The Edmonton Oilers open up their final homestand of the season tonight when the Minnesota Wild come to town, the first of six straight at Rexall Place.
Edmonton has fallen on some hard times of late, with eight straight losses coming into the game tonight. The team has been ravaged by a number of key injuries.
With 10 players on the shelf, the Oilers just completed a three-game California road swing that saw the team come away without a win. Due to the severity of the injury situation, the team was unable to ice a full lineup. They went with five defencemen for each game instead of the usual six.
The latest player to join injury row is Shawn Horcoff
, who played with the flu for the last couple games of the recent road trip but will likely not play tonight.
"He's been battling the flu for the two last games in California and didn't feel great again yesterday", said head coach Craig MacTavish following the morning skate. "It's a decision that largely revolves around how effective a guy can be who lost six or seven points and hasn't eaten for the past several days."
Taking Horcoff's place, playing on a line with Marc Pouliot and Raffi Torres would be Robert Nilsson.
"He looked good in practice but it's not about practice," MacTavish remarked. "I'm anxious to see what he's got in a game."
Nilsson put up 10 points in his seven games with Wilkes-Barre following his move to the Oilers at the trade deadline. Overall, he has 57 points in 55 games.
"I didn't get a chance with the Islanders and when I got traded, I was hoping the Oilers would give me this chance," said Nilsson. "I'm born in Alberta and I've been cheering for Edmonton almost my whole life. It's really fun to be here with a Canadian team."
The other side story for tonight is the Oilers' defence situation. The team has gone with five defencemen for each of the past three games and will do so again tonight. One of those defencemen is Bryan Young, who will be playing his first home game as an Oiler this evening.
"I definitely feel that he believes more in his ability to play in the NHL today than four days ago, for sure," MacTavish said of Young.
Minnesota has been one of the leagues best teams over the past several months, compiling a record of 19-5-4 since January 11. Only Pittsburgh has put up more points during that span.
Their solid play has drawn them within a point of Vancouver for top spot in the Northwest Division. Goaltender Manny Fernandez, who has been with the team since its inception noted that confidence has never been higher for the Wild.
"I enjoy it so much; there's such a team spirit here, one of the best since the birth of this team," he said. "You come into the room and there's that certain ease, and everyone gets along with everybody. When we get on the road we're all together, and there's no cliques – it's a good feeling."
For the second straight game, Brent Burns scored the game-winning goal in the final minute of overtime on Tuesday night. Burns picked up a Marian Gaborik rebound and put it in behind Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo to give his team the 3-2 win.
"It was a great play by Gaborik," Burns said. "It just squirted out in front of me, and I cleaned it up."
Minnesota battled back from being down 2-0 in the game, a common occurence for the team's never-say-die attitude.
"It's huge. We were down 2-0, and we didn't play a good game until, probably, half the game was over," Gaborik said. "We got good goaltending, and after the first period we had to play better – and we did. It was very tight out there, with not much happening. It's tough to get going, but you get two points, that's the important thing."
This is the sixth meeting of the season between Minnesota and Edmonton. The Oilers have won twice and the Wild have won three times.
OILERS TO WATCH: Robert Nilsson will likely make his debut with the Oilers tonight after being recalled from Wilkes-Barre yesterday. In seven games with the Penguins, Nilsson had 10 points... Oilers forward Toby Petersen has really stepped up his play in the absence of a number of key regulars the past several games. He scored two shorthanded goals on the teams recent three-game road trip to help lead the team offensively Kyle Brodziak has acquitted himself well since being recalled to the Oilers on March 7. In four games he has a +1 rating with six shots on net. He has also killed penalties effectively for the club and was on the ice for Petersens shorthanded goal Monday night.
WILD TO WATCH: Although Brian Rolston leads the Wild in both goals, with 28, and points, with 57, the most dangerous offensive player for Minnesota is Marian Gaborik. Gaborik has missed more than 30 games this season due to injury but has played well whenever hes found himself in the lineup. In 37 games, he has 23 goals and 41 points. In terms of goals per game, Gaborik ranks right behind Tampas Vincent Lecavalier at 0.62 Goaltender Nicklas Backstrom has stolen the number-one job away from Manny Fernandez. Backstrom has a record of 12-3-2 in his past 18 starts and in 32 games this season has only given up more than three goals on three occasions Fernandez has been healthy since March 6 after missing 14 games but has only seen 20 minutes of action since returning from injury.
ROSTER UPDATES: Injuries continue to pile up for the Oilers: Jarret Stoll (concussion) is doubtful. Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is doubtful. Marty Reasoner (shoulder) is doubtful. Steve Staios (knee) is doubtful. Daniel Tjarnqvist (inflamed pubic bone) is out. Mathieu Roy (concussion) is out. Tom Gilbert (concussion) is out. Jan Hejda (shoulder) is out. Ales Hemsky
(shoulder) is out. Petr Nedved (knee) is out; Minnesota – Wes Walz (back) is doubtful.
FAST FACTS: Minnesota has won five straight games against the Northwest Division and is 14-6-5 overall against divisional opponents. Seven of its final 11 games are against the Northwest including three versus Edmonton The Wild are two wins away from tying its franchise record of 42 victories set in 2002-03 The Wild had an 11-game road winless streak earlier this season but is 5-0-2 in its past seven games away from home and 13-3-2 overall in its last 18 road contests.