Preview: Wild at Oilers
It hasn’t taken long for Oscar Klefbom to buy into what Ken Hitchcock has been preaching.
Selected 19th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, Klefbom’s best season came in 2016-17, when he established career bests with 12 goals, 26 assists and 38 points. After slumping to 21 points in just 66 contests last season — and a slow start in 2018 — the Swedish defenseman has rediscovered his offensive skills.
Klefbom has 15 points in 28 games, but has thrived since Hitchcock took over as coach on Nov. 20 for the fired Todd McLellan.
In eight games, Klefbom has scored all three of his goals with four assists. Two of his markers were game-winners in back-to-back contests, and he had the tying tally in the final minute of regulation as Edmonton (14-12-2) went on to a 3-2 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.
“Klefbom let go a bomb,” teammate Zack Kassian said.
Klefbom is also averaging nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game, a team high. He’s also got quite a fan in his captain.
“Just scores big goals — overtime winner, game-winner late in the third and now a game-tying goal,” Connor McDavid said after the Oilers’ fourth win in five games. “He’s been great for us, not even because he scores goals. He plays a lot of minutes, plays hard, kills penalties, shuts guys down.”
Klefbom has assists in seven of 10 career games against Minnesota. And Hitchcock said the message of getting the puck to the net is getting through to the six-year veteran.
“I think when you have good players up front, sometimes you defer and we’re trying to get him to shoot the puck. We’re trying to get him to pound it off the net and he’s starting to do that stuff,” Hitchcock said.
Edmonton fell to the Wild 4-3 on Oct. 30 at Rogers Place. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, the Oilers are 2-11-3 at home against Minnesota (15-11-2).
The Wild have a quick turnaround after their fourth loss in five games, a 2-0 defeat to the Calgary Flames on Thursday. Mikko Koivu left with an injury following a hit by Mark Giordano in the third period, and the longtime captain’s status for this game is not immediately known.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said he did not have an update on Koivu, who is tied for the team lead with 17 assists and has 21 points.
Minnesota, which is trying to wrap up a three-game trip through Western Canada with a winning mark, is 4-1-0 in the back ends of games played on consecutive nights this season.
“At the end of the day, especially a game like tonight where we lost the game, it’s always fun going right back at it,” winger Nino Niederreiter said.
Dubnyk is 3-1-0 with a 1.24 goals-against average, a .947 save percentage and one shutout in four road starts against the Oilers after being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in January 2015. His 144 wins since being dealt are the second-most in the league behind the Washington Capitals‘ Braden Holtby (154).
Zach Parise, who is expected to appear in his 900th NHL game for Minnesota, has collected nine of his 13 goals on the road this season. One of those tallies came on the power play against Edmonton in October.