ANAHEIM, CA - Heading into the NHL All-Star break this weekend, three teams have separated themselves at the top of the Pacific Division standings.
The Oilers are happy to be one of them, and the other two just happen to be their two opponents on a two-game California road trip heading into the break. Edmonton (26-15-8) opens its back-to-back voyage tonight against the Anaheim Ducks (27-14-9) before taking on the San Jose Sharks (31-16-2) tomorrow.
The Oilers find themselves nine points up on the Calgary Flames in the division standings, thanks to Saturday's 7-3 victory in Cowtown. They're also 10 points up on the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings. The Oil look to extend those gaps and get close to a share of first place with tonight's battle in Orange County.
"A big test for us," said veteran Matt Hendricks following the team's morning skate. "Road games, too, in a tough environment… I'm looking for our team to play a solid game, a systematic game where we stick to the systems for a full 60 minutes. We keep building on the momentum we've created here over the last month or so, but we need to tighten up our team game a little bit."
Despite the significance of the two matchups, Head Coach Todd McLellan said his team cannot deviate from what has allowed them to string together a lot of wins lately, with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 outings.
"Do we know where they are in the standings? Of course we do," said McLellan. "Players are smart and they follow the game. But we can't get out of our skin at all. We have to continue to do what we do, put our best effort out and see if that's enough."
"We're trying to keep an even keel about everything," added Hendricks. "Everything is status quo, day in and day out. There's excitement here and there, but it's a business mentality. We've accepted that pretty well and we want to continue to keep getting better."
MAROON BACK IN ORANGE
Oilers winger Patrick Maroon made his first visit back to his old stomping grounds in Anaheim on Nov. 15, 2016, which unfortunately resulted in a 4-1 victory for his former team.
Maroon had played with a variety of linemates to start the season, putting up a team-leading six goals to go along with three assists through 16 games.
Fast-forward to Edmonton's 50th game of the season tonight and Maroon is up to 18 goals, still leading the team, along with seven assists. He's enjoyed tremendous success with now-regular linemates Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
"Once you start feeling them out, you start to know where to go on the ice, you start to know when to go to the net and you're always ready for the puck," said Maroon, who is no stranger to playing with elite linemates, having spent some time alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry during his tenure with the Ducks.
The Oilers captain has enjoyed having the burly power forward on his wing this season after getting a sample of their potential together last March and April.
"I've always liked playing with Patty," said McDavid, who leads the NHL with 56 points. "He's a guy that gets up and down the ice better than people give him credit for. He's a big body that moves pretty well. When he gets on the forecheck, he might be one of the best forecheckers in the league. He keeps pucks alive and holds onto them well down low."
The Oilers are expected to ice the same lineup from Saturday's victory over the Flames, with the lone exception being Cam Talbot expected to return to his usual spot between the pipes.
Laurent Brossoit made 38 saves during the win in Calgary, but Talbot will likely suit up for his NHL-leading 44th start of the season.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (26-15-8) at DUCKS (27-14-9)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game marks the third of five meetings between the Oilers and Ducks this season and the second of three meetings in Anaheim. The last time these teams met in Anaheim was on November 15th, where the Ducks defeated the Oilers 4-1. Leon Draisaitl scored the Oilers lone goal.
The last time these teams met was on December 3rd in Edmonton, where the Oilers defeated the Ducks by a score of 3-2 in overtime. Drake Caggiula, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl scored for the Oilers in the win.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are coming off a huge 7-3 win in Calgary on Saturday night. Edmonton has picked up points in each of its last six games (5-0-1) and sit third in the Pacific Division, three points behind Anaheim and four points back of San Jose. Edmonton does have a game in hand on the Ducks.
Forward Zack Kassian has points in four straight games, a career high, and points in five of his past seven games. The native of LaSalle, Ont. has one goal and three assists over the past four games. He now has 14 points (3G, 11A) in 46 games this season.
Forward Jordan Eberle has points in three of his last four games. Eberle had four points (2G, 2A) on Jan. 21 in Calgary, and has six points (3G, 3A) in his past four games. Eberle now ranks third on the team in points, with 32 points (11G, 21A) in 49 games.
Defenceman Adam Larsson had his best statistical performance as an Oiler vs. Calgary on Jan. 21, 2017, earning three assists and a +3 plus-minus rating. Larsson continues to be one of the most active bodycheckers in the NHL, adding four to his total on Saturday. Larsson now has 143 hits, and ranks 10th in the NHL.
Ducks team scope:
Anaheim is 8-2-1 in the month of January with the only two regulation losses coming against the very tough Minnesota Wild. The Ducks are also 5-1-1 in their last seven, setting up tonight's game as a clash between two of the hotter teams in the NHL.
The Oilers have only defeated the Ducks twice in the past 11 games with both wins going past regulation time. April 1, 2012 was the last time Edmonton beat Anaheim in regulation. That game was in Anaheim.
With 18 goals and 39 points in 50 games, Ryan Kesler leads the Ducks in scoring. Ryan Getzlaf is second with 37 points in 43 games, though Getzlaf has only seven goals on the season. Getzlaf has 43 points in 41 career games against Edmonton.
Rickard Rackell leads the Ducks in scoring with 20 goals through 39 games. Rackell has only nine assists on the season, however.