Edmonton arrives for an old-time Smythe Division meeting as one of the league's top surprises, having won seven of eight games. The latest was a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, which coach Dave Tippett said he was happier about than his team's previous victory, a 6-3 defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers in which the Oilers were outshot by a staggering 52-22 count.
"The goal is a lot bigger than winning on a Wednesday night, seventh game of the year," Tippett told Postmedia.
"To win a game that your goaltender steals or your star player has five points, it all looks fancy on the scoreboard, but those two points don't earn you the right to be a playoff team. It's how you play over 82 games and how you build your team that earns you that right."
Improving at winning close, tight-checking games is a big step forward for the Oilers. Their high-end talent can rack up goals, but one reason the franchise has made the playoffs only once in the past 13 seasons is a lack of willingness to consistently tighten up defensively.
"There were some things we needed to clean up in our game and I thought we did for the most part," defenseman Darnell Nurse told Postmedia. "That's a good thing. If you're winning and you're still looking for ways to get better, that's a good sign for our group.
"We all know how we played. You always leave the rink with a pretty good realization of how your game went, whether it was good or bad. We had the realization that we needed to be better, the coaches reinforced it, and we found a way to have a way better performance."
Winnipeg, which lost 3-1 to the visiting New York Islanders on Thursday, has dropped three straight -- all on home ice -- by a combined score of 14-5. The Jets are struggling in part due to a decimated defense corps.
The Jets scored first in each of those losses, but they are among the worst teams in the league in goals against and shots allowed and by far have the NHL's worst penalty kill, with just a 56.3 percent kill rate -- which doesn't bode well for this game as Edmonton boasts a power play that is clicking at 41.7 percent.
"It just seems when it rains, it pours," captain Blake Wheeler said. "Sometimes you try a little bit too hard and it's almost worse. The confidence is a little bit low on that right now. We have to start from the bottom and rebuild ourselves on the penalty kill, be committed to eating some pucks and doing whatever it takes to keep the thing out of our net."
It appears the Jets will receive a roster boost. Second-line center Bryan Little is poised to make his season debut after missing the first nine games due to a concussion suffered in the final preseason game.
--Field Level Media