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AT THE MORNING SKATE
Looking to snap an 11-game winless skid (0-8-3), the Edmonton Oilers face about as difficult an opponent as you can with a match-up against the league-leading Vancouver Canucks tonight at Rogers Arena.
The Canucks have the most points (113), most wins (52) and most road wins (26) in the entire league. They have scored the most goals in the NHL (253), allowed the fewest (177) and have recorded the top power-play and penalty-killing percentages (24.7% and 86.6%, respectively). No club has finished first in each of these categories in a single season since the NHL expanded from six teams in 1967.
"This is a great team and we're looking forward to the challenge," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney after the morning skate. "We know what they're capable of, as do 29 other teams and we get the next chance."
Among the top individual performers, Daniel Sedin leads the NHL in scoring with 100 points (41 goals, 59 assists). Twin brother Henrik - who won the Art Ross Trophy last year is third this season with 91 points. Ryan Kesler has the 40-goal plateau in his sights, tied for fourth among NHL goal-scorers with 37.
However, for Renney it will be about the lineup he has in front of him tonight and he had high praise for the play of the Oklahoma City Barons call-ups.
"It's about incremental success, and that doesn't just mean this season it means a game and every time we play. It's about five-minute segments, quite honestly. Then you build a period and build a game so that's our intention tonight, naturally, and we want to try and give Vancouver as little as possible 'free stuff'.
"Beyond that, the call-ups have done really well. I don't think there's a guy here that hasn't contributed in his own way to help us stay competitive. You can go through all of them, from Chorney to Petry, you've got Chris VandeVelde doing a nice job at centre ice for us and showing us that he's got a two-way mentality that we like.
"Ryan O'Marra with some size up the middle and an ability to win face-offs has shown us that he's capable of helping us out in that regard. And you've got people like Reddox who've done what they need to do in terms of that two-way game as well."
The head coach added that he was most impressed with the play of Teemu Hartikainen, however.
"Every one of them has contributed one way or another and I think Teemu has probably been the guy that's maybe eliminated himself a little bit more for his physical play and his ability to go to the blue paint and play a hard game."
Cory Schneider gets the start tonight for the Canucks, going head-to-head with Devan Dubnyk.
After missing four games with a concussion, Kurtis Foster returns to the Oilers lineup tonight.
"Foster's in for Strudwick," said Renney. "We'll get Kurtis going, get his shot going if we can, and try to get some power play time with him."
For the 6'4" defenceman, it's an opportunity to play a game in front of what's expected to be a boisterous crowd.
"It's going to be fun. It's going to probably be a playoff atmosphere game with the crowd noise here and how good of a team they are," he said.
Foster has waited on the sidelines a little longer than he had hoped to get a return. The blueliner felt he was ready to go Thursday against the Wild.
"(Renney) pushed me pretty hard that last day and wanted to make sure I was 100% before I came back and he asked me again yesterday. I feel really good, so I'm excited to get back and definitely eager to get back in tonight."
The only other lineup note is that Colin Fraser continues to be out due to an undisclosed injury.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10: Edmonton 0-7-3; Vancouver 9-1-0
Season Series: Fifth of six meetings this season between these Northwest Division rivals, and the beginning of a home-and-home that concludes on Tuesday in Edmonton. Vancouver has won all four matchups to this point by a 15-7 margin, with Henrik Sedin registering 1 goal and 6 assists while Daniel Sedin has 3 goals and 3 assists.
Big Story: Having wrapped up the Presidents' Trophy and knowing they will have home-ice advantage for as long as they remain alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canucks are less concerned with the final score over their remaining four regular-season games than they are with not sustaining any more key injuries or developing any bad habits heading into Game 1 of their first-round series.
Oilers: Consecutive games against the NHL's best team would seem like the last thing a team mired in an 11-game winless streak (0-8-3) needs, but Edmonton coach Tom Renney sees his players still putting in the effort as the season winds down. The Oilers will once again be favored to win the draft lottery and have the No. 1 pick this summer, but at the moment they're focused on trying to end on a high note. Knocking off the powerful Canucks would certainly provide that.
"We're not packing it in, we're not quitting in any games and we're not quitting in a shift," Renney told the Edmonton Sun. "As much as that seems like cosmetic surgery, it's real. And if you're going to redefine your team and you're going to rebuild an organization, you better start with that first and foremost and we have that."
Canucks: A team with aspirations of winning the Cup wants to turn it on coming down the stretch, and Vancouver has certainly done that. The Canucks enter the month of April having won five straight and 12 of their last 13 games. They're taking care of teams they might end up facing in the postseason as well as handling those opponents on the outside looking in. It was Christian Ehrhoff scoring with 0.9 seconds left in the middle period Thursday against the Kings for the decisive goal in a 3-1 victory, clinching the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy.
"It's nice but we want another first to come in a few months," goalie Roberto Luongo said. "That's the big one we're all keeping our eyes on obviously and, when it's all said and done, I think we'll be able to enjoy this a little more."
Who's Hot: Daniel Sedin became the first NHL player to 100 points this season with a goal and an assist against the Kings. He has 1 goal and 4 assists during a three-game points streak. Luongo has won his last four starts, giving up just a single goal each time. His save percentage is .963 over that span.
Injury Report: Edmonton defenseman Kurtis Foster (neck) is day-to-day, the latest injury for a banged-up squad whose top-three scorers, Ales Hemsky (shoulder), Sam Gagner (hand) and Taylor Hall (ankle) are all out for the season. Also sidelined are forward Shawn Horcoff (foot) and defensemen Ryan Whitney (ankle) and Taylor Chorney (knee). … Vancouver has also been hurting, with forwards Mikael Samuelsson (thigh) and Tanner Glass (ribs/abdominal) and defenseman Christopher Tanev (upper body) day-to-day. Defenseman Dan Hamhuis is out indefinitely with a concussion. Defensemen Alexander Edler (back), Lee Sweatt (foot) and Andrew Alberts (wrist) are on injured reserve. Forward Manny Malhotra had left eye surgery and is out for the season.
Stat Pack: The Oilers' active scoring leader is rookie Jordan Eberle, who has 17 goals and 39 points in 64 games. Only forward Andrew Cogliano and defenseman Tom Gilbert have played in all 77 of their games this season. … The Canucks are bidding to become the first team since the 1977-78 Canadiens to lead the League in most goals scored and fewest goals allowed. They've scored 249 non-shootout goals this season while giving up only 172.
Puck Drop: Nobody was hotter in the month of March than Anaheim forward Corey Perry, but Daniel Sedin came in a close second as far as League voting went. He was named Friday as the Second Star of the month. Sedin's 21 points in March tied Perry for first, and he registered seven multi-point efforts.
-- Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer