ANAHEIM, CA - Two of the top teams in the NHL's Pacific Division square off tonight in Orange County as the Oilers open a three-game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks, looking to put an end to their three-game losing skid.
Edmonton's 9-6-1 record puts them two points ahead of the 7-6-3 Ducks in the division standings, but with just two victories in their last eight games after going 7-1-0 to start the season, the Oil are fighting to maintain their top spot.
The 2016-17 campaign is still in its infancy, but competition is fierce between the Oilers, Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in the upper half of the Pacific ladder.
"This year, there may be a little bit more parity, but I don't think that separation has been allowed to happen," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "We got away on teams a little bit, and they're reeling us back in. There's a lot of inner-divisional play that has to take place before it all gets sorted out."
LET'S GET PHYSICAL
The Pacific Division contains some of the biggest, fiercest forwards in the NHL, and the Ducks boast several of them, including Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler. Anaheim also leads the league in penalty minutes and ranks third in hits, so the Oilers know they must prepare for a physical affair.
"If we're going to get into the playoffs, these are teams we have to beat," said Zack Kassian, one of Edmonton's bigger, skilled forwards. "When the physicality rises, those are normally fun games to play. The intensity goes up, and I feel my play picks up. As a team, we're looking forward to the challenge tonight and we need to get back in the win column."
With a more beefed-up roster this season, the Oilers also feel they're better equipped to handle that level of physicality, but Coach McLellan said they'll need to play to all of their strengths in order to succeed.
"The size increase helps against any team," he said. "The bigger, the stronger, but you've got to be able to move around the rink, make plays and execute when called upon. Big or small, you have to get it done that way. We're bigger and stronger than we have been in the past, but Anaheim is going to play the same way."
OLD STOMPING GROUNDS
Tonight will be a homecoming of sorts for Oilers winger Patrick Maroon, who played his entire NHL career with the Ducks prior to getting dealt to Edmonton at last season's trade deadline.
Maroon faced his former 'mates in Edmonton last March, but this is his first trip back to Southern California with his new squad.
"It's going to be a little weird coming back here and playing in the stadium where you started in the NHL," Maroon said. "There are some faces over there that I still talk to, but I'm excited to play here in Anaheim, just go out there and play my game."
The power forward suited up for 204 regular season and 29 post-season games with the Ducks. He proved himself as a clutch playoff performer, contributing 18 points in 29 post-season games in 2014 and 2015.
"We had some big, heavy teams over there," Maroon said of his tenure with Anaheim. "They were big, fast, strong and obviously have some elite players that I got the chance to play with. Nothing but good things to say about the organization, how they brought me up into the NHL and how they moulded me. They moulded me into a big, physical kind of guy that can play with some skill."
That skill has translated to his new team and has been on display this season. Maroon leads the Oilers in goals through 16 games with six, and he has 23 points in 32 games since coming to Edmonton.
"Patty earned his confidence," said McLellan, who applauded Maroon's off-season work ethic as he shed 25 pounds to increase his quickness. "We couldn't be happier for him… He's become such an important part of our team. We're lucky to have him."
Cam Talbot is expected to make his 16th start in 17 games this season, the D pairings will remain static and the forward lines are likely to change a bit with Jesse Puljujärvi sitting out.
Maroon-McDavid-Eberle, Lucic-Nugent-Hopkins-Pitlick, Pouliot-Draisaitl-Kassian and Lander-Letestu-Slepyshev are projected up front, with Klefbom-Larsson, Sekera-Benning and Nurse-Gryba patrolling the back end.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (9-6-1) at DUCKS (7-6-3)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet Oilers
Head to Head:
This game marks the first of five meetings between the Oilers and Ducks this season and the first of three games in Anaheim. The last time the Oilers and Ducks faced each other in Anaheim was on February 26th, where the Ducks won 2-1 in overtime. Rickard Rakell scored the overtime winning goal for Anaheim, while Cam Talbot made 32 saves for the Oilers.
The last time these teams met was on March 28th in Edmonton, where the Ducks won by a score of 2-1. Nail Yakupov scored the Oilers lone goal in the game while Cam Talbot made 23 saves.
Oilers team scope:
Oilers forward (and former Duck) Patrick Maroon has now registered points in his past three games (2G, 2A, 4PTS), and in five of his past six games (3G, 3A, 6PTS). Maroon has now registered 23 points (14G, 9A) in only 31 games as an Oiler.
The Oilers have outshot opponents by 10 or more shots four times this season. They have lost all four of those games. However, the Oilers have been outshot by opponents by 10 or more shots three times so far this season, and have won all of those games. Overall, the Oilers have outshot their opponents in eight games (3W, 4L, 1 OTL), and have been outshoot in eight games (6W, 2L).
Forward Leon Draisaitl has five points (2G, 3A) in seven career games against Anaheim. ... Defenceman Oscar Klefbom scored his first career NHL goal against Anaheim on March 28, 2014, in a 4-3 win. ... Forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 12 points (4G, 8A) in 15 career games against Anaheim. ... Goaltender Cam Talbot has a career 1-3-1 record against Anaheim, with a 2.03 goals against average
Ducks team scope:
Anaheim hasn't played since Saturday night in Nashville where they fell by a score of 5-0.
After starting the season 0-3-1, the Ducks have only lost three of their last 12 games in regulation time to climb up to third in the Pacific Division, only two points back of the Oilers for top spot.
The Ducks scoring leaders have two familiar faces atop the leaderboard in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry tied with 13 points each. Getzlaf, however, only has one goal this entire season.
Getzlaf has 16 goals and 40 points in 39 career games against the Oilers while Perry has 23 goals and 37 points in 43 career contests.
Ryan Kesler has 12 points on the season through 16 games with six goals. he has 10 goals and 38 points in 59 career games versus the Oilers.