The Edmonton Oilers open up a two-game set at Rexall Place against the Colorado Avalanche starting tonight. The games are five and six of the team's final homestand of the season.
Despite being battered by a litany of injuries, the Oilers are showing signs of getting out of their recent funk that has seen them go winless in their past 11 games.
On Monday night, the club played well but dropped a 2-1 decision to the Vancouver Canucks, one of the hottest teams in the league.
"It was a great battle of two pretty good goaltenders," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish following the game. "Roli made a lot of great saves and (Canucks netminder Roberto) Luongo was doing what he has been doing all year long and played really well."
Previous to that, they picked up a point Saturday versus St. Louis and fell 2-1 to Minnesota last Thursday but Monday was by far the team's best all-around effort in recent weeks.
"We played the best game that we have played in a long time," said Shawn Horcoff
. "But to come away with the same result again leaves you dejected. There are nine games left and we have to keep a positive outlook. I guess I'd rather see us lose games trying to make plays and things happen than being tentative out there. (Monday) was a step in the right direction."
Colorado has been one of the more incredible stories of the past month in the NHL. Several weeks ago they were 12 points out of a playoff spot and looked like they were going to miss the playoffs for the first time since moving to Colorado in 1995 but the team has been red hot of late to the point where theyve played themselves into the postseason race.
"This is definitely like playoffs for us right now," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to the fact the Avs can't afford to lose many games down the stretch. "We've been chasing it all year, looking to get into one of these stretches where we feel good about ourselves. It took us a long time to get here, but right now, we want to make sure that we keep playing the same way."
Team captain Joe Sakic agreed.
"We know we still have a lot of work to do. We know we have to win a lot of hockey games," Sakic remarked.
Colorado's most recent outing was a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night. The Avs scored three straight goals to overcome to a two-goal deficit in the victory.
"We still stuck with it," Quenneville said. "We had a lot of play in their end and we kept pressing. We had some tough luck around the net. (Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov) made some huge saves, but this was a great example of finding a way to win."
The Avs are 8-0-1 in their last nine games and now sit six points back of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Calgary. They have one game in hand on the Flames.
ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton – Jarret Stoll (concussion) is out. Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is out. Marty Reasoner (shoulder) is out. Steve Staios (knee) is out. Daniel Tjarnqvist (inflamed pubic bone) is out. Mathieu Roy (concussion) is out. Tom Gilbert (concussion) is out. Jan Hejda (shoulder) is out. Ales Hemsky
(shoulder) is out. Petr Nedved (knee) is out; Colorado – Patrice Brisebois (back) is out. Jordan Leopold (wrist) is out. Karlis Skrastins (knee) is out. Pierre Turgeon (calf) is out.
TONIGHT'S GAME ON PPV:
Tonight's game will be available on pay-per-view via Shaw Digital Cable, Star Choice and Bell Expressvu. If you don't have any of those three service providers you can still catch tonight's game at one of four participating Cineplex Odeon, Galaxy or Silver City theatres.
OILERS TO WATCH: Sebastien Bisaillon, called up from Val dOr of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, had an impressive NHL debut on Monday. He fired two shots on goal, led the Oilers with three takeaways and logged 19:15 of icetime – third-highest among Oilers defencemen on the night... After missing Thursdays game with the flu, Shawn Horcoff
led all Oilers forwards in ice-time on Saturday at 24:13 while scoring a goal. He then picked up an assist Monday while leading all forwards once again at 24:14.
AVALANCHE TO WATCH: A big reason for the turnaround of the Avs season is the play of Peter Budaj. He has emerged as the teams number-one netminder and has started every one of the teams games during their current nine-game points streak Paul Stastny is making a strong case to be named NHL rookie of the year. He is currently on a 20-game scoring streak – only the third such streak in the NHL since the 1993-94 season. He holds the record for both rookie scoring streak and rookie road scoring streak (15 games).
FAST FACTS: Nine different Oilers have scored their first NHL goal this season for Edmonton. Three others are currently on the roster awaiting their first career goal: Jean-Francois Jacques, Danny Syvret and Sebastien Bisaillon... Peter Budaj has played all but four of the Avalanche's last 33 games dating back to December 27.