DETROIT — Dave Tippett is playing the piano as fast as he can, with seven forwards in his lineup tonight who have yet to score a goal this season, and another (Zack Kassian) riding a nine–game drought.
After a humbling 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday in Edmonton, Tippett spent his time on the flight to Detroit shuffling the deck. His lines emerged from the blender like this:
“It’s a wake-up call for us, and we’re going to respond,” promised Jujhar Khaira, who has disappointed this season. He has zero points and is minus-7 through 12 games, playing 12:16 per night.
“Those are two phenomenal players I get to play with tonight. You want to help out on the score sheet. I have to be up for the challenge, ready to get the puck and ready to shoot. I’m excited.”
With 21 points apiece, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are once again carrying the Oilers, this season to an 8-3-1 record. Honourable mentions go to Oscar Klefbom (1-8-9) and James Neal (10 goals), but the rest of the lineup is simply not pulling its weight.
Alex Chiasson has gone without a shot on goal in three of his past four games. Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Markus Granlund and Khaira have all played over 10 games and do not have a single point yet.
“That we have to play harder,” said Khaira, when asked what message the line juggling sends. “The last game we showed right away — we didn’t battle hard enough and the score showed it. We don’t want that to linger in our games.”
Coming off of a career-high 28-goal season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has just one so far this season. He’ll get a playmaking Sam Gagner on his right side tonight who is hungry for a shot at the top six.
“I can be of value,” Gagner said. “We need to find a way to create some offence. We need to be better. They’ve been looking for stability, but at some point we’ve got to get some results. The way these lines are set up, there is some opportunity for guys.”
The only unit that stays the same is the top one, consisting of McDavid, Draisaitl and Kassian, in a game that will be McDavid’s 300th NHL start. “It feels like yesterday I was playing my first,” he quipped.
The opposition is a slumping Detroit Red Wings team that has lost eight straight — perhaps the perfect tonic for an Oilers team that has gone 1-2-1 in its last four games.
“It’s not about (Detroit). It’s about us,” Gagner said. “We’re not happy with the way we played last game, and we need to have a response. Two of the last three games we haven’t felt like we’ve played to our potential.”
“We’ve been in that position a lot the last couple of years,” Khaira pointed out, “and not once did we go in thinking that we weren’t able to win. They’ll be a desperate team, and we’ll have to match that right away.”
Mikko Koskinen starts for Edmonton, opposing Jimmy Howard in Detroit’s net.