SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers search for elusive win in Minnesota

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:47 PM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For Tom Gilbert, playing in Minnesota will always special.

But if he ever actually won a game there, that would be something to really cherish.

On Thursday, Gilbert will be making is 13th trip back to his home state when the Edmonton Oilers take on the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. The first 12 have all resulted in losses.

"It's special going back home because I haven't won a game there yet," said Gilbert. "I'm still waiting, my family is still waiting. It would be nice to have something to celebrate after the game.

"That's been the most disappointing part of going home, for some reason, when we go to Minnesota they always play a really good game against us. We really need to match up against them this year."

Heading into the game, the Oilers have dropped their last 13 games in Minnesota.

The last time they beat the Wild in Minnesota was Jan. 16, 2007 when they pulled out a 2-1 victory.

Since then, it's been guaranteed-loss night in the State of Hockey for the Oilers, managing to earn just a pair of points in an overtime loss and a shootout loss.

"It's been frustrating," said Gilbert, a native of Bloomington, Minnesota. "Last year we split the season series, but each team won all three games at home. For some reason, we can't seem to break each other away from home.

"That's the way it's supposed to be, but that's something that we're going to have to try and break."

Traditionally, the Oilers have had difficulties with the Wild's stifling defensive system, particularity under head coach Jacques Martin who believed the game was about preventing goals, not necessarily scoring them.

Last year under new head coach Todd Richards, the Wild opened up somewhat and attempted to entertain their fans for a change, but the Oilers were still unable to skate away with a win in Minnesota.

They lost all three games on the road to the Wild, unable to score more than a pair of goals against goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who has never lost to the Oilers at home.

"It has to be one of those things where you have to have a short memory," said Oilers centre Sam Gagner. "It's a new year and we've really changed a lot of things. We know they always have a great crowd there and they always seem to feed of that.

"But we can't read too much into that. If we play our systems the right way and make sure we're intent on doing the right things, I think we should be alright. We have to focus on what we have to do in there and not focus on the past too much."

The Wild are heading into the contest after dropping their first two games of the year in Europe.

They'll be celebrating their 10-year anniversary before the game and go in having won eight of their last nine home openers.

"So many of our opponents are new to us as a group, that it almost doesn't matter," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "I think what's really important for us is the next great challenge for us, we're finally getting a chance to play a game on the road which is exciting for us.

"I think if we can pay attention of how we can play, I think we have as good a shot as we've had in the last little while in Minnesota."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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