News, notes and more from Sunday, including the Oilers signing Cam Talbot to a three-year contract extension with comments from Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli.
SUNRISE, FL - Eight days ago, the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers participated in a heated, physical affair at Rexall Place, complete with three fights, 66 hits combined and an ensuing suspension.
All three goals were scored in the opening frame, two by the Panthers, resulting in a 2-1 loss for the Oilers. They’ll get their rematch tonight at the BB&T Center, looking to build off Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Flames and improve upon their 5-14-4 road record.
While their road numbers aren’t strong, the Oilers are, however, 10-8-1 against Eastern Conference opponents this season. The Panthers, meanwhile, have won seven consecutive games on home ice but are coming off three straight losses to close out their road trip.
Oilers winger Matt Hendricks was at the centre of the rough stuff when the teams met in Edmonton.
The veteran fought Florida’s Alex Petrovic in the second period, saying post-game the scrap was a result of the defenceman agitating Oilers blueliner Darnell Nurse. Then, in the third period, Hendricks hit Panthers d-man Aaron Ekblad into the end boards, resulting in another fight with Logan Shaw.
The hit on Ekblad injured the 2015 Calder Trophy winner, and the next day the NHL deemed Hendricks should be suspended for three games. After missing games vs. Arizona, San Jose and Calgary, tonight marks Hendricks’ return to action.
“I just look to add a little energy tonight, a little defensive responsibility and a little help on the penalty kill,” he said. “It’ll be a physical game. It’s a physical team over there. They’ve got big men, especially on their back end. We look forward to this.”
Hendricks’ coach and teammates are looking forward to his return as well.
“Matty’s good in the face-off circle, he provides a lot of energy and leadership for our team,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “He plays the game hard and provides that penalty-kill element.”
“He brings the heart and the compete every single night,” added defenceman Brandon Davidson. “It’s great to have a guy like that. He really energizes the room and gets everybody going. It’s huge to have him back.”
ARMED & READY
With the possibility of another highly physical affair tonight, the Oilers are injecting some size into the lineup as Luke Gazdic will play for the first time since New Year’s Eve vs. Anaheim.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound winger certainly won’t shy away from the rough stuff if tonight's rematch takes a similar tone, but he stresses that won’t be the team’s focus.
“We had a bit of a chippy one with Florida last time we played,” Gazdic said. “Some stuff happened in the previous game, and you’re never sure if there’s going to be a carry-over, but we’re just concerned about coming in and getting a win. If that stuff happens, we’re obviously ready for it. But we have a goal in mind, and that’s to come in and get two points.”
“Florida has a big, strong team and Gaz is a big, strong guy, so it makes sense,” Coach McLellan said. “It will be a competitive night, just like it is every other night.”
Gazdic has played 27 of Edmonton’s 46 games this season, scoring a goal and accumulating 22 PIM. He’ll play with Hendricks and Iiro Pakarinen tonight, looking to inject some energy into the lineup.
“A little grit, a little toughness,” he said of his goals for tonight. “Me and Hendo work well together, and Pak on the right side should be a nice addition… We’re looking to come in and just work, basically.”
The Panthers are also dressing some more muscle, putting Shawn Thornton back in the lineup.
CAM’S THE MAN
Fresh off agreeing to terms on a three-year contract extension on Sunday, goalie Cam Talbot gets the call between the pipes tonight for the Oilers.
This will be the 28-year-old’s 11th start in Edmonton’s last 13 games, as he’s been excelling with a .941 save percentage during that span.
“I feel extremely confident,” Talbot said last night upon arrival in Florida. “I think it’s some of the best hockey I’ve played in my career. I’m starting to get really comfortable with what (Oilers Goalie Coach) Dustin (Schwartz) has been teaching all year.”
Talbot also acknowledges the team’s overall defensive improvement as part of his recent success.
“The guys in front of me have been playing a lot tighter in the D zone,” he said. “We’re not giving up a whole lot of Grade A chances, and when we do we’re there to clear out the rebounds or tie up sticks… I’ve just been focusing on stopping the first shot and the guys have been great in front of me trying to limit those second chances. That’s been big for us.”
Lauri Korpikoski blocked a shot with his skate on Saturday vs. Calgary and will miss both games in Florida as his foot recovers. Coach McLellan said he hopes the Finn will be able to return on Thursday in Dallas.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (18-23-5) at PANTHERS (26-14-5)
TV: SNW, FS-F
Season series: The Florida Panthers defeated the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 at Rexall Place on Jan. 10. Panthers forwards Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau each scored a goal, and center Mark Letestu scored a goal for Edmonton. All three goals were scored in the first period. Panthers backup goalie Al Montoya made 24 saves for his seventh win of the season.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton begins a three-game road trip with back-to-back games against Florida and the Tampa Bay Lightning, followed by a game against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Left wing Taylor Hall, Edmonton's leading scorer with 46 points (16 goals, 26 assists), has two points (one goal, one assist) in his past nine games. Edmonton signed goalie Cam Talbot to a three-year, $12.5 million contract extension on Sunday, one day after he made 31 saves in a 2-1 shootout win against the Calgary Flames. Talbot has a .949 save percentage in his past five games and has worked his way into the No. 1 job. "I judge it not just over this last stretch, where he's been very good, but from what I've seen before," general manager Peter Chiarelli told the Oilers website.
Panthers team scope: Montoya is expected to make his 11th start of the season after Roberto Luongo played Sunday in a 3-1 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning. After a franchise-record 12 straight wins, the Panthers have lost three games in a row. "We needed to compete harder, put pucks on the net," coach Gerard Gallant said. Despite the losing streak, Florida still leads the Atlantic Division with 57 points. Center Nick Bjugstad scored a goal in the third period against Tampa, his first since Nov. 21 against the New York Rangers. Florida plays its final four games before the All-Star break at BB&T Center.