Tonight the Edmonton Oilers face the team currently second in the Western Conference. It's a team which, as a unit, has scored 108 goals this year while allowing only 87. Their offensive fire power all starts from its top line.
Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner have all had superb starts to this season. Getzlaf leads the Ducks in points with 38, while Perry is not far behind with 36. Perry has the team-high in goals with 21.
"Just be smart defensively and picking our chances to join the rush for us d-men, and playing a good 60 minute game," said Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz of defending the Ducks offensive work horses.
"Just be in the right positions defensively and not let them get a step on you. They're a good line and you've got to be aware when they're out there but also be worried about out own game."
The Ducks also boast size in their forward core and the Oilers are going to have to be quick to be successful.
"You can't do anything about their size, you have to accept that," said Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "We're going to want to play against them, how we did for most of the game against Boston I think. We have to use our speed, our quickness, but most importantly we have to have puck possession. That's one thing we did not have at all against Vancouver."
As the Edmonton Oilers head into tonight's game against Anaheim, they do so with an injured lineup. Head Coach Dallas Eakins said there will be changes to their forward lines tonight, a lot of which is do to players being 'banged up'. The one line which Eakins would like to keep intact is the top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle which after being separated, was reunited briefly at the end of their last game in Vancouver.
"That is one line I've got in my head that I'd like to go back to," said Eakins. "It will, once again, depend on some injury issues."
"When you play with different guys, you have to play to their strengths," said Hall. "You have to know what kind of players they are and when you've played with guys for so long, you get to know what they're all about. That's a comfort level with us three, when we play together. It doesn't really matter what the lines are. I think the overall mentality of our team has to be one of playing hard, playing really good defence and letting our offence grow from there."
The bench boss is also looking to switch up his defensive pairings to help spark more inspired play by the team's blue liners.
"Once again, it will be based upon a guy banged up. But we are going to change the defence pairings. I think we've got a few guys back there that are intergangeable every night. I think it's important to keep all of our guys fresh…"
BRYZ TO START
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov will return to defend the net as he gets the starting nod in goal tonight against Anaheim. Bryzgalov has not played since December 1, when he suffered a hit and head injury in a game against Dallas.
The backstop has played in four games this season and has posted a .939 save percentage and 2.12 goals against average.
He returns tonight to face his former team, the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him in the second round, 44th overall in 2000. Bryzgalov played for the Ducks organizations from the 2001-2002 season to the 2007-2008 campaign.
GOODBYE TO BARBS
With Bryzgalov returning to full-health and with Richard Bachman and prospect Laurent Brossoit manning the pipes in Oklahoma City on the Oilers farm team, the organization made a move yesterday to send goaltender Jason LaBarbera to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The trade acquired future considerations for the netminder. He will be missed within the locker room as his high character left its mark on the Oilers.
"That was a great trade for Jason," said Eakins. "He was such a great teammate, he was well-liked in the dressing room. I've got nothing but the upmost respect for Jason. He did well by me here and we wish him well in Chicago."
SCHULTZ RETURN TO ANAHEIM
Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz has past history with the Anaheim Ducks. The organization chose to pick Schultz 43rd overall in 2008 but the promising young defenceman didn't chose to play for the Ducks. Schultz chose a path that took him to free agency and eventually to the Edmonton Oilers.
He returned to Anaheim last season to verbal disappointment and signage from fans upset in his career choice. The Oilers blue liner is ready to return to the city again, tonight. He doesn't know if it will be the same 'warm' welcome he received last time.
"Yeah, probably. I don't know, we'll see when we're out there," he said. "When you're on the ice, you don't really hear any of that stuff you're kind of focused on the game so we'll see. It should be interesting."
The negative energy from the crowd could be something that the player feeds on.
"It's fun. They know when you're out there. It's something that I'm looking forward to if they do. Hopefully, we'll get a win tonight."
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
OILERS (11-20-3) AT DUCKS (22-7-5)
TV: SNET-W, SNET-EDM, PRIME
Last 10: Edmonton 4-5-1; Anaheim 7-1-2
Season series: This is the first of five games between the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks, who play twice in the final two weeks of the 2013-14 season. They played three times last season, with the Ducks winning all three. Anaheim has won nine of the past 10 meetings between the teams.
Big story: Anaheim looks to continue its franchise-best start at Honda Center, where they have not lost a game in regulation (12-0-2). Edmonton has lost three of four but are hoping to play spoiler.
Oilers: Edmonton was unable to solve Roberto Loungo in a 4-0 road loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday. Vancouver controlled the pace early, outshooting Edmonton 14-4 in a scoreless first period. But Daniel Sedin opened the scoring in the second on the power play and three third-period goals led the Canucks, who outshot the Oilers 40-19.
"We had some extended shifts in our own zone" Oilers captain Andrew Ference said. "We didn't spend nearly enough time in their zone. Creating turnovers and having extended shifts in our end...you're going to get outshot every time."
The Oilers (6-10-2 on the road) have one regulation road win since Nov. 16 and continue a four-game road trip in Los Angeles and Colorado.
Ducks: Anaheim has won four games in a row and have suffered just one loss in regulation since Nov. 18. They haven't played since Wednesday, a 2-1 win against the Minnesota Wild. With three full days off in between games, the Ducks had an intense practice on Friday. Sunday will be their last home game before embarking on a four-game pre-Christmas road swing.
"We wanted to get back to a hard practice. This is kind of a funny month with Christmas and how many games we have on the big road trip," defenseman Cal Fowler told the team's website. "It’s important to get to the rink and get our work in. I think we did a good job of doing that today."
Anaheim has remained atop the Pacific Division despite a rash of injuries. Teemu Selanne and Daniel Winnik were both absent this week with the flu.
"We're definitely missing some key guys right now, and guys that will hopefully come back ready and strong and contribute right away...they've certainly been missed," Fowler said. "We are looking forward to getting healthy again and having a full lineup."
Who's hot: Few players are hotter than Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Perry has a seven-game goal-scoring streak for the Ducks and Getzlaf has 22 points in his current 15-game point streak. ... Taylor Hall has five goals in four games for the Oilers.