Edmonton, AB - It'll be a reunion, so to speak. Ex-Oilers Lubomir Visnovsky, J-F Jacques (suspended) and Jeff Deslauriers are all returning to Rexall Place; Andrew Cogliano, is as well, and the 24-year-old is extra excited to make his debut as an opponent on the same ice in which is NHL career began four seasons ago.
"I'm sure it's pretty exciting for him," said ex-teammate Sam Gagner, whose career also began in the 2007-08 campaign. "Edmonton was the only place he'd played throughout his career before going to Anaheim, so coming back here, I'm sure there's going to be a lot of emotion; the guy really loved it here and it should be fun. Once the puck drops, there aren't any buddies out there, though.
"I'm sure it's going to be a good experience for him, but I hope we take the win away."
Cogliano didn't miss a single game through four seasons with the Oilers, posting 146 points in 328 career games with the orange and blue. A struggle to maintain progress and increased depth at centre allowed the Oilers to make a mid-summer move, trading the speedster to Anaheim in exchange for a second-round pick.
Cogliano has had success in So-Cal, notching eight goals and 14 points in 42 games this season, all the while developing a more suitable role alongside some talented veterans and Hall of Famers (Teemu Selanne).
"That's where I'm going here now, settling in," he said. "I'm in more of a role than I was in last year. I need to have a role, help the team and make sure I'm contributing.
"It's been fun," Cogliano added about his return to Oil Country. "It's good. I'm excited to see those guys and I'm really excited to see (Joey) Moss. I've been missing that guy; and all the guys in general, to be honest. I had four of the best years of my life playing here and with those guys. Even though we didn't have winning seasons, it was the time of my life.
"I miss everyone."
Cogliano lived with Tom Gilbert and Sam Gagner early on and developed an extra special relationship with his teammates; and, regardless of the fact that they're now on-ice enemies, there's (literally) no love lost.
"Everyone here is happy for him," Gagner explained. "He's a guy that everyone loved as a teammate, and he went out every night and was consistent with his work ethic. For him to go and get a chance to play a big role there and play well, it's something that's good to see and it's good for him."
"You see what's coming on the horizon and you want to make sure that there's opportunity for other players to play," added Head Coach Tom Renney, who noted that the team's depth has improved, which helped orchestrate the Oilers' trade with the Ducks. "I liked what Andrew had done here and what he was evolving into, and obviously other teams liked him, too.
"Good on him. The bottom line is he's a Duck. You've got to shoot Ducks."
THE NIGHT AHEAD
In order to do that, the Oilers will need to complete the deal and play a full 60-minute game tonight. While the club has begrudgingly secured a low placement in the NHL's Western Conference standings, the Oilers still sit up on the Ducks and are looking to extend a three-point lead to a more controlling advantage.
"These are the games you have to win if you want to move up in the standings," Gagner said. "I thought we played well last game, and it's a matter of driving the same principles and moving forward that way."
"I think they're starting to hit stride," added Renney, commenting on the Ducks' recent 4-4-2 string. "They're a big, strong team; they skate well, they're high-energy, they can play physical and I think when he's on his game, (Jonas) Hiller is a very, very good goaltender in this league. It seems to me that they're starting to nail it. Our need is to be likewise and real stingy at home, and force this group that likes to attack, to defend. It should be a good game tonight."
Hiller did start in yesterday's match with the Flames, losing 1-0 in overtime on a Blair Jones goal. He's posted a 10-17-7 record this season, along with a 3.07 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. On his opposite side, birthday-boy Nikolai Khabibulin (39) will start in net for the Oilers.
Other lineup notables: Josh Green, who was recalled on Thursday morning to help replace the ill Ryan O'Marra, will be slotted in. With that being said, both will play tonight. Darcy Hordichuk will be the odd-man out as O'Marra and Green will line up alongside Ben Eager on the fourth line.
Season Series: The teams are meeting for the first of four times this season -- they don't see each other again until March 5. The Ducks won the last three of the four games in 2010-11 and have won seven straight visits to Rexall Place.
Big Story: The 13th- and 14th-place teams in the Western Conference both need to run off a string of victories to have any hopes of getting back in the playoff race -- the Oilers are 14 points out of eighth place; the Ducks are 17 out despite a 3-0-1 burst.
Ducks: Anaheim opened a road trip in Calgary on Thursday night after winning the final three games of a six-game homestand for its best stretch under new coach Bruce Boudreau. With starting goaltender Jonas Hiller back from injury, the Ducks' defense tightened up -- but the offense did nothing. Blair Jones' overtime goal gave the Flames a 1-0 win.
But with points in four games, center Saku Koivu said the Ducks have something to build on.
"The wins on the road have been really tough for us," Koivu said. "We were able to keep them under 15 shots throughout almost the whole game. We did a lot of good things out there. You're trying to build on things with things like this and games like this and grab all the positives for tomorrow's game and then hopefully get the win."
Oilers: There was disappointment at practice on Thursday after the Oilers had to settle for a point when New Jersey scored a power-play goal in overtime for a 2-1 win at Rexall Place on Wednesday. But there was also a sense of progress being made. The Oilers battled back to tie the game in the third period and had numerous chances to win before an offensive-zone penalty to Corey Potter in the final minute of regulation set up the Devils' OT winner.
"It was a tight game, but we had chances on the power play," Anton Lander said. "We've got to step up because we need the points tomorrow."
Who's Hot: Hiller bounced back from a lower-body injury and stopped 19 of 20 shots in Calgary. He's 1-0-1 in his last two decisions. … Ales Hemsky scored Edmonton's lone goal against the Devils and has four points in his last four games.
Injury Report: Anaheim backup goaltender Dan Ellis is on IR with a groin injury. … The Oilers are still without their top two scorers, Jordan Eberle (knee) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who hopes to recover from a shoulder injury in time to take part in All-Star Weekend. Also missing are defensemen Ryan Whitney, Cam Barker and Tom Gilbert, all of whom are sidelined with ankle injuries.
Stat Pack: Anaheim is 1-16-3 when giving up the first goal. ... The Ducks are 6-9-3 since Boudreau took over as coach on Nov. 30.
Puck Drop: Friday's game is a homecoming of sorts for Anaheim's Andrew Cogliano, who was traded to the Ducks by the Oilers last summer. Cogliano spent his first four seasons with the Oilers after Edmonton picked him in the first round (No. 25) in the 2005 NHL Draft, but never approached the 45 points he scored in his rookie season.
The Ducks signed him to a three-year contract after the deal; he has eight goals and 14 points this season.
“I thought Andrew last year found his game,” Oilers coach Tom Renney said Thursday. “He found how he could be important to a team. I think he will build on that now moving forward. You have to give up things in order to get things and I thought Cogs is a really good kid and has assets that people playing in this League can only dream of."