NHL Preview: Vancouver Canucks vs. Edmonton Oilers

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The battle for first place in the Northwest Division continues tonight as the Vancouver Canucks (4-2-2, 1st in the Northwest Division) come to Rexall Place to take on the Edmonton Oilers (4-2-2, T-2nd in the Northwest Division). The Oilers won their season-opener against the Canucks in Vancouver, a 3-2 victory in a shootout. The Oilers are 2-1-0 at home, while the Canucks are 1-1-1 on the road.

Special teams, as always will be a big factor in the outcome of tonight’s contest. The Oilers are converting on 35% (7 for 20) of their power plays at home, and 28.9% overall, good for sixth in the NHL. Vancouver, on the other hand, is only connecting on 17.1% of their power plays, which ranks seventeenth in the NHL. After killing all six of their penalties on Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers are now fifth in the league in penalty kill percentage (87.5%), while the Canucks rank twentieth (77.1%). Despite Vancouver’s formidable offensive prowess, such disparity on both sides of the special teams game could prove costly to the Canucks, especially being in the hostile confines of Rexall Place.

Roberto Luongo figures to get the start in net tonight against the Oilers with the division lead on the line, but will it be Devan Dubnyk in net for the Oilers yet again, or will he finally get the night off now that Nikolai Khabibulin is reportedly healthy enough to play again? Other questions revolve around key players for both teams–namely Justin Schultz and Daniel Sedin–who have gone pointless in the past four games, or Henrik Sedin who has only managed one point in that span? Will any of them be able to break out of their slumps tonight?

And as for the injury report for both teams, it’s a bit ugly. The Canucks continue to miss Ryan Kesler, and while he was back skating with the team again over the weekend, there is no indication he will be available for tonight’s game. For the Oilers, this could be a brutal night for them in the faceoff circle, as Shawn Horcoff figures to miss another game with a strained neck, while Eric Belanger was recently placed on the IR with a lower body injury. Magnus Paajarvi was just called back up from the Oklahoma City Barons, presumably to fill in as a fourth-line winger while Anton Lander moves up to third-line center and, I guess, Lennart Petrell scoots over to fourth-line center. The Oilers’ potential lack of effectiveness in the faceoff circle is a weakness the Canucks could have a lot of fun exploiting tonight.

Will the Oilers take control of the division tonight? Or will the Canucks avenge last month’s loss?

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