EDMONTON, AB - Edmonton welcomes the red-hot Minnesota Wild to town, who enter Rogers Place on the heels of a back-to-back. The visitors defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on Friday and are now 8-2-0 in their last 10 games.
They are third in the Central Division with a 39-22-7 record to go along with 85 points. Despite sitting in a playoff position, the club is desperate to ensure they gain entry to the postseason.
"They're a very good team," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "They score a ton of goals; their special teams are clicking. It'll be a tough task for us tonight."
Minnesota's blueline set a franchise record for points by defencemen in a season against the Canucks last night. The squad's defence crew has 170 points this season in 69 games. Last year, the club set the record with 169 in 82 games.
"They're one of the top producing offensive teams from the blueline right now in the League," continued McLellan. "They're well-rounded. They get everything.
"They're desperate and so are we."
BUILDING FOR NEXT SEASON
The Oilers simply want to see growth internally the rest of the way. The club is looking to win games, build confidence and develop proper habits to take into next season.
"We want to take steps as a group moving forward," said defenceman Adam Larsson. "We want to win, even if we're not in the best position right now. We still want to win every single game and that's what we're striving for here."
Darnell Nurse stressed finding positives at this time of the year and referenced his team's resilience. Edmonton rallied from a one-goal deficit late Thursday to defeat the New York Islanders 2-1 in a shootout.
"We've been resilient," said Nurse. "Even when we're in tough spots, we're finding ways to get back in games or win games. We've really been out there playing hard with good habits. That needs to continue, especially in the last 15 games."
McLellan also wants some of his veterans to end the season on high notes.
"We're talking about guys that have played in the League for a long time that only have one month of hockey left," he said. "We want them heading into the summer as confident as they can and feeling better about their games."
CAN'T STAAL HIS OFFENCE
Veteran forward Eric Staal is having a productive season. The 33-year-old scored his 37th goal of the campaign on Friday and is up to 68 points in 68 games.
"He's a big body with a good shot," Larsson said of Staal. "He's got all the tools."
Staal's production is a hot topic for Edmonton's blueline as they try to limit his offensive output.
"With his size, strength and experience, he finds a way to beat you," said Nurse. "It's going to be a tough matchup tonight and I think we're all looking forward to the challenge."
Not only do they have to worry about Staal but there are plenty other forwards the Wild have that present difficulty.
"It's not just him (Staal) on that team, they still have playmakers in (Mikael) Granlund, (Jason) Zucker and those guys," said Larsson.
"It's going to be a good test."
McLellan disclosed defenceman Oscar Klefbom underwent a procedure and will likely be out for the next few games.
"He had a minor procedure - a small one - done that's going to keep him out for a couple games," said McLellan.
Management is still trying to decide whether or not they should keep Klefbom from game action for the remainder of the season.
"Part of what is going on right now with Klef is to determine that," said McLellan.
As a result, rookie defenceman Ethan Bear could see more time on the ice moving forward.
"We think he's gaining valuable experience," said McLellan. "Going forward, we think he can push and perhaps solidify a full-time spot here with a high-end summer of training and getting prepared."
The Oilers held an optional skate. Lineups will be made apparent at warmups.