The Oilers’ six-game, marathon road trip began at 11am local time this morning as the team took to the ice for a spirited 20-minute skate at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
The Oilers are coming in tonight’s matchup with a season-high winning streak, with a chance to extend that mark to six straight with a win in LA. Doing so will be a challenge, as the Kings pose a threat with high-octane scoring prowess, along with a staunch commitment to own-zone play.
It begins with the NHL’s second-best netminder in Jonathan Quick.
Quick, who’s posted a 1.52 goals-against and .947 save percentage in nine starts this season, has established a 6-1-2 record.
It ends with a rock-solid scoring punch. The Kings bring a dual threat to which only one other NHL team has been able to overcome in regulation time this season.
"He’s one of the better goaltenders in the game," said Ryan Smyth
, ex-teammate of Quick in Los Angeles. "Their D core, one through six, competes hard and are great defensively. They've got a good, solid group over there, so it's a matter of us raising our level and coming out with a big two points.
"I think it'll be a good test for us, as a group, to overcome adversity on the road."
Smyth, who was traded from LA to Edmonton back on Jun. 27, will be making his return to Staples Center. It’s a building where he played two seasons, 149 games, scoring 45 goals and 100 points, while adding seven more in the post-season.
No. 94 would have happily stayed in LA, but was thrilled with how his situation ended up.
"Going to practice in shorts and sandels on was nice," he laughed when asked about the LA atmosphere. "Obviously I’m happy to be where I’m at now. Anytime you go through a process like that, it's not easy. It's tough as a player, but also as a family to pick them up and move again."
Smyth isn’t the only one with an attachment to the Kings organization. The Oilers recalled 21-year-old rearguard Colten Teubert
Wednesday morning. Selected 13th overall by LA in 2008, he'll get the chance tonight to make his big-league debut.
"It's obviously exciting," he smiled. "I was picked by the Kings and learned a lot from that organization. I think I'd be motivated if I was playing against any team in the NHL. This has been my dream ever since I was a kid. Just to live it and get the chance is incredible."
Teubert was acquired in a deadline-day trade that saw Dustin Penner being shipped to Los Angeles in exchange. The 6’4", 190-pound D man endured a concussion when he took a one-punch at the 2011 Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC, preventing him from suiting up in a single pre-season game.
"I was nervous when I got the call and I’ve been nervous ever since" he said. "I'm going to try and use that to my advantage. I've never played in the NHL, but I've just got to play my game and keep it simple.
"I’m excited to be here."
Head Coach Tom Renney, who’s also had a limited viewing of Teubert since his late-spring arrival, agreed with the rookie’s assessment.
"It's good to get out on the road and get excited about it, and certainly in Colten's case, he's coming back to the Kings. I think the big thing there is to really keep the game simple and don't try to manufacture things that don't exist.
"He's a good first-pass guy, do that. He's a good defender with his body, do that. He's a good communicator on the ice that will help him and his teammates, so do that as well. He doesn't have to try to build a career in 2.5 hours of work tonight."
EYEING THE CROWN
Hot on the Oilers’ heels, Los Angeles boasts a 6-3-2 record on the season for 14 points and fourth overall in the NHL’s Western Conference. Although the Kings will be raring to go in what promises to be an intense matchup, the Oilers will be keying in on an ex-teammate who’s had a slower-than-desired start to the 2011-12 campaign.
Dustin Penner has recorded one assist and a -1 rating through nine games as he averages over 14 minutes a night. Even so, the Oilers are taking the cautious route.
"We have to keep Pens to the outside," Renney explained. "We can't let him get his body into the slot area or around the net. We have to make sure we box him out well and keep the puck away from his stick as much as we can; he's got a good shot, too, so we've got to make him work 200 feet, both ways.
"And as best we can, because he can certainly contribute on the power-play, we have to be a disciplined team tonight to the point where we keep LA's power-play off the ice, which certainly includes him."
The Oilers will look to do that and more as squad looks to capture a sixth straight win; something Oil Country hasn’t seen in almost a decade. Nikolai Khabibulin
, along with his league-best 1.12 goals-against average and .960 save percentage, will start between the pipes.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
First of four meetings. The Kings swept the Oilers last season, outscoring them 12-5 in the process. Drew Doughty led all scorers in the series with 3 goals. Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier split the goaltending duties, each picking up two wins. Bernier recorded a shutout in the most recent matchup, stopping 32 shots in a 2-0 victory in Edmonton on March 29.
Undoubtedly the biggest surprise of October, the first-place Oilers face a stiff test to begin the season's second month. Thursday's date with the Kings marks the beginning of a six-game road trip, and all told Edmonton will play 10 of its next 12 games away from Rexall Place. In addition, Ryan Smyth
makes his return to Los Angeles after being traded to Edmonton last June.
There seemed to be little doubt Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
would be staying put in Edmonton -- once the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft played in his 10th game and it became official, the focus turned to what he's capable of moving forward. Nugent-Hopkins was held scoreless his first game after the cutoff, but he contributed a pair of assists Sunday as the Oilers ran their win streak to five with a 4-2 decision over the Blues. Ryan Smyth
scored twice and Nikolai Khabibulin
stayed unbeaten in regulation with 27 saves.
"He's such a good leader," coach Tom Renney said of Smyth, who was reacquired this summer and is tied for second on the team in scoring behind Nugent-Hopkins. "He's a heart-and-soul guy. Your young guys need to see that if we're going to win a Cup one day."
Conversely, while its opponent will spend most of the next several weeks living out of suitcases, Los Angeles begins a stretch where six of the next seven will be at Staples Center -- and the lone road game is against its California neighbor San Jose. The Kings will be looking to pick up two points after consecutive 3-2 road losses to the Coyotes and Avalanche -- they earned a point by taking the Phoenix game to overtime before falling. On the plus side, Doughty played in both those games after missing five due to an upper-body injury.
"We've got to try to generate more," forward Jarret Stoll said. "We got a lot of shots blocked in the second half of the game tonight. Teams, everyone is blocking shots, everyone is getting in lanes. We've got to find a way to work harder and get pucks to the net, make plays and figure out a way to just get the puck on net and score some ugly goals, get to those tough areas to score more goals."
Smyth has 3 goals and 2 assists in the Oilers' past two games. Jordan Eberle
has 3 goals and 4 assists in the last five games. Khabibulin, who ranked third in the NHL's Player of the Month voting for October, has a League-leading 1.12 goals-against average and .960 save percentage. … Anze Kopitar has 2 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak for the Kings. Dustin Brown has 1 goal and 4 assists during a three-game points streak.
Edmonton defenceman Cam Barker
is day-to-day with a sore shoulder. Defenceman Ryan Whitney
(knee) and forwards Ales Hemsky
(shoulder) and Darcy Hordichuk
(knee) are on injured reserve. … Los Angeles forward Simon Gagne (undisclosed) is day-to-day, while forward Colin Fraser (ankle) is on injured reserve.
Oilers backup Devan Dubnyk
has been overlooked with Khabibulin's torrid start, but he's posted an excellent 1.98 GAA and .938 save percentage in splitting his four starts. … Both of the Kings' goals against the Avalanche came on the power play, where they are ranked fourth in the League this season at 23.1 percent.
Edmonton defenseman Andy Sutton
scored the game-winning goal in the second period Friday in Colorado but was involved in a third-period incident in which he delivered an elbow to the head of rookie forward Gabriel Landeskog. Sutton was suspended for Sunday's game against St. Louis and an additional four games following a disciplinary hearing Tuesday.