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OILERS (11-8-2) at WILD (13-5-3)
TV: SNET-West, FS-North (HD), FS-Wisconsin (HD)
Last 10: Edmonton 4-6-0; Minnesota 8-2-0
Season Series: This is the third of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals. The Wild came back from one-goal deficits to win 2-1 in a shootout in both previous meetings, running their current winning streak against the Oilers to nine. The Wild has won the last 17 meetings against the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center since a 2-1 loss on Jan. 16, 2007.
Big Story: The Wild - winner of five straight and 10 of 12 - are the hottest team in the League not named Boston. Edmonton has cooled of late, but is still capable of scoring in bunches (see the Oilers' 9-2 win over Chicago for reference). The Oilers need more consistency and focus over 60 minutes, qualities the Wild have relied upon in their recent success.
Oilers: Edmonton got off to a torrid start, but four straight losses Nov. 10-17 brought the kids back to reality. The young Oilers' youthful nature is manifesting itself as mercurial production. After torching Chicago for nine goals on Saturday, the Oilers managed just one goal on 18 shots two days later against Dallas. They followed that with another big offensive showing, a 6-2 win at Nashville 24 hours later. Coach Tom Renney said his team must find a balance.
"We've got to identify with a level of play and a standard of play and a commitment to doing the little things every night," Renney said. "When we do that, we're fine. But we have a tendency to give the puck up and turn it over and try to get fancy. There are no style points in this League. The bottom line is that, especially on the road, you have to play a real simple game."
Wild: The casual hockey fan might be in disbelief about the transformation in St. Paul, but rest assured no one on the Minnesota bench shares their sentiment. After Wednesday's 3-2 win over Nashville, winger Cal Clutterbuck spoke of the belief and resilience that have vaulted the Wild to the top of the Western Conference.
"That's the thing. That's why we're succeeding right now is just the resilience," said Clutterbuck, who scored the eventual game-winner. "They didn't have enough gas to keep up. We put one in and there's no looking back from there."
Who's Hot: To say the Oilers offense flows through Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is an understatement. The precocious rookie had five assists against Chicago - most ever for an 18-year-old in one game - scored the Oilers' lone goal at Dallas and added two more helpers against Nashville. He's got 22 points on the season, good for 10th in the League and tops among rookies.
Injury Report: Edmonton's defense is badly depleted, with Ryan Whitney still day-to-day with a knee injury while Cam Barker (ankle), Andy Sutton (groin), and Corey Potter (ankle) are all out.… Minnesota's Marek Zidlicky (concussion) was put on injured reserve to make room for an emergency goalie prior to the Nashville game, and winger Guillaume Latendresse is also out with a concussion.
Stat Pack: Should regular starter Niklas Backstrom be back in the crease Friday, it should be interesting to see how the Edmonton offense responds. Backstrom has conceded just four goals in his past three games - all of which he won, including a shutout - and is one of just three goalies to hold the Oilers to one goal or fewer this season, which he did in both previous matchups.
Puck Drop: Whoever steps in the crease Friday for Minnesota, it's unlikely to be 51-year-old recreational goaltender Paul Deutsch, though he almost got his chance on Wednesday. Minnesota signed Deutsch to an amateur contract as an emergency fill-in for Backstrom, who missed the game for undisclosed personal reasons. He suited and competed in warm-ups, but third-choice Matt Hackett - recalled from the Houston Aeros but delayed in arriving - made it to Xcel Energy Center in time to get on the roster behind Harding.