EDMONTON, AB - The Anaheim Ducks come to Rexall Place just one point ahead of the Oilers in the standings. The Ducks have gone 5-4-1 in their last 10, but are 3-1-1 in their last five. Edmonton is hoping for a similar result to the first time these two teams met this season, with the Oilers skating away with a victory (4-3 in overtime).
“Definitely a big game for us here tonight. I think we’re definitely well prepared. Just looking forward to going out there and putting in a good effort,” said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse.
“They have a lot of big, strong forwards who can make you play if you give them too much space. It’s going to take a good, sound positional, hard-working defensive game to come out with the right result. I think everyone is up for the challenge and just looking forward to getting that puck dropped tonight.”
POWER PLAY FOCUS
The Oilers are looking to get their power play going against the Ducks. Since the start of December, the Oilers power play has gone 10 of 13 games without a goal with a 9.4% conversion in that span.
Tonight will be a tough task, as the Ducks have the league’s second-best penalty kill (87.7%).
They’re a team that pushes the pace,” said Oilers defenceman Brandon Davidson. I think they’ve done a great job on their penalty kill. It’s going to be a great test for us here tonight. I don’t expect anything but their best and we’ve got to be up for the challenge.”
Yak is back, but he won’t play tonight. Oilers winger Nail Yakupov skated with the team for the first time since injuring his ankle on November 25, in Carolina.
“When you skate by yourself, it’s a little bit different because you try and set your foot and you’re not doing some kinds of movements,” said Yakupov. “When you skate with the teams, it’s the drills. You’ve got to move the puck, you get open. We did some trills with the boys and your foot is kind of more involved on the ice. I’ve been bored for a month to be here by myself. I pretty much haven’t seen my team for two weeks. It’s good to be back on the ice.”
Yakupov has 12 points (2-10-12) in 22 games this season.
Cam Talbot starts in net tonight for the Oilers.
Iiro Pakarinen and Eric Gryba, both injured, will not play tonight. That means a pair of youngsters draw in. Davidson and Jujhar Khaira will play against the Ducks.
“We think (Davidson is) completely healthy coming back, unless something odd happens. I expect him to get right back to where he was. He’s an aggressive, good skating, smart defenceman and that sounds like something we need,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
Davidson is returning from a rib injury that has kept him out of the lineup since December 19.
“I’m excited,” said Davidson. “I was able to get some rest there during the Christmas break and was able to heal up a few minor, nagging injuries. I feel good here today. It will be a good test here tonight.”
Khaira has sat out since December 17, and Edmonton is hoping the 21-year-old forward comes back in with some fire.
“Very hungry young man,” said McLellan on what they expect from Khaira. “A guy that’s gonna have an impact along the boards, in and around the net. Aggressive. I think he’s had an opportunity to kind of reevaluate and reenergize over the Christmas break, not having played. We’ll give him an opportunity to go back in. He deserves that chance and he’ll get it tonight.”
The Oilers held an optional skate this morning and did not run lines or defensive pairings.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
DUCKS (14-15-6) at OILERS (15-20-3)
TV: KCOP-13, SNW
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in overtime at Honda Center on Nov. 11. Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl had a goal and two assists; he set up the tying goal by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins midway through the third period. Corey Perry scored twice for the Ducks.
Ducks team scope: With the exception of defenseman Cam Fowler, who is on injured reserve with a sprained knee, Anaheim had a full complement of players at practice in Edmonton on Wednesday. Shea Theodore took Fowler's place and made his NHL debut in a 1-0 win against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. He played 15:45 paired with veteran Clayton Stoner. "I played it simple," Theodore told the Ducks website. "It helps when you have a defense partner like Clayton Stoner. He's a simple guy to play with. He made things easy." The Ducks have won back-to-back games to climb past the Oilers and out of the Western Conference basement. Anaheim ends a three-game trip against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday before an eight-game homestand.
Oilers team scope: Defenseman Brandon Davidson could return from a rib injury that has kept him out since Dec. 19. "He had a good practice today," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers website. "I would say that he's pretty much ready to go, unless somebody tells me otherwise after our meeting here." Forward Iiro Pakarinen left a 5-2 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings with an undisclosed injury Tuesday and did not practice Wednesday. He will not play against the Ducks. McLellan said he will use either rookie Jujhar Khaira, who has been a healthy scratch for the past five games, or Rob Klinkhammer if he is ready to return from a sprained ankle. Like Davidson, Klinkhammer has been skating with his teammates the past few days after he was injured on Dec. 15. Forward Matt Hendricks said he will wear a visor after he was hit near the right eye with a high stick against the Kings. The Oilers have lost six out of their past seven games and will play the second of a six-game homestand.