- With a three-day break to celebrate the season setting the stage to a marathon seven-game road trip beginning next week, the Oilers need a win to keep pace and remain in the post-season discussion in Game 34.
"We put ourselves in a position where they're all big games," said Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff
, who's mired in an 11-game goalless drought; six games without a point, too. "This one's big, the next one will be even bigger and so on. We need to dig ourselves out of it. You want to go into the break feeling good about your game. We played pretty well recently, but we haven't got the results; we've got to make sure we continue that tonight."
It's the fifth meeting between the Oilers and Wild, highlighting the season's unusual schedule; but also making note of the division's ever-important matchups as the orange and blue look to make up ground on the NHL's fourth-best team.
"We don't take [Minnesota] lightly," Horcoff said. "They're a team that we haven't had a very good record against. It's a divisional game; a four-point game and we've got to go into Christmas feeling good about ourselves before the break. It's important for us to get these two points, because that next road trip is going to be a big test.
"It's a real good time for us to break out of this slump against a team we really need to beat. It's a huge game for us."
"They work very, very hard," added Head Coach Tom Renney. "They've got one of the best power centres in the league (Mikko Koivu, who may not be in the lineup tonight), who provides great leadership. They've got other players who are having very good years, too. They've done a real good job of moving pucks north-south in a hurry and having people above the puck to make it more challenging for the opponent to come at them.
"We certainly have to check in. This is big. We have to worry about our game, because we have much to polish in that regard." IN-NEED OFFENCE
In order to do that, the Oilers need some secondary scoring. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
and Jordan Eberle
continue to lead the squad with an above point-per-game pace (Taylor Hall
is right there, too), but the team's counted-upon veterans need to step up to help fill a void on the scoreboard.
"Ales (Hemsky) is an elite player in this league and I'm not too worried about him," the captain said of his linemate. "He's got too much skill not to break out of this, and I'm sure he will soon."
Hemsky's status is still undetermined for tonight's game. The 28-year-old missed yesterday's practice with an illness and was listed as questionable at the time. He did participate in today's morning skate, but Renney insisted that he's not yet sure if his skilled winger will be available to go.
"I met with him and T.D. (Forss, Head Athletic Therapist) following the skate," he said. "I would call him 'doubtful,' he's not feeling well. I think we've got to put a lineup on the ice that feels great. He's under the weather and it's as simple as that. We'll see how he sleeps this afternoon and what he comes back like.
"That's No. 1, you've got to commit to that," Renney added about Hemsky's practice habits. "He's one of those guys, because of his need for treatment, that it's abbreviated for him. The extra stuff is out of the equation because he's got to get his treatment. When he's out there, whatever the practice drill or circumstance might be, you're fully engaged and that's ultimately a choice the player makes."
If Hemsky is unable to play tonight, Sam Gagner
or Lennart Petrell
will slot in on that line. Otherwise, No. 37 will sit as Darcy Hordichuk
will be in to re-engage a season-long battle with Minnesota's Brad Staubitz, policing the ice and providing the willingness to drop the mitts if need be. Nikolai Khabibulin
will get the start in goal, looking to improve on his 10-8-3 record, 2.05 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick