Oilers finally play home game, face Bruins
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The Edmonton Oilers have one of the league's top players in reigning two-time scoring champion Connor McDavid. But heading into their home opener, the spotlight may be on the club's defensive unit as they are tasked with shutting down one of the NHL's top lines.
Edmonton finally plays at Rogers Place on Thursday night when they face the Boston Bruins, who are led by the red-hot trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
The excitement of playing at home for the first time comes after Edmonton (2-2-0) rallied from a three-goal, third-period deficit to top the Winnipeg Jets 5-4 on Tuesday night. That ended the Jets' 11-game regular-season home winning streak.
After salvaging a split of a four-game season-opening road trip that started in Sweden, Oilers coach Todd McLellan wants to see his club play hard from the initial faceoff to the final horn.
"They poured it all out, in my opinion, in the last period and a half. We didn't pour it all out in the first period and a half, and our team cannot afford to waste minutes. It has to be on the line from minute one to minute 60," he said Wednesday.
Tuesday's win also started a stretch in which Edmonton will play six straight games against teams that collected at least 100 points apiece in 2017-18. After facing the Bruins, the Oilers take on the Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins and defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals at Rogers Place before travelling to Nashville.
"This homestand's obviously really important and we're playing some A-class teams," McLellan noted.
Last season, Edmonton was 19-18-4 at home but closed the campaign with three straight losses there.
McDavid had two goals and two assists against the Jets and set an NHL record by having a hand in Edmonton's first nine goals this season. Three of the captain's four goals have come on the power play. He had five such tallies in 2017-18.
"Pucks are going in for him and he's very confident. He's Connor," McLellan said of McDavid, who has 17 goals and 18 assists in his last 16 home games, and a goal with seven assists in five career games versus Boston.
Edmonton and Boston (4-2-0) close the season series with this matchup. McDavid scored early, but Cam Talbot yielded three goals in less than six minutes of the opening period en route to a 4-1 loss to Boston on Oct. 11.
"That's a good team over there," Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse said on Wednesday. "They play hard. They're very skilled. You can't give them too much."
Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak have spearheaded the Bruins' offense so far, combining for 15 of the club's 24 goals. They accounted for two goals and two assists on Wednesday, but Boston's four-game winning streak was snapped with a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.
All three players are riding five-game point streaks. Marchand has two goals and nine assists in that span, while Pastrnak -- who had a goal against Calgary waved off after video review -- has seven goals with three helpers.
With five consecutive multipoint games, Bergeron has been the best of the bunch with six goals and seven assists. He is also the current NHL First Star of the Week.
In 17 career games in Edmonton, Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak have totaled five goals and seven assists.
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy is concerned about the lack of production from the remainder of the team.
"We know we have a line that's going to deliver that every night. We went home and we did get some of that much better balance. You hope that continues. It didn't tonight," Cassidy told the Boston Herald.
Tuukka Rask stopped 23 Flames shots, but is 0-3-2 with a 3.79 goals-against average and .881 save percentage in his last five starts versus Edmonton.
"We left our goalie out to dry, and it could have been worse," Bergeron told the Boston Globe.
It doesn't appear Rask will get the chance to earn a win Thursday. In a tweet from the team earlier in the week, Cassidy said Jaroslav Halak would start against Edmonton. Halak has turned away 73 of 76 shots, including a 25-save effort versus the Oilers one week ago, while winning both of his starts for Boston.
He's given up a total of seven goals while losing each of his last two road starts against Edmonton.
Updated October 18, 2018