EDMONTON, AB - It's Saturday night in Edmonton and the night brings with it so much more than another primetime hockey game. The Anaheim Ducks are in town for a battle for top spot in the Pacific Division. The Oilers (43-25-9) play host to the first-place Ducks (42-23-12).
"We've gotten ourselves into position here where we're fighting for first," said Oilers winger Jordan Eberle. "It will be a great game. It's Saturday night, with first place on the line. Obviously, we've clinched but our mindset right now is to give ourselves the best opportunity to do well in the playoffs and that's first place."
The Ducks are currently in first with 96 points, just one more than the Oilers. Should Edmonton win, in any fashion, they would hold the tie-breaker over Anaheim.
"We've got a great opponent tonight in Anaheim," said Oilers winger Matt Hendricks. "There's something on the line for sure. We win the game and we slide into first place in the division, which at the end of the season is where we'd like to be. It's a challenge tonight, against a great team that had our number last time down in Anaheim so I think with our fans behind us and the excitement in Rogers Place right now, the excitement in Edmonton, it's going to be a little bit of a lift for our group."
Edmonton has been called a "growth team" for much of the season. But now they've put themselves in a spot where they've won big games and are in a race for first. The reason they've gotten this far is the professionalism of the group, says Hendricks.
"We've got a younger team, but I think our maturity level has been very high. I think we've been very professional," he said. "You look back a couple weeks ago and we couldn't win a hockey game. We've worked our way out of that and we've continued to keep rolling. That's credit to everyone in the room and in the organization we're building. We're getting better. I'm happy where we're at right now."
THE 700 CLUB
Tonight will be Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan's 700th game as a coach behind an NHL bench. It's a milestone McLellan can reflect on, but it's not a crowning achievement. He looks to rack up many more in his career.
"It feels old but it's not that significant of a milestone when you look at some of the long, long-term coaches that are up in the 1000s or 1200s," said McLellan. "There are a number of them that are in the League. I've got a long way to go but I've been lucky enough to be in a great league around a lot of really good people and I'm appreciative of that."
McLellan has made a big difference in Edmonton since joining them before last season. He has 74 wins behind the bench for the Oilers, including 43 this season, which means if the Oilers win tonight he'll move into a tie with John Muckler for fourth-most wins with Edmonton.
"He's taken us a long ways," said Hendricks. "I've got a lot of trust in him and a lot of faith in him. He's done a tremendous job for this team."
Judging by morning skate, Eric Gryba will likely slot in for Matt Benning on the third pair. It also appears as though Matt Hendrick will take Anton Slepyshev's spot on the fourth line.
Cam Talbot starts in net in search for his 40th win, which would move tie him with Grant Fuhr for the Oilers record for wins in a season.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (43-25-9) vs. DUCKS (42-23-12)
TV: 8:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on CBC & Sportsnet
Tonight's game marks the fifth and final meeting between the Oilers and Ducks this season and the second and final game in Edmonton. The last time these teams met in Edmonton was on December 3rd, when the Oilers defeated Anaheim 3-2 in overtime. Leon Draisaitl scored the overtime winning goal for Edmonton.
The last time these teams met was on March 22nd in Anaheim, when the Oilers fell to the Ducks by a score of 4-3. Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon all posted multi-point efforts in the game.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers sit at 94 points, one behind the Ducks for top spot in the Pacific Division with only four games to play after tonight.
With 27 goals, Patrick Maroon has more than doubled his previous career high of 12 goals in a season, reached in 2015-16 with Anaheim/Edmonton. With 41 points, the native of St. Louis, Missouri has bested his previous best season of 34 points (2014-15). To date, he also has a +14 plus-minus rating, which would eclipse his previous best of +11, reached in 2013-14, during his first full season in Anahemi.
In 2016-17, 24 of Maroon's 27 goals and 35 of his 41 points have come at even strength.
NOTE: As an Oiler, Patrick Maroon has now amassed 55 pts (35G, 20A) in 93 games. Prior to being acquired by Edmonton, Maroon appeared in 204 games with the Anaheim Ducks, registering 79 points (26G, 53A).
CAREER HIGHS REACHED OR TIED Leon Draisaitl Goals (27), Assists (45), Points (72) Zack Kassian Assists (16) Oscar Klefbom Goals (12), Points (31), Assists (19) Mark Letestu Goals (15) Patrick Maroon Goals (27), Points (41) Connor McDavid Goals (28), Assists (63), Points (91) Darnell Nurse Goals (4) Cam Talbot Games (69), Wins (39), Minutes (4,053), Saves (1,867), Shutouts (7)
CAREER HIGHS WITHIN REACH Zack Kassian Points (23) - 29 in 2013-14 Mark Letestu Assists (18) - 22 in 2013-14, Points (33) - 34 in 2013-14 Darnell Nurse Points (9) - 10 in 2015-16
Ducks team scope:
Anaheim is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games against the Oilers, but Edmonton has won three of the last four. The Oilers had won three straight against their Southern California rivals until Anaheim's 4-3 win 10 days ago.
The Ducks have been on fire as of late with their run of five straight wins snapped last game against the Jets with a 4-3 overtime loss. In all, Anaheim has picked up at least a point in nine straight games (7-0-2).
Ryan Getzlaf has played 43 career games against the Oilers and he has 16 goals and 46 points in those games. Getzlaf has been on fire with 20 points (3 goals, 17 assists) in the month of March.
Getzlaf leads the Ducks with 66 points in 69 games (14 goals, 52 assists).
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was also unbelievable in the month of March. Bernier had a 10-1-2 record with a 1.82 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. Bernier is 4-2-0 with a 3.31 goals-against average and .893 save percentage in six career games against the Oilers.