|Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom blocks a shot by Edmonton Oilers center Patrick O'Sullivan in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, March 22, 2009 in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
AT THE MORNING SKATE
Hemsky out -- Ales Hemsky did not participate in the Oilers morning skate, and Head Coach Pat Quinn later confirmed that the forward would not play in tonight's game.
"He's come down last night with some fever and so he was told to stay away," Quinn said. "I believe he went to some doctors this morning so he will not be dressing tonight."
Horcoff in -- Shawn Horcoff also ducked out early from the morning skate due to a nagging foot injury, but he later assured the media that he is confident he'll play tonight.
"I fully expect to play, I just have to find a way to relieve some of the pressure on the foot," he said. "It's sore. It's just right where I tie my laces, so I can't really push off on the foot, but it's just a matter of trying to get that swelling under control."
From friends to foes -- Only a few months after Kyle Brodziak left Edmonton for Minnesota, his former roommate Tom Gilbert took no mercy on the departed forward, whom he will play tonight for the first time.
"I know his weaknesses, and I'm going to try to use them as much as I can on the ice," Gilbert quipped. "He's really slow on the ice. I'm going to try to get around him as fast as I can. I know he's not quite the physical guy, so I know in the corners I'll have a little more time than usual."
On a serious note, Gilbert added "It'll be fun to play against him. As you get older, you get new teammates and it's always fun to play against them ... If their team wins, if your team wins, it's always nice to have that one-up on them."
As for Brodziak, he called his transition to Minnesota "easy" and said he's pleased about the opportunities he's been given.
"The guys on the team have been good to me and I feel like I'm getting a good opportunity to play," he said. "I've moved cities before, so that wasn't an issue, and everything else has gone pretty smoothly so far."
Season series -- First of six meetings this season between Northwest Division rivals. Minnesota took four of six from Edmonton last season -- in a scheduling oddity, the teams didn't meet for the first time until Jan. 15. Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom was 4-1 in his five starts against the Oilers, including a 3-0 shutout on March 22.
Big Story -- With the fewest points in the Western Conference, Minnesota isn't off to the start it was looking for under new coach Todd Richards and will be looking to close ground in the division. Edmonton starts off a three-game homestand at Rexall Place, where it went 2-1-1 to begin the season.
Wild -- The biggest thing Minnesota has to figure out right now is how to win on the road. The Wild have played only once at Xcel Energy Center, and that was a rousing success -- a come-from-behind 4-3 win over Anaheim. Unfortunately, they're playing a stretch of six road games in their first seven to begin the season, and they have yet to pick up a point in enemy territory.
"We need to go out there and make a team earn it," Backstrom said after the Ducks paid the Wild back with a 3-2 win on Wednesday. "Right now it seems like it's too easy for the other team. We need to play our basic game. Now, it seems like we're only doing it for 20 or 30 minutes, or every other shift."
Oilers -- A brief two-game road trip was a relative success for Edmonton -- it started off with a 6-1 thrashing of Nashville and concluded with a narrow 4-3 loss to Chicago in goalie Nikolai Khabibulin's return to the United Center. All three of the Oilers' losses this season have come by a single goal, the first two at home to Calgary.
"There were way too many easy breakouts for them," Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid said of the Blackhawks. "That's the fastest team we've faced this season. It was a pretty good test for us -- for our D-men and for our structure."
Who's Hot -- Minnesota forwards Eric Belanger and Andrew Brunette did all they could to pull out the Anaheim game by scoring goals. Belanger has a team-leading seven points and Brunette has four goals.
Edmonton coach Pat Quinn said the final score against Chicago was deceiving and the Oilers could have been beaten much worse were it not for the stellar goaltending of Khabibulin, who stopped 34 shots. Defenseman Denis Grebeshkov scored for a second straight game.
Injury Report -- The injury bug has bit in Minnesota. Forward Martin Havlat was the latest casualty, leaving Wednesday's game with a pulled groin muscle. He is day-to-day. Forward Petr Sykora is also out with a groin injury, forward Cal Clutterbuck is on injured reserve with an ankle injury and forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard has played only one game this season due to recurring headaches. Forward Derek Boogaard was activated from injured reserve after missing time due to a concussion, but he was a healthy scratch for the Anaheim game.
Edmonton defenseman Sheldon Souray is on injured reserve with a concussion. Forward Marc-Antoine Pouliot will miss the next 8-10 weeks due to hernia surgery. Defenseman Steve Staios is skating but remains day-to-day after a concussion.
Stat Pack -- Belanger has never scored more than 37 points in an NHL season, reaching that total for the Kings in 2005-06 (17-20-37) and in his first season for the Wild in 2007-08 (13-24-37). He also split the 2006-07 season between the Hurricanes and Thrashers.
Puck Drop -- Veteran forward Owen Nolan offered these words of wisdom as the Wild try to turn things around: "Mistakes are going to happen in this game, but you overcome 'em, push forward, and whatever it takes, find a way to win," he said. "It doesn't matter if you battle, the bottom line is, you need to win."
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com