CALGARY, AB - The Oilers will close out a busy stretch of 11 games in 19 nights tonight and they'll do so with an important matchup against their provincial rivals.
Edmonton and Calgary will square off for the second time in a week as the Oil aim to sweep their season series with the Flames for the first time in franchise history. They posted a 2-1 shootout win last Saturday at Rogers Place in a tight-checking, defensive affair, and they expect a similar gritty showdown tonight.
"It's a great test for our team," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "As you get further into the season, and if you're lucky enough to play in the playoffs, these types of games occur 28 times potentially. It's tight-checking, grind-it-out, the fatigue factor becomes a part of it, and it's a lesson we have to learn."
Both the Oilers and Flames have played 48 games this season, with Edmonton sitting seven points ahead of their foes to the south. The Oilers are 4-0-1 in their last five games coming off last night's 3-2 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators, while the Flames have just one win in their last four.
If the Oilers are in fact able to defeat the Flames tonight and sweep their season series, they will achieve the feat with up-and-coming netminder Laurent Brossoit between the pipes.
The 23-year-old will suit up for his seventh NHL game after the team's go-to puck-stopper Cam Talbot faced 44 shots last night vs. Nashville in his league-leading 43rd start of the season.
"It's his turn to play," McLellan said. "Talbs' workload has gone up. We wanted to evaluate the game last night, and with overtime he had to play a pretty intense game as a goaltender. LB will get the opportunity… Hopefully he'll get the support he needs from the players in front of him and he'll have a great night."
Brossoit was magnificent in his NHL debut on April 9, 2015 against McLellan's San Jose Sharks, facing 51 shots and stopping all but two of them. He followed that up with a 32-save performance in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets after his call-up from the Bakersfield Condors last season.
Brossoit's next four starts last year weren't quite as sharp, but he's hoping to take a big step forward in his first NHL action this season and earn his first big-league victory.
"I'm excited to get back in there," he said. "It's about putting all the aspects of my game together and having a complete and consistent game."
Brossoit, who was drafted by the Flames in 2011 before getting traded to Edmonton in 2013, has a 9-8-4 record, 2.67 goals-against average and .907 save percentage with the Condors this season, including two shutouts. He said the mental aspect of his game has vastly improved.
"I'm feeling a lot more confident," Brossoit said. "I'm in a different space, I know a little bit more of what's coming and have a little bit more experience."
Coach McLellan has observed that added bravado in practice and hopes his goalie can be a big part of a full team effort tonight.
"He should be a little more confident, because he's played in the league a number of times now," he said. "We just want him to go out like any other player and give us his best night. We won't win or lose because of the goaltender. We'll win or lose because of the effort of all 20."
Coach McLellan said some Oilers lineup decisions will be made following pre-game warmup tonight, but he did confirm Matt Hendricks will play his 500th NHL game.
Hendricks was drafted by the Predators in 2000, and following a four-year NCAA career at St. Cloud State, the gritty winger spent five seasons in the ECHL and AHL before the Colorado Avalanche called him up in 2008-09.
His tenacious, unrelenting style and the occasional offensive contribution allowed him to stick in the NHL every subsequent season.
"It seems like a long time ago now that it started, but in terms of years I don't think it really was," Hendricks said. "I got my first game at 27 years old, and to be 35 now and looking at 500, it's a feather in my cap. Once you get up in age at 27 and 28, you never really know how long that's going to last. You keep kind of wishing and hoping that dream stays alive… I look forward to tonight."
Hendricks is also closing in on 100 NHL points, with 47 goals and 50 assists to his name.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (25-15-8) at FLAMES (24-21-3)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MST; Televised on CBC & Sportsnet
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Oilers and Flames.
These two teams played last Saturday and it was the Oilers who came out on top, 2-1 in a shootout.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are coming off a very successful six-game homestand that saw them finish with a 4-1-1 record. Overall in January, the Oilers are 6-3-1
Edmonton is tied for second place in the Pacific Division with the San Jose Sharks at 58 points though the Sharks have two games in hand. Both teams are three points behind Anaheim for first place.
Connor McDavid leads the NHL in scoring with 54 points in 47 games. McDavid also leads the Oilers in plus/minus at +15.
Leon Draisaitl has 40 points in 47 games (17 goals, 23 assists). Draisaitl has seven more points than Calgary's leading scorer, Mikael Backlund.
Milan Lucic had a 12-game goalless drought ended on Friday against the Predators when he scored the game-tying goal. Lucic also ended a 20-game stretch without a penalty in a big way with 7 minutes, including a fight.
Flames team scope:
The Flames are fourth in the Pacific Division with 51 points and are tied with Nashville for the two wild card positions. Both teams are one point up on Vancouver who are on the outside looking in.
Calgary is 3-4-1 in its last eight games, looking to get its game back on track.
Sam Bennett was a healthy scratch on Thursday against Nashville. Bennett has nine goals and 18 points in 47 games this season after netting 18 goals and 36 points in 77 contests last year.
Johnny Gaudreau has been playing on the team's third line with Matt Stajan and Alex Chiasson. Gaudreau has 10 goals and 29 points in 38 games this season after 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games last year.
Since taking over the number one role, Chad Johnson has been outstanding for the Flames. Johnson has played in 28 games and has a 16-11-1 record plus a 2.31 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.