EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers, 4-4-2 in their last 10, host the Minnesota Wild tonight at Rexall Place. Coming off the All Star break, the Oilers are feeling good about their recent execution and expect more progression down the stretch.
“I want to see our team just getting better everyday,” Interim Coach Todd Nelson said of what he expects from the team down the stretch. “I like the last couple days. Today’s skate was good and yesterday’s practice was good. I think, once again, we’re moving in the right direction. I think from a win-loss perspective, I don’t think about that a whole lot. I just want to see the team play better and better.”
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins agrees that the main goal moving forward is to keep the upward trajectory moving.
“Just keep improving,” the Oilers centre said. “We’ve taken some steps in the last 10 or 11 games. I think we’re over .500 in that last 11 games, but we can still get better. We can’t get comfortable at all, we still have to keep climbing as much as we possibly can and keep working for every step.”
The Oilers will be without one of their best players as Taylor Hall sits out tonight with a leg injury. Hall took a shot off the leg in yesterday’s practice and despite a positive prognosis following the skate, things changed overnight.
“Obviously, yesterday, you guys know that he took a shot in the leg and it didn’t react like we wanted it to overnight. And so he’s going through further testing today,” Nelson said.
Hall is tied for the team lead in goals (12) and points (29).
With Hall out, Benoit Pouliot will slot in next to Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. The three played together earlier in the season and posted some positive results.
“They had success before when they played together,” Nelson said. “It seemed like a natural fit, so we had to juggle the lines around a bit and hopefully it works out.”
“I thought we played pretty well with Pouliot before so it shouldn’t take too long to get the chemistry back,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re good front he get go tonight.”
FASTH GETS THE START
Viktor Fasth will make his third-straight start for the Oilers. In back-to-back shootout wins over the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals, Fasth made 55 saves on 61 shots.
“It’s on a game-by-game basis,” Nelson said. “Viktor is going tonight. We feel that the last couple of games we have got wins and he was a big part of that. But Ben is going to be getting into the lineup pretty soon.”
The biggest improvement in Fasth’s game recently has been due to his hard work, according to Nelson.
“Both goalies have been working extremely hard and Viktor is a very hard worker. He’s taken practice very serious and I think that’s one thing that comes to mind as his work ethic has been exceptional and he feels more comfortable and confident.”
Fasth is 2-0 in his career against the Wild with a .931 save percentage and 1.92 goals against average.
Oilers centre Derek Roy will play against two close friends and former teammates tonight when Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville come to town. The three developed their game together in the Buffalo Sabres system, before all three were traded to different teams.
“I’ve played against them a couple of times but those guys, Thomas and Jason, I played with them all through Rochester and Buffalo,” Roy said. “We had some good teams and some success. It’s always good to play against guys you’ve battled with and friends of yours and it’s going to be fun tonight.
Roy has scored eight points in 11 games with the Oilers, since being acquired in a trade with Nashville on December 29.
QUICK NOTES: The Oilers are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games against the Wild and haven’t beaten them at home since December 22, 2011. Benoit Pouliot has 6 goals in his last 6 games. Teddy Purcell is two points away from 250 in his career. Minnesota has outshot its opponents in 8 of their last 9 games.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
WILD (20-20-6) at OILERS (12-26-9)
TV: FS-N, SNOL
Last 10: Minnesota 2-6-2; Edmonton 4-4-2
Season series: This is the first game of the season between the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers. Minnesota went 2-0-1 against Oilers last season, including a 3-0 win at Rexall Place Feb. 27. The Wild have won eight of their past nine games in Edmonton.
Wild team scope: Minnesota will get center Mikael Granlund back in the lineup Tuesday. He missed 13 games following wrist surgery from an injury sustained in a game Dec. 27 against the Winnipeg Jets. Granlund skated between Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek at practice on Monday. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper was assigned to Iowa of the American Hockey League for a conditioning stint. He has played one game over the past three weeks since sustaining a lower-body injury during practice Jan. 7. Minnesota also recalled defenseman Stu Bickel from Iowa as an extra big body who can fill in on defense and up front if needed. Bickel has one assist and is a plus-1 in nine games with Minnesota this season. Devan Dubnyk, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots against Detroit in his most-recent game on Jan. 20, is expected to start.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton was without forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Monday; he was still traveling back from All-Star weekend in Columbus. Boyd Gordon skated in his place on the top line between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, but Nugent-Hopkins is expected to return to his normal spot Tuesday. Hall was hit in the leg with a puck during practice and had to leave. He returned for a short time before leaving again, although interim coach Todd Nelson said afterward he expects Hall to play.