'There's no pressure': Oilers face Hurricanes as they try to turn ship around
'We’ve got to try to find a way to create a little bit more offence,' says forward Ryan Strome
What a difference a year makes.
Exactly 364 days ago, the Edmonton Oilers beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on their way to a 7-1 start to the season.
The two teams meet again tonight at Rogers Place. This time the Oilers face the prospect of dropping a fourth straight game, with the next three on the road.
A loss tonight and continued struggles against Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh could see the Oilers open the season 1-7.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
With starting goalie Cam Talbot struggling early, the Oilers will start backup Laurent Brossoit against the Hurricanes, and speedy rookie Kailer Yamamoto will get another chance on the right wing on Connor McDavid's top line.
The 1-3 Oilers, off to a disappointing start, held a game-day skate Monday as they prepped to take on another team with only a single W in the win column.
The Hurricanes won their season opener in a shootout against the Minnesota Wild, then dropped a pair of 2-1 games to Columbus and Winnipeg.
Oilers in desperate need of goals
Only three Oiler forwards — McDavid with a hat trick against Calgary, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with two and Leon Draisaitl with one — have found the back of the net in the first four games.
With Draisaitl on injured reserve and set to miss his second straight game, coach Todd McLellan will again go with Yamamoto on the top line. He said he liked what he saw from the rookie Saturday against Ottawa.
"He's still deferring to Connor, we could see that on the semi-breakaway," McLellan said, referencing a late-game rush in Saturday's 6-1 loss. "Even in practice yesterday, he had an open net and he thought he should pass it to the covered guy. But that happens when you're a young player and he'll learn that as you go."
Ryan Strome, traded in the off-season for Jordan Eberle, will play the second line tonight with Milan Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins.
"We've got to try to find a way to create a little bit more offence, and we're definitely capable of it," Strome said Monday. "So hopeful this is a little spark plug, and we can help out that top line."
'We all know we haven't been good'
Both the Oilers and the Hurricanes went into the season with high expectations. Both have had troubles early on.
"We all know we haven't been good," said Oilers forward Patrick Maroon. "But there's no pressure. It's four games into the season. We have to focus on Carolina."
The Hurricanes have a young, fast team with one of the most mobile defences in the league. Oilers coach Todd McLellan said his team will have to be ready for that.
"Your forecheck has to be strong, and they have to at least earn their escape ice out of their defensive zone," he said. "They make the initial pass and then they jump up, and our forwards are going to have to work extra hard to make we're competing for free ice coming back to our end."
The Hurricanes forwards are young and quick. Left winger Jeff Skinner scored 37 goals last season, and Finnish rookie Sebastian Aho added 24. Hurricanes fans are expecting bigger seasons from centre Victor Rask, and wingers Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen.
Brossoit looked good in the pre-season and in two relief appearances earlier this month. He took over in the second period against Vancouver on Oct. 7 and stopped all 19 shots he faced in a 3-2 loss to the Canucks. He played 19 minutes against the Senators on Saturday at Rogers Place and gave up two goals on 10 shots.
'He deserves the opportunity to start'
"We're four, five games into the season, his games have been pretty strong, so he deserves the opportunity to start," McLellan said. "We're looking for him to improve on his development curve. This year, we expect him to take more on and be productive. And we think tonight is his night when he can start that."
Talbot has made no secret of the fact he's not pleased with his play so far this year. McLellan has also made no secret of his team's plan to have Talbot carry a lighter load this year, after he led the league with 73 starts and tied for the league with 42 wins.
The Hurricanes are expected to give Cam Ward his first start of the season in net. Ward was the team's number one last season, but has given way to Scott Darling, acquired in the off-season from the Chicago Blackhawks. Darling started the first three games this season and surrendered eight goals for a 2.58 GAA and an .893 save percentage.
Defenceman Matt Benning is out with an illness, so Yohann Auvitu will make his second start on the blue line.
Puck drop at Rogers Place goes at 7 p.m.
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