Oilers’ Klefbom to return vs. Blackhawks (Dec 29, 2017)

EDMONTON, Alberta — Oscar Klefbom said he “feels good to go” to rejoin the Edmonton Oilers for their home date against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night.

Klefbom has been nagged by a shoulder problem throughout the season but had played through the pain. When veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera came off injured reserve on Dec. 21, Klefbom was placed on IR, so he could get some needed rest and come back at 100 percent. Klefbom missed three games, including a 4-3 loss at Winnipeg on Wednesday.

“He’s had some problems,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “Not severe enough to keep him out of the lineup, but bad enough to affect his play. … He looks a lot more chipper; he looks a little more confident now. I think the time off helped him. We expect him to be in the lineup tomorrow unless something cramps up overnight.”

Klefbom said, “It’s been a rough season. It started in early September. There’s been a lot of medication and tough games. It feels a lot better now. It was a good Christmas break for me to recover, and I feel ready to go (Friday).”

Klefbom’s shoulder struggles mirrored the Oilers’ struggles. He had just nine points in 33 games and was a minus-8. The Oilers are 17-18-2 and are five points out of a playoff spot.

But, the team has made up significant ground over the last couple of weeks and has pulled into the playoff race. Likewise, Klefbom is looking forward to a much better second half.

“I don’t want to make any excuses; but, obviously, it’s pretty tough you know when you’re not 100 percent,” he said. “I just want to focus on (Friday’s) game right now. It’s been a good break for me, and I’m just looking forward to getting on the ice again.”

With Sekera and Klefbom able to play in the same game for the first time this season, coach McLellan will be able to shuffle his defensemen. Brandon Davidson had been the sixth defenseman, while Eric Gryba and Yohann Auvitu had been scratched over the Oilers’ pre-Christmas run, which had seen them win four straight. On Thursday, Auvitu practiced as a winger, not as a rearguard.

This will be the Blackhawks’ second game since starting goalie Corey Crawford was placed on injured reserve. Crawford had a .929 save percentage for Chicago this season. Jeff Glass, the Canadian veteran who enjoyed an excellent run in the KHL, was called up to play behind Anton Forsberg, who has been thrust into the starting role.

Glass, despite enjoying a great career in Russia, has yet to play an NHL game.

“As a pro athlete, or as an athlete at all, you should always view it that way, that it’s your last chance or your only chance,” he said. “You usually only get one chance. I am very lucky to be here right now. I am going to try to make the most of my opportunity and help this team win.”

But the post-Crawford injury didn’t start well. The Blackhawks (17-14-5) dropped a 5-2 decision in Vancouver on Thursday, with Forsberg saving 26 of 31 shots.

The Blackhawks’ road swing takes them to Edmonton and then Calgary after the stop in Vancouver. Without their top goalie, the Hawks face three teams that could be in the playoff fight with them at the end of the season, as all four teams on the outside looking in at the moment.

“This is a great test, knowing that this could be our most critical part of the year,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said before the trip began.

“We trust our goalies that they’re going to get it done. Let’s find a way in front of them … to get these guys some wins.”

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