With three straight wins to kick off the campaign, the Edmonton Oilers are ready to hit the road, but they are aware the task ahead is to improve their play as well as claim more victories.
As the Oilers kick off a quick two-game sojourn with a Thursday clash against the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz., it’s with the plan to perform to a higher standard than they did Tuesday in a 6-5 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
When teams are winning, a difficult task for coaches can be preventing complacency, but the players are aware they must elevate their game going forward.
“It definitely wasn’t one of our best efforts,” Edmonton forward Zack Kassian said. “It was a big third period by our group. The second period was pretty ugly, but we found a way. I think good teams find ways to win. In the past years, we would’ve found ways to lose that game. … Whenever you can start the year 3-0, it’s a positive step.”
A trip with consecutive-night clashes against the Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights is an early-season opportunity to focus on details now that the players have a handle on the style expected.
“It’s exciting to go on the road,” Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl said. “It’s exciting to see different teams and go up against them. I think we’re all looking forward to this road trip. It’s going to be fun. A couple of hard games, but we’re ready for it and excited.”
Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen, who took the net for the first time this season on Tuesday when No. 1 netminder Mike Smith was injured, likely will get the start. Late Wednesday afternoon, the Oilers put Smith on the injured list due to a lower-body ailment and summoned Stuart Skinner from Bakersfield of the AHL.
While the Oilers have started the season on a positive, the Coyotes are at the other end of the spectrum. Arizona has lost all three games to kick off the campaign, the latest a 7-4 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in Monday’s home opener. The Coyotes held a 2-1 lead before surrendering five second-period goals in a span of 5:07.
“We did a lot of good things and did enough to be happy about ourselves, but it’s the NHL. It’s the best league in the world,” Arizona coach Andre Tourigny said. “You cannot have that kind of a five minutes. You’re playing against a team that just won the Stanley Cup three years ago. You need to sustain, and that’s the frustrating part.”
The Coyotes have already had games in which they surrendered seven and eight goals. A key moving forward will be to not lose confidence.
“When they scored the second goal, after (that), we got emotional. We were not there mentally, that is not us, we cannot do that,” Tourigny said. “We have a good group of hard-working players who can play tight together and we showed it during that game and did a lot of good things, but if we don’t stay relentless, that is what will happen.”
Coyotes defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere added, “I know we’re a very new team and a lot of different guys, but I think we just need to make it easier on ourselves and just go out there and play hockey.”