EDMONTON — Despite the Florida Panthers' success so far this season, they do not feel they’re in a position to underestimate the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on Sunday.
The Oilers (10-23-9) have played well since interim coach Todd Nelson took over exclusively for Dallas Eakins, who was fired on Dec. 15.
Edmonton has earned points in five of the six games (3-1-2) under Nelson, but has not won two consecutive games since defeating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Nov. 7 and the New York Rangers 3-1 on Nov. 9.
Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish accompanied Nelson through a five-game transition period before stepping aside.
“We know where they’re coming from,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “We were 29th in the league last year, so it’s not like we’re a team that has been at the top of the standings for a long time. We’re having a good year and a good start, but we know they’re a better team than that, they’re playing real hard, playing real well and they’ve lost a lot of games in overtime and late in the game. Their record doesn’t indicate how good of a team they are.”
The Oilers defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on Friday, giving Edmonton their third win in six games since Nelson took over.
“We elevated our play, but it has to continue to get quicker and quicker as we go along,” Nelson said. “In order for us to do that, we have to practice at a higher level and that’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish. If we play at a fast-paced game it gives us a chance every night. We feel good about our last outing, but that’s only one game. We want to focus on doing the right things against Florida. They’re a team that likes to play with a lot of pressure. They’re going to look to get pucks in deep and forecheck us hard so it’s going to be important for us to break the puck out effectively.”
Florida (19-11-9) is on a two-game win streak, defeating the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 on Thursday and Calgary Flames 6-5 on Friday. The Panthers have won three of their first four games of a six-game road trip.
“We have to battle and we have to compete hard. We can’t look at their [Oilers] record,” Gallant said. “The team has played very well the last month and we have to be ready to go and play our game. If we don’t play our game we could be in trouble, because they can skate, they can move the puck and they work real hard.”
Goaltender Ben Scrivens will start for the Oilers. Scrivens made 19 saves in the win against the Blackhawks and has eight of the Oilers 10 wins this season. Goalie Roberto Luongo will start for the Panthers. Luongo made 32 saves in the win against his former team, Vancouver, on Thursday.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jussi Jokinen - Nick Bjugstad - Jimmy Hayes
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Brad Boyes
Sean Bergenheim - Dave Bolland - Tomas Fleischmann
Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Scottie Upshall
Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell - Dmitry Kulikov
Shane O'Brien - Dylan Olsen
Scratched: Brandon Pirri, Aleksander Barkov
Injured: Erik Gudbranson (upper body), Shawn Thornton (groin).
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Benoit Pouliot - Derek Roy - Teddy Purcell
Matt Fraser - Anton Lander – Nail Yakupov
Matt Hendricks - Boyd Gordon – Rob Klinkhammer
Andrew Ference - Jeff Petry
Oscar Klefbom - Mark Fayne
Nikita Nikitin - Justin Schultz
Scratched: Luke Gazdic, Keith Aulie
Injured: Tyler Pitlick (lacerated spleen)
Status report: Nelson said at practice Saturday he expects to go with the same lineup against the Panthers that limited the Blackhawks to 21 shots Friday. Aulie has yet to get into the lineup since serving a two-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Flames forward Matt Stajan on Dec. 31.
Who’s hot: Roy had a goal and two assists in the win against Chicago on Friday. He has two goals and three assists in six games for Edmonton after being acquired in a trade from the Nashville Predators. Huberdeau, Fleischmann, Bergenheim and Boyes all scored a goal and an assist in the win against Calgary. Bolland had two assists.