VANCOUVER, BC -- The Oilers will look to close out the 2015-16 season with back-to-back wins over the Pacific Division rival Vancouver Canucks as they complete the second half of their home-and-home set tonight on the West Coast.
In their last game ever at Rexall Place on Wednesday, the Oil rattled off six goals in the final 40 minutes en route to a 6-2 victory over the Canucks. Patrick Maroon scored twice, while Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid each posted a goal and two assists.
Edmonton will look to carry that momentum into tonight’s game and close out the season with some positive vibes and momentum. With a win, they can also crack the 70-point plateau for the first time since 2011-12.
“Statistically, it may not mean anything, but it means a lot to our group,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We have some of our reset goals that we talked about at the (trade) deadline that we can definitely meet tonight with a good night. There are individuals that can attain some personal goals that they’ve set… We want to come in and play extremely well.”
“We want to end the season on a good note,” echoed winger Zack Kassian, who played parts of the previous four seasons with the Canucks. “We want to play for each other. It’s an important game… You play for the (crest) on your jersey and your teammates in here and the city of Edmonton.”
While Wednesday’s final game at Rexall Place carried plenty of emotional weight for the Oilers, the shoe will be on the other foot tonight as they prepare for a Canucks team looking to give their home crowd a win to close out the season.
“We know the emotion and focus that we had in our last game… I’m sure that Vancouver will have it here,” McLellan said. “I expect a competitive night from our group, a detailed night and one of our better games.”
The Oilers have secured seven of a possible eight points in their four previous meetings with the Canucks this season.
For the Oilers players, tonight’s game presents one last opportunity to make a good impression on the coaching staff and management heading into the off-season.
Kassian, who was acquired by the Oilers from Montreal in exchange for goalie Ben Scrivens on Dec. 28, will be a restricted free agent come July 1 and has expressed his desire to stay with Edmonton. He also has plenty of motivation to secure victories against his former team.
“It’s the last game of the season, but I’m looking forward to playing Vancouver for hopefully many years to come,” said Kassian, who has three goals and five assists in 35 games since the trade. “Beating them each time is going to feel good.”
Another player with a West Coast connection is Vancouver-born defenceman Griffin Reinhart. He has split time between the Oilers and AHL’s Bakersfield Condors this season, so a strong finish tonight would help his quest to secure a full-time NHL roster spot next year.
“A lot of guys are playing for personal reasons too, like myself, just trying to leave good impressions for the team next year,” said Reinhart, who has one assist in 28 NHL games this season. “Hopefully we can continue where we left off last game.”
Cam Talbot gets the nod between the pipes once again for the Oilers, after making 25 saves during Wednesday’s victory over the Canucks. A win tonight would give him 22 on the season, which would be one more than he posted last year as a member of the New York Rangers.
Darnell Nurse had a scary moment during Wednesday’s game when a puck deflected up and struck him in the throat. The blueliner didn’t return to the game, but Coach McLellan said he expects him back in the lineup tonight. Nurse practiced yesterday in Leduc and said he was no worse for wear from the errant shot.
Veteran centreman Mark Letestu will play his 400th NHL game tonight. Only Letestu and Hall will finish the season having played in all 82 of Edmonton’s games.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (31-43-7) at CANUCKS (30-38-13)
TV: 10 p.m., ET; CBC, NHL.TV
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers have won three of four games against the Vancouver Canucks and have a point in each, with the loss 2-1 in overtime Dec. 26 in Vancouver. Forward Lauri Korpikoski scored in overtime for a 2-1 win at Rogers Arena on Oct. 18; Cam Talbot made 40 saves for a 2-0 victory at Rexall Place on March 18; and Oilers rookie Connor McDavid had a goal and two assists in a 6-2 win in the final game at Rexall Place on Wednesday.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse was at practice Friday after leaving the game Wednesday after taking a puck to the throat, and is expected to play. "Doctors have, from what I understand, cleared him, so if he is ready to play, we'll play him," coach Todd McLellan said. "He is a tough customer and that's part of what makes him an attractive player." The Oilers have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10 straight seasons but were tinkering with lines in practice and talked about ending the season on a positive note. "It's disappointing we're not in a playoff spot, we're not even close," said Taylor Hall, who will play with center Ryan-Nugent Hopkins with Pat Maroon taking Hall's spot with McDavid on the top line. "You want to go into year-end meetings with a good feeling."
Canucks team scope: Vancouver didn't practice Friday coming off back-to-back games, which included the loss to the Oilers and a 7-3 loss to the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The Canucks called up forward Mike Zalewski from Utica of the American Hockey League on Friday. It is the second call up for the 23-year-old since signing a contract in January; he had one assist in two games and is expected to replace defenseman Andrey Pedan, who had been playing as a forward, on the fourth line. Vancouver is 3-10-1 in its past 14 games going into the season finale. "This is the worst I've ever been a part of since I've been here," forward Jannik Hansen, who has played nine NHL seasons for the Canucks, said after the loss in Calgary. "It hasn't been very fun.''