Oilers test out new strategy vs. Golden Knights
Under new coach Ken Hitchcock, the Edmonton Oilers are thinking grit and grind first. That new philosophy will be tested against a strong team playing its best hockey of the season.
The Oilers will try to snap the Vegas Golden Knights‘ five-game winning streak on Saturday night at Rogers Place.
Since Hitchcock took over for the fired Todd McLellan on Nov. 20, Edmonton has gone 3-1-1 with four games each decided by one goal. That includes Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
“That’s the Western Conference,” Hitchcock said. “You’ve got to take points out of close games. It’s a one-goal league and it’s really a one-goal conference and we don’t want to be the first to crack.”
Winger Ryan Nugent-Hopkins told the league’s official website that Hitchcock is getting to team to succeed when it seemed as if the season was spinning out of control.
“He’s pushing us to be our best,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It is tough to come in a quarter of the way through the season and try to change things, but he has done a good job of reminding us the things we already know but also pushing us and keeping us honest.”
While Edmonton (12-11-2) boasts Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — tied for the team lead with 13 goals each — the club has also gotten surprising production all season long from Alex Chiasson and more recently from Oscar Klefbom.
Chiasson, a journeyman who joined the team just before the start of the season, already has 11 goals in 19 games. Klefbom, a defenseman, registered game-winning goals against the Kings and in overtime of a 1-0 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.
“It’s been good timing for my first two goals,” Klefbom said Thursday. “These wins feel better than we win 5-1. It gives us a lot of confidence. We should build off this and focus on the next game here because we can play way better, I think.”
Hitchcock believes Klefbom can keep delivering.
“I think 25 (minutes a game) to me is the floor and you’re going to see him play more and more,” Hitchcock said.
Saturday’s tilt is arguably Edmonton’s biggest test under Hitchcock as Vegas (14-12-1) is reminding fans why it advanced to the Stanley Cup final as an expansion team. The Golden Knights’ surge continued with a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
“We’re just on a bit of a roll here lately so we just have to keep going,” said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team has outscored opponents during the streak by a 23-8 margin.
Max Pacioretty has been the key to Vegas’ offense with six goals and three assists during the streak. The former Montreal Canadiens captain, who scored in a 6-3 win over Edmonton on Nov. 18, goes for his fourth straight multipoint game.
“Patch has been good. He’s hot now, he’s getting a good feel around the net,” Gallant said.
Another key is Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s yielded only 11 goals while winning six straight starts — including shutouts of the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks on back-to-back nights last Friday and Saturday.
“He’s the key,” Gallant said. “When we got him in the expansion (draft) last year, we knew that he’s a difference maker and he’s a leader of our group.”
Fleury is 5-0-0 with a 1.77 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and a shutout in his last five visits to Edmonton.