EDMONTON – Still stinging from the worst home defeat in franchise history, the Edmonton Oilers expect to be facing a tough crowd at Rexall Place when the Minnesota Wild come calling Friday.
Humiliated 10-2 by the Buffalo Sabres in a loss coach Craig MacTavish characterized as a “debacle of monumental proportions,” the Oilers can’t wait for the puck to drop against Minnesota.
Who can blame them?
On Tuesday night, a sellout crowd urged the visiting Sabres to hit double digits in goals by chanting: “We want 10! We want 10!” The Oilers were also booed off the ice.
“It’s important that when you get beaten as handily as we did, the urgency in your game reflects the urgency of the situation,” MacTavish said after putting the Oilers through their paces Thursday.
Fresh and rested from a five-day break during NHL all-star festivities, the Oilers faced the Sabres brimming with confidence after they’d fashioned an impressive roll, five wins in their previous six games, to climb into sixth place in Western Conference standings.
The obvious challenge for the Oilers is to regroup and regain that confidence before facing a Minnesota team that arrives with the same record, 24-20-3, and is coming off a 6-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“For us as professionals, we’re going to regroup and we’re going to put forth a good effort,” said defenceman Sheldon Souray. “We were embarrassed. There’s not much more to say about that.
“It’s another important game and it makes it doubly as important when you have a loss like we had.”
While MacTavish and his players would prefer to think of the loss to Buffalo as a one-off – or not think of it at all – this wasn’t the first time they’ve been embarrassed at home.
In December, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Oilers 9-2 at Rexall Place, where MacTavish’s team is a modest 11-9-3. That seven-goal drubbing equalled the team record for the most lopsided defeat at home.
“We’ve been through tough situations in here before,” said veteran Steve Staios. “It’s up to each individual to be strong mentally and get themselves ready to play. That’s part of being a professional athlete. That’s the responsibility we have.
“If you sit on it too long, you’re going to be a negative factor to your teammates. It’s all about attitude and professionalism.”
The Oilers stumbled after the Chicago loss, losing 4-2 to Vancouver and 3-2 to Anaheim. Clinging to eighth place and facing Minnesota twice, as well as Nashville and Chicago, in their next six games, another miss-step could drop them three places in the standings.
“We’ve got to play with some smarts, play with some composure and be in the right positions,” Staios said. “Sometimes, the more you try, the less the result. We’ve got to make sure that we think the game well, especially against a team with the structure Minnesota has.”
The Oilers play the Wild five times in their final 35 games. Minnesota beat them 5-1 at the Xcel Energy Center Jan. 15.
“Minnesota is a team that thrives on turnovers and impatience,” said MacTavish. Their No. 1 attribute as a team is trying to make you beat yourself.
“They prey on frustration. We have to make sure we play a heady game. We have to expend some mental energy along with some physical energy.”
Notes: The Oilers have recalled forward Ryan Potulny from Springfield of the AHL to fill-in for the injured Sam Gagner (ankle). This is the second callup for Potulny, who leads the Falcons in scoring with 33 points in 38 games. Potulny had three assists in four games in his first stint with the Oilers earlier this month.