EDMONTON - Following a 6-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks earlier this week, Head Coach Ralph Krueger and the Edmonton Oilers will be making some changes for tonight's game against the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
Mark Fistric will be making his Oilers debut in place of Corey Potter. The Edmonton-born defenceman will be paired with veteran Ryan Whitney.
"He's a specialist. This League is about specialists," Krueger said. "We were unstable on the penalty kill last game. We see Mark as an elite penalty-killer and he brings more stability to that area with his positioning and physicality. We're certainly excited to see him and what he can bring. It's nothing against what Corey Potter's done. [Potter is] a multiple role player and can help us and can play up the lineup on the power-play and penalty kill. We want to get to know our group better by having Mark in tonight."
"It's going to be exciting. It's going to be a lot of fun to go out and compete with the guys," added Fistric. "There will be a lot of nerves playing in front of the hometown crowd and for the team I grew up watching, but I'm hoping as the game goes on, I'll settle in and get more comfortable."
Fistric was acquired from the Dallas Stars on Jan. 14 in exchange for a third-round pick. Coming into the shortened season, with a team and under a new system, the 26-year-old understood the process.
"There are a lot of quality D men on the team. I knew the situation of the lockout and the shortened camp with no exhibition games, it was going to be hard to come in and try and learn a whole new system. It was beneficial for me to sit and watch how the team plays.
"Being in Dallas, we saw LA a lot. Tonight is going to be a good measuring stick for us."
In other lineup news, Magnus Paajarvi has earned a promotion. The 21-year-old smooth-skating Swede will be bumped to the third line and will play alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth. As a result, Teemu Hartikainen will move down to the fourth unit with Lennart Petrell and Eric Belanger.
In addition to providing a "Finnish connection," as Krueger described, it's expected that Hartikainen will add a much-needed physical element left by the injured Eager.
"Having some speed there on the wing on either side of [Eric Belanger], who's really been playing a good game, will be a good thing. We're really happy with he depth we have on that line right now."
"There was an over-anxious and over-excited group on Tuesday vs. San Jose," Krueger said. "If you let your guard down against a team like that and you give up on your team defensive structure, you get punished.
"We got punished. That's what's been happening in games all across the NHL with the quick start to the year."
Los Angeles rolls into Rexall Place sporting an 0-2-0 record after losses to the Chicago Blackhawks (5-2) and Colorado Avalanche (3-1). The Kings' MVP, goaltender Jonathan Quick who notched 10 shutouts last year, currently has a 4.10 goals-against average and .849 save percentage.
It's unclear whether Quick or 24-year-old Jonathan Bernier will get the start in goal tonight. Either way, the Kings are coming in "pissed off."
"We have to bring that same mentality," said Sam Gagner. "We obviously didn't want to kick off our home schedule like that, so we're going to come out hard and be at our best tonight. We know what the Kings bring. They're the Stanley Cup Champions for a reason, so we're expecting a stiff test."
Gagner will continue to play alongside Ales Hemsky and rookie Nail Yakupov. Gagner, who has collected a pair of assists so far this season, says the chemistry between them is coming along.
"It's been good. The biggest thing right now is to continue to develop it," he said. "Obviously with the shortened camp and having no pre-season games, it's not easy to get on the same page right away. I've played with Ales in the past and while Nail is a new addition to the team and this League, he's an incredibly skilled player. For the most part me and Aes are passers and Nail's a sniper, so it's a good mix. It's only been two games but we can feel it getting better already, so I'm pretty well convinced we're going to keep getting better as we go along here."
If Tuesday is any indication, Gagner and Yakupov are already on the same page.
"I've been in this League for a while now and have had the chance to share in some special moments here in Edmonton. To be a part of Nail's [first-career NHL] goal was a great one. I don't think I've ever heard this building that loud before.
"Hopefully we can connect like that again. I'm sure we will."
Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound netminder allowed six goals on 17 shots Tuesday vs. San Jose.
Season series: Thursday's game marks the first of three meetings between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers. The Western Conference foes collide again at Rexall Place on Feb. 19 before closing their head-to-head slate April 6 at Staples Center. The clubs split their four-game series in 2011-12.
Big story: The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings are in search of their first win as they continue their three-game road trip with this stop in Edmonton. The Oilers hope to bounce back two days after a lopsided 6-3 home loss to the San Jose Sharks.
Kings: Last spring, the Kings became the first eighth-seeded team in League history to raise the Stanley Cup. Though their memorable postseason was defined by timely goal-scoring and stellar play by Jonathan Quick, their goaltender did not have much support during the regular season. The Kings sported the NHL's second-worst goals-per-game average (2.29; Minnesota Wild, 2.02).
Two games into this season, it's a similar story. The Kings have mustered three goals in two games, and Quick has struggled with eight goals allowed. They welcomed back leading scorer Anze Kopitar from injury for Tuesday's game, but were held off the scoreboard in the final two periods of a 3-1 loss at the Colorado Avalanche.
"Players are going to go through periods where they don't score," Kings coach Darryl Sutter told LAKingsInsider.com after practice Wednesday. "That's going to happen. We're just trying to get them there. It's one of those things with a 48-game schedule. It's not about what you did or what you think, it's about what you're doing."
Oilers: Rookie phenoms Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz scored their first NHL goals in Edmonton's home opener Tuesday, but they were overshadowed in game that was virtually over after 20 minutes. San Jose's Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau each scored twice in the first period, and the Sharks chased Devan Dubnyk with six goals on 17 shots.
The Oilers want to use the defeat as motivation Thursday.
"We forgot what was going on behind us," Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid told the team's website. "We forgot how to play defense. That's what happened and it can't happen again. It was a disaster."
Who's hot: The Kings' offense has been quiet, but it received a lift from its fourth line Tuesday. Kyle Clifford, who went pointless in three games last postseason, let L.A. open the scoring with a first-period goal. … Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle, who led the American Hockey League in scoring during the work stoppage, had two assists Tuesday after scoring a goal in the NHL season opener Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks.