EDMONTON - And so we meet again.
Exactly one week after hosting the Edmonton Oilers in their home opener at Scottrade Center, the Blues find themselves at Rexall Place for the Oilers’ home opener tonight (8 p.m. CT, FSMW, KMOX).
And what a special night it will likely be.
Tonight will be the final home opener at Rexall Place, a building that has been home to the Oilers since 1974 and has housed five Stanley Cup championship teams that included players such as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr. Tonight, the next big star - 2015 first overall pick Connor McDavid - will make his debut in front of the Oilers’ faithful, who have waited for this moment since June.
“I went to a few games growing up here, and I remember my first game here. It was a long time ago, but it’s a special place,” said Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, a native of Edmonton. “When you’re young and you move away from home, you don’t see your family very much. (I'm excited) to come home and play in front of everybody. It’s a neat old building to say goodbye to, I guess.”
After this season, the Oilers will move to the heart of downtown in the new 18,500-seat Rogers Place.
“I walked by that building yesterday and that gets you excited. You look at that building, you look at what that’s going to do (for Edmonton),” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I was here when downtown was alive. To see it come back, and to see what’s going on down there is so impressive. You just know it’s going to be the central point of the city.”
But enough about next season. Let’s talk about tonight.
The Blues beat the Oilers a week ago thanks to goals from Vladimir Tarasenko, Robby Fabbri and Troy Brouwer. Brian Elliott turned aside 23 shots in the 3-1 win, but it wasn’t an easy game by any means.
In their home opener tonight, Hitchcock expects more of the same.
“We were in a fight for our lives in the first game. We got a little bit of spacing in the third, but not much,” Hitchcock said. “This is a way different team, the way they play defensively, their gaps, their track and reload, their checking is way different than I’ve seen for five years now. If they’re going to dial in and play this way with their skill level, they’re going to be a hard team to play against.”
The Oilers are still looking for their first win, going 0-3 on a three-game road trip to start the season.
The Blues will play at Rexall Place once more after tonight (March 16), but Jaden Schwartz said he’d cherish his last few appearances in this building.
“On the ice today for the morning skate, someone was talking about old and new rinks,” Schwartz said. “I thought about it for a second, that it would be my second-to-last game in this building. It will be neat to finish off here.
"There’s a lot of history in this building, but we want to make sure we’re leaving our best out there.”
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been labeled day-to-day with a lower-body injury he sustained in Tuesday’s 4-3 win against the Flames.
Shattenkirk left the game in the second period and did not return.
“Shatty probably will not play in Edmonton,” Hitchcock said after Wednesday’s practice. “We didn’t practice him … just precautionary-wise, but we’ll see here in the next few days how he turns out.”
With Shattenkirk likely out of the lineup, the defensive pairs get shaken up for tonight’s game. Robert Bortuzzo draws in while Chris Butler, who was called up from the Chicago Wolves on Wednesday, will be the team’s extra defenseman tonight.
Steen - Stastny - Tarasenko
Schwartz - Lehtera - Brouwer
Jaskin - Backes - Upshall
Ott - Brodziak - Reaves
Bouwmeester - Pietrangelo
Gunnarsson - Parayko
Edmundson - Bortuzzo
Tarasenko has nine points in nine career games against Edmonton (five goals, four assists).
Brian Elliott will make his second consecutive start in goal tonight. He has won five straight games against the Oilers, giving up just six goals in that span (1.18 goals-against average, .950 save percentage).
The Blues have started strong on the draw again, winning a League-leading 58.6 percent of their face-offs through three games. Last season, the Blues were second in the League in face-off wins (53.4%), trailing only Boston’s 53.6%.