EDMONTON, Alberta — Taylor Hall is doing what he was expected to do when the New Jersey Devils acquired him last summer. He’s tied for the team lead in points, even though he’s missed nine games.
Adam Larsson is doing exactly what the Oilers expected of him when he was acquired from the Devils. He’s a solid first-pairing defenceman that Edmonton badly needed.
Really, it’s a trade that is working out for both teams. But, when the Devils visit Rogers Place Thursday night, Hall’s return to the city in which he began his professional career will be the game story.
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Hall, who the Oilers selected first overall in the 2010 draft, was traded to the Devils last July for Larsson. This season, Hall has 25 points in 32 games for New Jersey.
Hall had 328 career points in 381 career games as an Oilers, putting him 17th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.
“For Taylor to come back here, and he obviously had roots here for many years, I’m sure it’s not easy,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. “The fans here, the organization, the coaches and even his teammates obviously appreciated all the things he did for us during his time here — and we recognize that and welcome him back. But, when it’s time to play, it’s time to play.”
“He’s a good player, it was tough to see him go,” said Oilers right-winger Jordan Eberle, who has known Hall when he was 10 years old. “But I think we’re better as a team — and he’s doing well there. It will be interesting to see him play.”
When speaking to reporters, Hall, though, spoke about the game in Edmonton not as a standalone event, but as the first of a massive four-game road trip for a team near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
“We’re playing some teams that have some offense, are obviously going to pose a big challenge for us,” said Hall. “This is a road trip that’s probably going to define our season, and make or break it.”
The trip got off to an ominous start. The team’s charter to Edmonton was delayed five hours after the tow vehicle bumped the nose of the airplane the Devils were on.
The Devils go into Edmonton on a three-game losing streak, including a 2-1 overtime loss to the Oilers Saturday at Newark’s Prudential Center. That game was only close because of the play of Devils netminder Cory Schneider, who stopped 41 shots.
“This road trip is about getting our game back,” said Devils coach John Hynes. “We’ve lost three games. … So we have to get some things in order in our game and we have to a better job than we did in the last couple of games to be able to find a way to win games and get points.”
Since Saturday’s win over New Jersey, the Oilers have lost two in a row.
The Oilers can’t afford another slow start. Their two-game losing streak can be attributed to poor first-period efforts. In Sunday’s loss to Ottawa, they were down 2-0 by the 13:43 mark. In Tuesday’s loss to San Jose, the Oilers gave up a goal just 1:39 into the game.
“Not really ready to go, too slow, turnovers, no execution early in the game, then put your foot on the gas and go after a team,” is how McLellan categorized his team’s last two efforts.
So, while Hall’s return to Edmonton will create a buzz at Rogers Place, the Oilers can’t afford to get swept up in the moment and be on their heels for the first few shifts of the game.
On Wednesday, the Oilers recalled center Jujhar Khaira from their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif., sending center Anton Lander the other way. Khaira had two assists in 15 games with the Oilers in 2015-16.