Sam Gagner #89 of the Edmonton Oilers carries the puck against Garnet Exelby #2 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on January 20, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Edmonton Oilers return home to begin a three-game homestand tonight at Rexall Place against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Although Atlanta has won six of their last ten, they’re 19 points away from a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. After a disappointing first few months of the season the team has struggled to make upward movement in the Conference.
The Thrashers come into tonight's game having won each of their last three outings. They have defeated Montreal, Calgary and Colorado by a combined score of 10-2 and are playing their best hockey of the season.
Edmonton is starting to come out of its recent slump and has picked up at least a point in six of its last eight games (3-2-3). The battle for the final two playoff spots is a tight one in the Western Conference with five teams separated by a single point. Edmonton and Nashville are currently holding court at 71 points with Minnesota, Dallas and Anaheim each at 70 points on the outside looking in.
This is the only meeting of the season between the Oilers and Thrashers.
OILERS TO WATCH: The Oilers two newest additions, Patrick O’Sullivan and Ales Kotalik, will be playing in front of the home crowd in Edmonton for the first time tonight. Both O’Sullivan and Kotalik are positioned to contribute to the team’s offensive efforts sitting at 38 and 32 points this season, respectively. Oilers sophomore, Sam Gagner, is on a hot streak with six points in his last four games. Gagner nearly collected a hat trick last week, but settled with two goals when one of his attempts was disallowed. Kyle Brodziak, posted two goals on Saturday night’s game at Toronto, including the game winner. Brodziak has 10- 11-21 this season and a +1 ranking. Oilers defenceman, Tom Gilbert, is sitting in fourth place on the team for points and in sixth place for assists among defencemen across the league with 4-34-38. Gilbert has four points in his last five games including the game winning goal against his hometown team, Minnesota, on February 28th. Gilbert’s defensive partner, Denis Grebeshkov, has collected four points in his last five games after returning from an ankle injury. Grebeskov has a +10 ranking this season, top among Oilers.
THRASHERS TO WATCH: Former Oiler Marty Reasoner makes his return to Rexall Place tonight. Reasoner has 10 goals and 23 points in 64 games and leads Atlanta with a +9 rating... The team’s Captain, Ilya Kovalchuk, has made a huge contribution offensively this season with 36- 42-78. Fourth in the NHL for goals and sixth for assists, this all-star has been exceptional. In his last five games, Kovalchuk has collected 12 points, including one 5-point game. Another strong offensive player is Todd White who has 17-41- 58 this season. White has scored five points in his last five games. Edmonton born, Bryan Little, has four points in three games and has 28-17-45 this season. Little collected the game winning goal on March 6th, something he’s done four times this season. Blueliner Ron Hainsey is leading his team for points among defencemen with 5-28-33. Hainsey has three points in his last five games and recently set a career high, 28 assists.
ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton—Ethan Moreau (eye) is probable. Sheldon Souray (lower body) is doubtful. Atlanta—The Thrashers are healthy.
FAST FACTS: Atlanta has the 30th ranked penalty killing in the NHL at 75.9%. However, Edmonton's power play on home ice has sunk to 28th in the League at 14.0%... The Thrashers are 13th in the NHL at 19.5% but on the road that improves to 5th in the League at 23.5%... Edmonton is 10-5-3 when tied after two periods while Atlanta is 3-8-3. However, the Thrashers are 19-1-0 when holding a lead after 40 minutes... The Oilers have allowed 80 goals in the second period which is far more than the 60 allowed in the first and 56 allowed in the third. However, Atlanta has scored only 56 times in the middle frame. They've scored 62 times in the first and 79 times in the third.
It's Fan Appreciation Night tonight at Rexall Place - In recognition of our fans who may not be able to make it to the game but still follow the Oilers closely via the website, fill out the form below and you can win!
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From the Wire (AP)
The Edmonton Oilers probably need to earn several points during their three-game homestand to maintain their tenuous grip on a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Starting it with a victory over the Atlanta Thrashers doesn't look as easy as it once did.
The Thrashers will look to win a fourth straight game for the first time since November on Thursday night in Edmonton, where they haven't won in more than eight years.
The Oilers (32-27-7) are tied for seventh place in the West after a 4-3 overtime loss at Montreal on Tuesday night, but they're just four points ahead of 13th-place Los Angeles atop a logjam for the conference's final two playoff spots.
Edmonton led the Canadiens 3-2 with five minutes to play in the third period, but Saku Koivu scored twice, including 1:40 into overtime, to deal the Oilers their seventh loss in 10 games.
"It was disappointing, but a lot of good positive signs in terms of the way we played, and now we've got to get some momentum back home," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said.
The Oilers outshot Montreal 17-2 in the second period, when they scored all three of their goals. Defenseman Sheldon Souray had a goal and an assist but left the game with a lower-body injury and did not return, leaving his status unclear for Thursday's game.
Dwayne Roloson made his 22nd consecutive start for Edmonton, and figures to continue as the team's workhorse goaltender down the stretch. In six career appearances against Atlanta, he is 4-0-0 with a tie and a 2.36 goals-against average.
With Colorado and St. Louis also set to visit Edmonton on this homestand, the Oilers will face three teams among the bottom five in their respective conference standings. They've won three straight against the Thrashers, whose last victory at Rexall Place was a 3-1 win on Oct. 25, 2000.
Atlanta (26-35-6) returns to the NHL's northernmost venue with a hot goaltender. Kari Lehtonen has tripled his season shutout total in his last three starts, blanking a pair of opponents and winning all three games as the Thrashers matched their second-longest win streak of the season.
Lehtonen has stopped 87 of 89 shots during that stretch, lowering his GAA to 3.00.
"I can't explain it," Lehtonen said after making 35 saves in a 3-0 win at Colorado on Tuesday night. "It isn't anything technical. I just feel comfortable, and the team in front of me has been comfortable with me."
The Thrashers haven't won four in a row since a five-game streak in early November, but they'll have a good chance if their strong defensive play continues.
Offense has rarely been a problem this season, but Atlanta ranks 29th in the league with a 3.37 team GAA. The Thrashers have held the opposition scoreless in 15 power-play chances over the last four games.
"When you're getting great goaltending, it makes the rest of the game a little easier," coach John Anderson said.
Against the Avalanche, rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian scored the game-winning goal and leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk added two assists.
Kovalchuk has ramped up his production lately, totaling 15 goals and 13 assists in his last 14 games - easily the most points in the NHL over that span.