Nugent-Hopkins expected back for Oilers against Rangers (Mar 03, 2018)

March 3, 2018

When Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Edmonton Oilers look back on this season, the mantra for both could be "what might have been."

After missing nearly two months, Nugent-Hopkins is expected to return Saturday night when the Oilers take on red-hot Ryan Spooner and the New York Rangers.

"I'm excited to come back. I want to be back in the lineup. It's been long enough," the top overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft said on Friday. Coach Todd McLellan said Nugent-Hopkins is penciled in but wants to see how he performs in practice Saturday.

Nugent-Hopkins was on pace for a breakout season before suffering a rib injury Jan. 13 in a win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Edmonton went 7-10-1 in his absence, effectively falling out of contention after a deep playoff run last season.

Despite missing nearly a quarter of the season, Nugent-Hopkins still ranks third on the club in goals (16) and tied for third in points (31).

"I want to be able to pick it up were I left off," the 24-year-old center said.

If Nugent-Hopkins can do that, he gives the Oilers another offensive weapon with Connor McDavid (77 points) and Leon Draisaitl (58 points).

McDavid has 14 goals and 23 points since Feb. 1. Edmonton's captain needs one goal to match the career-high 30 he collected last season en route to winning the Hart Trophy.

McDavid also scored in the Oilers' 4-2 loss to the Rangers on Nov. 11 at Madison Square Garden.

Draisaitl has nine goals and nine assists in 15 games since the start of February. He posted a career-best four points -- all assists -- in Edmonton's 7-5 home win over the Rangers on Dec. 11, 2015.

The Oilers have dropped three of their last four at home to the Rangers with two losses coming via shutout.

Edmonton (27-33-4) is looking to avoid its third straight loss after falling 4-2 to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. The Oilers have five losing streaks of at least three games this season.

New York (29-30-6) is in position to sweep its annual Western Canadian swing. After topping the Vancouver Canucks 6-5 in overtime on Wednesday, the Rangers defeated the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Friday.

New York is 11-4-0 against the Pacific Division, but just 3-6-0 in back ends of games on consecutive nights in 2017-18.

One standout on the trip is Spooner. The 26-year-old center has a goal and four assists on the trip after collecting two helpers in his Rangers debut hours after being acquired from the Boston Bruins on Sunday in the deal involving Rick Nash.

"It's been great. I really just want to help out. It's been fun for sure," said Spooner, who has one assist in six career games against the Oilers.

The other standout is Henrik Lundqvist, who is scheduled for a well-deserved break one night after his 36th birthday. Through the first two games of the trip, he has stopped 100 of 106 shots.

"You want to feel like you're making a difference out there," Lundqvist said after making at least 50 saves in back-to-back games for the first time in his 13-year career.

Lundqvist has surrendered seven goals in a personal three-game winning streak against the Oilers, but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday that 22-year-old rookie Alexandar Georgiev (0-2-0, 3.04 goals-against average, .922 save percentage) would face Edmonton for the first time.

Whoever starts in net for the Oilers has ties to the Rangers. Cam Talbot (22-25-2, 3.13 GAA, .903 save percentage, one shutout) won 33 games in two seasons backing up Lundqvist.

Al Montoya (2-1-1, 3.15 GAA, .894 save percentage with Edmonton) was selected sixth overall by New York in the 2004 NHL Draft, but never played for the club.

Either Talbot or Montoya will be tasked with trying to slow down winger Mats Zuccarello, who has four goals and seven assists in nine career games versus the Oilers.

Zuccarello has not registered a point in a season-high five games, but leads New York with 33 assists and 43 points.

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