EDMONTON, AB - The Edmonton Oilers continue their six-game homestand tonight when they face the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second time in less than a week.
There will be a couple of changes to the roster tonight compared to Monday's 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nikita Nikitin returns to the lineup for the first time since late January after missing six weeks with a shoulder injury.
“He’s going tonight. He feels good out there so he’s going in. Aulie’s out. He’s going to play with Ference,” said Oilers interim head coach Todd Nelson, adding that it hasn’t been determined who will play on the right side between the two.
“Both guys can do that,” he said.
The other change is Andrew Miller will come into the lineup, having been recalled from AHL Oklahoma City. It was an emergency recall necessitated by Luke Gazdic's illness and Matt Fraser's concussion suffered at the hands of Nazem Kadri.
“Andrew Miller’s on his way up. Luke’s feeling a lot better but we’re going to hold him back for tonight. We have a couple days off after tonight’s game so it’ll do him good.”
MILLER READY FOR NHL DEBUT
Miller was not at morning skate, having just been notified of his call-up following Oklahoma City's game last night at home against Milwaukee. He said that he was naturally excited about the opportunity.
“I’m really excited. I worked hard for this and very excited to be there. Hopefully things go well,” said Miller.
Barons head coach Gerry Fleming added that the recall has been a long time coming for the Barons best forward.
“It’s well deserved. You’re looking at a guy who’s been our most consistent player with and without the puck. He’s been a warrior. Not the biggest guy, but he uses his speed. I think his leadership has come a long way and it’s a well-deserved opportunity for him. I’m sure he’ll make the best of it,” Fleming said, adding that in order for Miller to be successful, he will need to have his offensive game translate to the NHL.
“He needs to use his speed, use his creativity, use his skillset and generate offence.”
Coach Nelson, who is also very familiar with Miller during his time in OKC, talked about his development as a player.
“A couple of things with Andrew. Last year, he got banged up early — at the start of the year — then when he came back he got off to a little bit of a slow start. But as the year progressed, so did he. He started playing really well. This year you’re just seeing a confident guy, knowing the league and putting up some really great numbers. He’s having a really good year down there,” Nelson began.
Miller has 25 goals and 38 assists in 58 games played this season in Oklahoma City to rank first on the team and fifth in the league in scoring.
“He’s a guy that provides speed, he has skill and is smart with the puck. He has the capability of making plays. If anything’s a bit of a surprise, we thought he’d be more of a playmaker — which he still is — but he’s providing offence, scoring goals.”
Anton Lander has picked up his game in a big way for the Oilers. Since the all-star break, he is tied for the team lead with four power play goals. He is also fifth in team scoring despite missing seven games due to injury, with six goals and nine points in 16 games.
Coach Nelson talked about how hard Lander has had to work to get to where he's at right now in his game.
“It wasn’t like that throughout the years that I’ve coached him there. He’s had to work hard at his game, which he has, and he’s seen results,” said Nelson. “There was a time, when he first came to us, he didn’t have a lot of confidence in his game and he really struggled. He worked at it and got better as the season went on.
“Then the next season, he picked it up where he left off and got better and better. You just saw him grow with more confidence down there. This year, he worked extremely hard. He took another step forward and it speaks volumes with his character. He took it upon himself every day after practice to work on the things he needed to work on by himself. Nobody else was pushing him, he was doing it on his own and now he’s getting rewarded.”
Lander had 31 points in 29 games this season with Oklahoma City, 52 points in 46 games last year after 25 points in 61 games his first two AHL campaigns.
“I saw him play down there very well. We saw that offensive side to him. And everybody was waiting for that to translate up here, and now it finally has. He’s been playing good hockey for us, getting rewarded with some goals and we’re seeing the Anton Lander that we all expect.”
GAZDIC ALMOST READY
After missing Monday's game with a chest infection, Luke Gazdic felt a lot better having skated with the team today but said he wasn't quite 100%.
“Not fully back to normal yet, I don’t think, but I feel a lot better than I did a couple of days ago,” said Gazdic. “It was a chest infection going around. I had all the flu symptoms. They sent me home from the rink and basically told me 48 hours to stay away.”
Gazdic has a couple of goals since the all-star break but perhaps more importantly is +1 in 17 games as his line hasn't given up much at all to the opposition.
“I have to credit a couple of people, one of them would be Nelly behind the bench. He’s had confidence in me that I haven’t had, in my game, in a while. He’s allowed me the opportunity to basically make mistakes. He’s given me opportunities to play even after I’ve made a mistake on the ice here and there,” Gazdic began.
“My linemate Gordo’s (Boyd Gordon) been great for me. He’s dumbed down my game a little bit and that’s allowed us to have a lot of offensive time.”
Nelson said that he's been happy with both sides of Gazdic's game.
“Defensively, he’s doing a good job. But also, when the puck comes around on the breakout, he has more poise with it and he’s making plays. Offensively, he’s hanging onto it down on the cycle and doing a good job with that and using his body. Those two things come to mind. And he’s playing more confident.”
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
BLUE JACKETS (30-35-4) at OILERS (19-39-12)
TV: FS-O, SNOL
Season series: Mark Dano had a goal and an assist, and Scott Hartnell scored the tying goal in the third period for the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 5-4 shootout win against the Edmonton Oilers six days ago. Jordan Eberle had a goal and an assist for Edmonton.
Blue Jackets team scope: Columbus has three games in Western Canada in four days, playing the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and Calgary Flames on Saturday. Forward Boone Jenner, who has missed three months with a back injury, returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since Dec. 18. "It just gives everyone confidence," coach Todd Richards told the Blue Jackets website. "You're adding a good young player into our lineup, a guy that's important in our organization going forward and important in our locker room." Jenner, who skated with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, will be on the road trip; so will forward Jeremy Morin (chest), who hasn't played since Jan. 27. Forward Brandon Dubinsky (undisclosed) is questionable.
Oilers team scope: Forward Matt Fraser sustained a concussion Monday after taking a hit to the chin from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri in the third period of a 4-1 win and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, Edmonton coach Todd Nelson said. Nelson did not rule out the possibility of adding a player from Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League if necessary. "Hopefully [Matt] can heal up quick and get back in the lineup," forward Ryan Hamilton told the Oilers website. The win ended a seven-game losing streak; the Oilers haven't won two straight since Jan. 17-20, nor two in a row in regulation since Nov. 7-9. Forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has three goals and seven assists in his past five games. Forward Luke Gazdic (illness) was scratched Monday and didn't skate Tuesday.