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AT THE MORNING SKATE
EDMONTON - The Oilers took part in an optional morning skate today at Rexall Place ahead of a key Hockey Night in Canada match-up with the Vancouver Canucks.
Tonight is the Oilers' first Northwest Division match-up over a span of eight games and only their third in their past 18. It comes against a Canucks squad has been red hot as of late, having won each of their last six games.
"When we looked at them earlier in the season, they were in and out of their identity but if you look at the stretch of six games without a loss, the way the scores have been and the way they're playing -- and Cory Schneider's playing -- they're not giving up much at all right now," said Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger. "They're really back to what made them a President's Trophy Winner."
Edmonton's record against the Northwest Division is 4-4-1 this season. Both games against the Canucks have gone past regulation with Edmonton winning 3-2 in a shootout at Vancouver in the team's season opener and Vancouver winning 3-2 in overtime at Rexall Place several weeks later.
"They're very confident, very patient. We're hitting the Vancouver Canucks playing the way they want to play. We need to try and break that today but there's a lot of respect looking at them lately for the way they've recovered. They've got some key injuries still but as a group they're really playing that five-man offence, defence that Vancovuer likes to play and they're getting excellent goaltending to boot."
Tonight's starting goaltender for the Oilers, Devan Dubnyk remarked that he knows about Vancouver's recent success -- particularly in goaltending, having given up only six goals in those six games -- but says there's little margin of error on any night no matter who the team is playing.
"That's how it is every night," said Dubnyk when asked about the small margin of error. "For the most part, there's great goalies in this league on every team. It's our job to go out there and make sure that we're putting in a great effort as well."
In March, Schneider has a goals-against average of 1.57 and save percentage of .944 to go along with a record of 7-1-2.
"Schneids has been playing phenomenal lately and he's a great goalie," Dubnyk continued. "Especially the way he's rolling, tonight it's going to be important that we go out there and we really crash the net and bang. Sometimes when a goalie is rolling that well, you need to try and go and get some greasy ones. As always, it's going to be my job to make sure that I'm putting in just as good an effort at the other end."
LINES STAY THE SAME
The Oilers will be going with the exact same squad that they finished the Blue Jackets game with. That means Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle as the first unit, Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky as the second, Ryan Jones, Shawn Horcoff and Nail Yakupov as the third and Lennart Petrell, Ryan Smyth and Mike Brown as the fourth.
"We'll begin the game with the same lineup that we ended the (last) game with," said Krueger. "There's some confidence in the group right now but understanding what's coming at us today, we've got some options."
Krueger added that ideally he'd like to be rolling through the lines rather than playing match-up with Vancouver, whose Sedins have wreaked havoc on the Oilers historically with 131 points in 138 career games between them.
"Offensively we like the fact that we can roll through four lines and feel good about our lineup," Krueger opened. "I find that creating pace right now with our lineup has been the key and the match-up has been a secondary thing that we look for -- maybe off a TV timeout. In the flow of the game, especially the first six minutes until the TV timeouts show up, I think it's important for us to find our pace, find our legs early, get a good start and not worry so much. I think everybody has shown they can play against the top lines of the other teams. It must be more about us today than about them."
"Devan's starting in goal and the D pairs have been solid through the past two games."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
CANUCKS (19-9-6) at OILERS (13-13-7)
TV: CBC, RDS2
Last 10: Vancouver 8-2-0, Oilers 5-3-2
Season series: This is the third meeting of the five-game season series between these Northwest Division rivals. Edmonton prevailed 3-2 in a shootout in their first contest of the season on Jan. 20 and the Canucks edged the Oilers 3-2 in overtime in their last meeting on Feb. 4.
Big story: The Canucks are looking to extend a six-game winning streak and to maintain their first-place spot in the Northwest Division. The Oilers have won back-to-back games as they try to stay in the playoff race.
Canucks: The Canucks reunited the Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows line in their 4-1 victory over the Avalanche on Thursday night with that line combining for six points. The change helped spark Daniel Sedin, who had just one goal in his previous 13 games.
"They've been playing well," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of his top unit. "They've been spending some time in the other team's end and they've been getting some chances. They weren't getting a lot of reward for their effort but [Thursday] they did."
Netminder Cory Schneider is on a roll -- he's been in goal for all six wins during the streak and made 32 saves against the Avalanche on Thursday night. He has allowed only six goals in as many games.
Oilers: With just 15 regular-season games remaining, the Oilers have 33 points and are in a pile of teams just outside the top eight in the West. They've helped their chances by shutting out eighth-place St. Louis 3-0 on Tuesday and rallying to beat Columbus 6-4 on Thursday.
"With the way the standings are right now, you have to find ways to get clean wins," said Sam Gagner, who had a goal and two assists in the come-from-behind win against the Blue Jackets, "If we're going to fight our way back into the playoff race, we've got to do that."
Who's hot: Despite his recent scoring drought, Daniel Sedin still leads the Canucks in goals scored with 10 … Gagner leads the Oilers in points with 31, including 13 goals.
Injury report: Vancouver forwards Zack Kassian (back) and Dale Weise (shoulder) are both day-to-day. Defenseman Keith Ballard (foot) is also day-to-day with a minor foot fracture… Oilers forward Eric Belanger (groin) is day-to-day and defenseman Andy Sutton (knee) is out indefinitely.