EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers get a boost to their offence tonight when they host the Philadelphia Flyers at Rexall Place. Taylor Hall makes his return to the lineup after missing 23 of the last 24 games with an ankle injury. Even with all that missed time, Hall is third on the team in scoring with 30 points (11-19-30).
“Yeah, I think I’m going to play and I’m excited to play again, to get back out with the boys and get in the battle again,” Hall said. “It has been a long time and a tough year, injury wise, but I’m excited to play again.”
Hall will play on a line with Anton Lander and Andrew Miller. He will also play on the power play unit that includes Nail Yakupov, Derek Roy, Benoit Pouliot and either Nikita Nikitin or Oscar Klefbom at the point.
“Taylor has great speed and he is an impact player. It gives us quite a bit flexibility with our lines,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said.
Tonight marks the second and final meeting of the season between the Oilers and Flyers. The first ended in a 4-1 Flyers win at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the lone goal scorer for Edmonton and Steve Mason stopped 35 of 36 shots.
Mason starts for the Flyers again tonight.
Hall returns tonight, not in his usual spot. Instead of playing with Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, Hall will skate on a line with Lander and Miller.
The Oilers do not want to disrupt the chemistry the top two lines, who are really going right now. Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Pouliot and Yakupov are all on point streaks of four games or more.
“I think the thought process is that Yak’s playing so well with Roysy and Teddy and Ebs and Nuge are playing great with Benoit,” Hall said. “I’m not too big of a personality that I can’t fit in elsewhere. I think that’s the thought process. If we’re going to be a good team, obviously this year is a little bit toast but in the future if we’re going to be a good team, we have to have a few scoring lines and some depth. To get other guys involved and to get Anton playing with someone like myself, I think is exciting for me and exciting for him too.”
Nelson says he had a conversation with Hall, laying out his plan for the winger’s return.
“I told him what I was thinking of doing and he was good with it and he understands the other two lines have some chemistry right now,” Nelson said. “It’s his first game back and it’s a good opportunity for him to go out there and show what he’s able to do. Coming off of injury, we’ll have to see how he manages his minutes tonight. He’s playing with a centreman that’s been playing well for us and we feel that putting Andrew on the right side provides Anton two wingers with a lot of speed. Obviously, if things aren’t working we can always change.”
Putting Hall on that line helps Lander too, who really seems to be finding a rhythm.
“Anton has been making some good plays and when you put a guy like Taylor on the other side of him, Taylor has the ability to finish. In theory, it looks good right now,” Nelson said.
“I think he’s been playing awesome,” Hall said of Lander. “He’s a guy that, in the last couple months, he has started to play well for us and he seems to be a really reliable player in any spot on the ice. So I’m excited. I think he’s excited as well. Hopefully it’s going to be a fun night.”
With Hall returning to the lineup and Luke Gazdic on the returning from illness, the Oilers had a decision to make with recalled forward Andrew Miller. The 26-year-old winger was recalled on emergency basis on March 18, and made his NHL debut against Columbus that night.
If Miller plays again tonight, which he will, that emergency tag gets erased and becomes a full recall. It will be the Oilers fourth and final post-trade deadline recall of the season.
“We’re using our fourth with Andrew. He’s playing tonight,” Nelson confirmed.
Nelson was impressed with some of the things Miller did in his debut and hopes he can show them again, playing with Hall and Lander.
“I thought he did some really good things with the puck,” Nelson said. “He made some plays, he used his speed, I expect the same out of him tonight. I think getting acclimated up here the last couple days is going to help. He should be well rested. The last time he played it was four games in five nights so hopefully he has a good burst of energy. We’re just looking for a lot of the same things he did last game because he provided some good looks for us.”
Oilers Captain Andrew Ference will play in his 900th NHL regular season game when he takes the ice tonight at Rexall Place. After being selected by Pittsburgh in the eighth round of the 1997 NHL Draft, Ference has played 899 games for the Penguins, Flames, Bruins and Oilers.
“At the end of the day, just keep going,” Ference said. “Honestly, it’s great. Every game you get a chance to play is awesome. They start racking up and I guess that’s kind of neat. There’s a novelty of a nice round number. At the end of the day, you just get the memories. Obviously, the more important number to me is playoff games, series and stuff like that.”
Ference has played in 120 playoff games in the NHL, winning a Stanley Cup with Boston.
“Andrew is an excellent athlete,” Nelson said. “He keeps himself in tremendous shape and that’s one thing. He’s a pro in how he takes care of himself and that’s a big reason why he’s able to play that many games so that’s a credit to him.”
QUICK NOTES: Edmonton has a record of 6-3-1 in their last 10 games against the Flyers. Jordan Eberle has 12 points (4-8-12) in his six-game point streak. Anton Lander has five goals in his last 10 games, after having just three in his previous 111. Philadelphia has scored four goals against the Oilers in four of their last five games (all Flyers wins). Chris VandeVelde, a fourth-round pick of the Oilers in 2005, has nine goals and six assists in 63 games with the Flyers this season.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
FLYERS (29-29-15) at OILERS (19-39-13)
TV: CSN-PH, CBC
Season series: Jakub Voracek had two goals and the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 on Nov. 4 in Philadelphia. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored for the Oilers.
Flyers team scope: Matt Read practiced Friday and will be in the lineup Saturday, days after the birth of his first child, Roen Brittan Read. Read had just arrived Monday in Vancouver with the Flyers when he got the call to travel to Minnesota to be with his wife, Erin. "I got the call saying that everyone's healthy but we have to induce Erin three weeks early," Read told the Flyers website Friday. "It's a call you're excited to have but you're not sure what's going on, if everyone's healthy. It's nerve-wracking, it's a long flight home." The baby was born Tuesday; she weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces, but Read said mom and the baby are home from the hospital and resting comfortably. With Read back, coach Craig Berube said he'll play with six defensemen but had not decided who would sit out. Berube also wouldn’t commit to a starting goaltender; Steve Mason was pulled in the second period of a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Thursday after allowing two goals on 16 shots.
Oilers team scope: Left wing Taylor Hall has played one game since Jan. 20 because of a leg injury, but could return to the lineup. At practice Friday, Hall skated on a line with center Anton Lander and right wing Curtis Hamilton. "Right now, we haven't made a concrete decision on where he'll play," coach Todd Nelson told the Oilers website. "He was playing with Anton today. That's something we'll discuss as a group. First and foremost we have to make sure he's 100 percent healthy." Hall said he felt good after practice and would like to play soon but didn't commit. He said whenever he returns he knows he won't be back to full speed right away. "It's really tough to be 100 percent without playing games," Hall said. "You can bag [skate] yourself as much as you want in practice. … No matter if I practice for two weeks more, I think if I came back in a game, I'd be tired the first two or three shifts." Defenseman Oscar Klefbom was given a maintenance day Friday but could play against the Flyers.