result, coach Dallas Eakins promoted the second-year right wing to the top line with center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and left wing Taylor Hall. Yakupov scored his first goal in five games with 1:38 remaining in the third period Thursday to give Edmonton a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
"It was a good play by our guys down low to protect the puck. All I had to do was find space in the middle. I just had to find a spot," Yakupov said. "I think that was our top game this season. We played good. We need to do it to have a good time before the [Olympic] break."
Ben Scrivens made 34 saves to notch his third win in his past four starts.
Devils: Expect the Devils to be on their toes if they have a one-goal lead late in the game against the Oilers. New Jersey yielded a late goal for a third straight game Monday in an eventual 2-1 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Prudential Center. As was the case in the previous two games, the Devils gave up the tying goal when the Avalanche had their goalie pulled for an extra attacker. They managed a 3-2 overtime win against the Dallas Stars last Thursday, but weren't as fortunate against the Nashville Predators and Colorado.
"It's frustrating," DeBoer said. "It seems that's kind of what we're dealing with right now. It hasn't been an issue all year and then all the sudden the last three games we've had an issue in the last minute. We have to find a way to get a second and third goal. If you let anybody hang around in this league long enough, bad things happen, and that's the story lately."
Cory Schneider is expected to start his fifth straight game in goal. Schneider is 6-2-4 with a 1.47 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage in his past 12 starts. He ranks second in the NHL with a 1.91 GAA and sixth in the League with a .925 save percentage.
Who's hot: Hall has one goal and 10 points over the past nine games for Edmonton. … Zajac has two goals and eight points in the past seven games for New Jersey.
-- Mike Morreale, NHL.com