ANAHEIM, CA - The drive for five straight wins is alive tonight as the Oilers open a mini two-game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks in a pivotal Pacific Division showdown.
Through 72 games, the Oilers and Ducks have nearly identical records. Edmonton (39-24-9) has one more win than Anaheim (38-23-11), but the Southern California squad has two more single points from overtime/shootout losses to give them both 87 points. They're currently the second and third-ranked teams in the division, creating plenty of hype for tonight's matchup.
Both teams have division-leading San Jose in their sights, as the Sharks sit just four points ahead of them with one additional game played, and have also lost four consecutive games.
"With 10 games left, it doesn't start with a better opponent or situation than playing the Ducks here tonight," said Oilers winger Milan Lucic. "It's a statement game for both teams. Both teams still have an opportunity to push for the division lead. All these games mean so much to end off the year."
"It's a very big game for us and a big game for them," echoed Head Coach Todd McLellan. "At this time of year, there isn't a casual night. There's no comfort."
COMING IN HOT
Tonight is the fourth of five meetings between the Oilers and Ducks this season. Edmonton started the season series with a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on November 15, but they rebounded with a 3-2 overtime win at home on December 3 and a dominant 4-0 decision back in Orange County on January 25.
They'll match up once more on April 1 at Rogers Place, but the Oilers would certainly love to secure the season-series win tonight.
"This is one of those games where it's easy to get the competitive juices flowing," Lucic said. "You know, with a veteran group on that side with guys that have been through a lot, they're going to be ready to play. It's going to be a great test for us to see if we can rise to the occasion."
Both teams are also hot coming into tonight, with the Oilers riding a four-game win streak and the Ducks posting a 5-1-1 record in their last seven games. Edmonton blanked the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 on Monday before heading south, while the Ducks haven't played since they edged the Sharks 2-1 on Saturday.
The Oilers are playing, debatably, their best hockey of the season right now, outscoring their opponents 18-5 in their four consecutive victories. They also haven't allowed a goal in more than seven periods, shutting out the Vancouver Canucks 2-0 on Saturday before blanking the Kings by the same score on Monday to conclude their eight-game homestand.
"With the way we finished off our homestand, it was really positive, so we have some momentum and confidence coming into tonight," said centreman Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. "This is probably the biggest game of the year so far."
The Oilers have scored 18 goals in their last four games, and of course the team's top trio has done its share of damage, with Connor McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl combining for seven of those tallies.
Secondary contributions from the other lines have been clutch as well, though, with Lucic, Nugent-Hopkins, Benoit Pouliot, Mark Letestu, David Desharnais and Anton Slepyshev also scoring during the current win streak.
"You look at all our lines, and they're all pretty solid," said Nugent-Hopkins, who has lit the lamp twice in the four victories. "If they're all producing offensively, or even getting chances or getting momentum for us offensively, it keeps the other team out of our defensive zone and puts more pressure on them."
"Any time you can get scoring throughout your entire lineup, it's going to help your team win," added Drake Caggiula, who had also scored in the 7-4 win against the Boston Bruins, but the goal was eventually changed to Nugent-Hopkins. "Our top guys are going to have to keep playing big, but our role guys are also going to have to step up."
Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse have also scored during the win streak to give the Oilers some offence from their defence.
Coach McLellan said tonight's lineup will be confirmed later today, but based on morning skate, the lone change will be Slepyshev in for Matt Hendricks, with Caggiula moving back to the left wing.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (39-24-9) at DUCKS (38-23-11)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet West
This game is the fourth of five meetings between the Oilers and Ducks this season and the third and final game in Anaheim. The next time these teams will face each other is on April 1st in Edmonton.
The last time these teams met was on January 25th in Anaheim, when the Oilers blanked the Ducks by a score of 4-0. Leon Draisaitl scored two goals, while Cam Talbot made 26 saves for the shutout.
Oilers team scope:
Following a 5-2-1 eight-game home stand, the Oilers are now tied with the Ducks for second place in the Pacific Division with both teams one point ahead of the Flames.
Edmonton and Anaheim have both played 72 games on the season and have 35 regulation/overtime wins and 87 points.
Leon Draisaitl has four goals in three games this season against the Ducks. He now has 65 points (24G, 41A) in 72 games, setting career highs for points, goals and assists. That point total puts him in 13th place in the NHL scoring race. Draisaitl has nine points (1G, 8A) in his last four games.
With 65 points, the native of Cologne, Germany has surpassed Marco Sturm for the most points in one season by a player from Germany. Sturm had 59 points (29G, 30A) in 2005-06 with the Boston Bruins/San Jose Sharks. Sturm was in the eighth full NHL season in 2005-06, and was 27 years old when he set the record.
Goaltender Cam Talbot has now appeared in an NHL-high 65 games this season, and leads the NHL in minutes played (3,861), in saves (1,770) and second in wins (37). The Caledonia, ON native has set new career highs in all these categories in 2016-17.
Talbot recorded his second straight shutout last game against Los Angeles on Mar. 20, he has now stopped all 68 shots he has faced the last two games. Talbot's two shutouts mark the first time this season he has recorded shutouts in back-to-back games. He posted two shutouts on Oct. 23 at WPG and Oct. 28 at VAN in the same week earlier this season. Talbot's career high shutout streak is 165:27 (Nov. 7-25, 2013).
Talbot now has seven shutouts this season, a new career high and is one shutout away from tying the Oilers single season record for shutouts (8) which was set by Tommy Salo in 2000-01.
Talbot now has 10 shutouts as an Oiler, putting him in sole possession of third place, one ahead of Grant Fuhr for most shutouts.
Talbot is also within three wins of tying the Oilers record for wins by a goaltender in one season, which is 40, a record held by Grant Fuhr (1987-88).
Ducks team scope:
Anaheim has picked up points in six of its last seven games (5-1-1) and are currently tied with the Oilers for second in the Pacific Division.
The Ducks have played the Oilers three times already this season with two more to come. Anaheim defeated Edmonton on November 15 at Honda Center with the Oilers winning 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Place on December 3. Edmonton topped the Ducks 4-0 in Anaheim on January 25.
For tiebreaker purposes, the first tiebreaker is regulation/overtime wins of which the Ducks and Oilers each have 35. The second tiebreaker is head-to-head contests although with Anaheim having played three games at home and Edmonton only two in the five-game season series, the first game in Anaheim doesn't count towards the tiebreak. As a result, right now with the tiebreaker, Oilers have four points in two games and the Ducks have one point. The teams have two more games to play with one tonight and the other Saturday, April 1 at Rogers Place.
Ryan Getzlaf leads the Ducks in scoring this season with 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists) in 65 games. Ryan Kesler is second with 20 goals and 50 points. Corey Perry is third on the Ducks with 46 points, including 14 goals. Perry had totals of 34, 33 and 43 goals each of the last three seasons and hasn't had less than 20 in a non-lockout year since 2006-07.
Anaheim's leading goal scorer is Rickard Rackell with 31 goals in 61 games. Rackell has 12 assists and 43 points on the year.