Oilers return home to face Stars
The Edmonton Oilers are not about to say they're as good as the teams that won the Stanley Cup five times between 1983 and 1990.
Instead, the Oilers are more than happy to point out how they're not looking like the franchise that's failed to make a postseason appearance in a decade.
Edmonton returns to Rogers Place to start a two-game homestand Friday night against the Dallas Stars, who are trying once more to record consecutive wins for the first time this season.
After falling to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, Edmonton (9-4-1) has missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons and has finished higher than 10th in the Western Conference just once during that span.
Now led by a healthy Connor McDavid, a resurgent Jordan Eberle and newcomer Milan Lucic — all tied for the team lead with five goals each — the Oilers are atop the Pacific Division and second in the West behind the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think it's fair to say we're deserving of the record we have to this point. Where we go from here now will be up to the group and we've got to approach every night like it's the beginning of a new winning streak and get after teams,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan told the team's official website. “When we're aggressive and we're paying attention to our assignments all over the rink we're a hard team to play against.”
Edmonton is coming off a 2-2-1 road trip with the three losses coming by a total of four goals. The Oilers kept Sidney Crosby off the scoresheet, but gave up the winning goal with 1:42 to play in a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.
Oilers center Leon Draisaitl, now in his third season, said there's a new feeling among the players on the team.
“Within the room, we have a bigger confidence than people might think we do,” Draisaitl told the Edmonton Sun. “It's such a different feeling than last year, being considered one of the best teams in the league. We want to keep it going. We're all sick of losing in here.”
McDavid failed to score a goal on the road trip but recorded five assists — including a career high-tying three in the loss to the Penguins — and has 12 on the season. The top overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft scored his first NHL goal in the Oilers' 4-2 loss to the Stars on Oct. 13, 2015, but would later miss 37 games during his rookie season with a broken collarbone.
While the Oilers' Cam Talbot has eight wins, Jonas Gustavsson could make just his second start and third appearance of the season. Gustavsson is 3-0-1 in four appearances, including three starts, with a 2.43 goals-against average and .910 save percentage versus the Stars.
Talbot, who joined the Oilers last season after two seasons as a backup with the New York Rangers, lost in his only appearance against the Stars last season, and is 0-1-1 with a 3.02 GAA and .900 save percentage when facing them.
Dallas (5-6-3) had allowed 15 goals during a three-game skid that ended with a 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday night.
“We have to find ways to get points. These games aren't going to be works of art,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “It's a good bounce-back game. That room was hurting after the Winnipeg game (an 8-2 loss Tuesday.)”
The Stars have been wracked by injuries for much of the season to many key players up front, and a slow start by captain Jamie Benn hasn't helped matters at all. Benn halted a nine-game goal drought by scoring twice in Calgary to double his season total to four — he's averaged almost 37 goals in each of the previous three seasons.
“It seems I have one of these (slumps) every year, and you just have to work your way through it,” Benn told the Dallas Morning News.
Benn, a native of British Columbia, does seem to enjoy facing teams from neighboring Alberta. Thursday's outburst gives him 15 goals in 24 career games versus the Flames, the most he's tallied against one team. Benn's second-highest career total are the 13 he's scored in 22 games against the Oilers.
Dallas goaltenders Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen also have had success in Edmonton.
Niemi has started seven games at Rexall Place, the Oilers' former longtime home, posting a 5-1-1 record with a 2.26 GAA. And despite losing in his last game in northern Alberta in March 2015, Lehtonen is 6-2-1 with a 2.23 GAA and a shutout against the Oilers on their home ice.
Dallas and Edmonton have split the last four meetings with each team winning twice at home.