AT OILERS PRACTICE
LEDUC - The Edmonton Oilers practiced in Leduc on Friday prior to departing for Detroit where they will play the Red Wings in an afternoon clash on Saturday.
In an effort to try and improve the team's fortunes five-on-five, the team went with some different line combinations.
"It's a great chance for me to prove my skills and play with the good guys," said Hartikainen. "I played in OKC with them and last year when I was up here I played with them so I've been playing with them and I like what they do. Of course, my job is to go to the net, dig in the corners and try to get the loose puck for them. I'm not a playmaker right now, just hard working."
At the start of the AHL season with the Barons when Taylor Hall was still on the shelf with his shoulder injury, Hartikainen played on a line with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. He picked up a point in six of eight games on the line with three goals and six assists for nine points.
"Ebs is shooting a lot in games and I like to find those rebounds if he doesn't score. I'll go to the front of the net and find the rebound," Hartikainen said of his linemates. "Nuge is just a really good player. I need to find the open spots so I can shoot the puck. Overall, they create scoring chances every game so that's good for me to find secondary chances from there close to the net."
Krueger has been impressed with the play of Hartikainen over the past few games.
"When you look at Hartikainen -- and when you look at Paajarvi -- the last few games, they were really close to playing the system and principles that we want here on a shift-to-shift basis. Sometimes adding or mixing these players into the skill set can change the dynamics of our whole team. The possibility of having scoring on all three lines, things that we're still experimenting with. We're still a long way from a finished product. Looking at the different options and one of them is the strong play of Paajarvi, Hartikainen."
Nail Yakupov moved to the right wing. On Friday he skated with Magnus Paajarvi on the left side and Eric Belanger in the middle. Belanger will not be eligible to come off the injured reserve until Sunday so there's the possibility that Chris VandeVelde will slide into that spot.
"We don't have Eric Belanger yet. We have Chris VandeVelde, working him into the lineup. The way it's been going right now you cannot plan beyond the day you're in and that's what we really need to do here is focus on Detroit. We have an early game in Detroit, we have a long afternoon and evening getting ready for Columbus where we'll look at what's best for the team then," Krueger continued.
"Eric looked really good. We're really happy with his development and as we all know he could be cleared earliest on Sunday. We'll test him (tomorrow) in Detroit and make that decision probably tomorrow on him."
"I've been pushing myself hard the last two days in practice so I hope to carry that forward tomorrow," said Eager.
"Ben just gave us such a good feel at the start," added Krueger. "He was all in and we feel that he's adding that element that we desperately need, the physicality on the forecheck, difficult to play against, brings toughness into the lineup. Also, a scoring threat. You've got to remember for the ice time he had last year, getting the goals he had, he is a threat to score at all times. We're pleased to have him back. He looks fresh and freshness is good right now into our 11th game in this point in time.
Krueger wouldn't confirm that the lines from practice today would end up being the lines in the game on Saturday but he did say that generating more five-on-five was a priority.
"We've been stalled by injuries. The injuries have made flexibility and mobility between different lines more difficult because you would be that much more out of sync with bodies coming in, like Arcobello last game," he said. "Let's see how everybody is after this practice today, speaking with the medical staff and once we know, we definitely want to get five-on-five going. That's a major issue on the table right now in our room is to improve our defensive zone play -- we're happy with the forecheck and backchecking. It's more in our own end and offensively what we're doing with opportunities and how we're finishing five-on-five. So changing the lines is one of the options."
Ralph Krueger played his goaltending situation close to the vest, not tipping his hand on which netminder would play in which game this weekend.
"We feel both goaltenders are ready and we're going to make that announcement on game day in Detroit. Have them both in a position to play here. We feel good with the way Duby's been and we feel that Nikolai's at the point where he's ready to enter the net so we'll make that decision on game day," he said.
Krueger didn't even indicate whether Khabibulin would even get in.
"We will go day-to-day just like always. We certainly are always trying to feel how both of them are doing. In conversations with the coaching staff, we will continue to make the best decisions for that game on that day."
"We're just going to get ready for the Detroit game right now and not think about the next game."
Mark Fistric rotated in on the third pairing with Corey Potter and Ryan Whitney. It's not known who will play in which games … Krueger confirmed that Anton Lander will be out for at least the next four weeks as an MRI revealed some significant damage: "He broke his foot, that's a minimum of four weeks."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
TV: CBC, FS-D
Season series: It's the first of three meetings between the teams this season. Detroit prevailed in three of their four meetings last season, with Drew Miller scoring four of his 14 goals against Edmonton. Sam Gagner had four goals to pace the Oilers in the series.
Big story: With an odd number of Canadian teams after Winnipeg's return to the NHL a season ago, Edmonton is the one out of seven that ends up facing a U.S.-based opponent on Hockey Day In Canada. The Oilers and Red Wings have developed a decent rivalry over the years, though -- it's hard to forget the upset eighth-seeded Edmonton pulled on Detroit in 2006 en route to the franchise's most recent trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Oilers: In his first season behind the Edmonton bench, coach Ralph Krueger has seen his young group battle hard in almost every game. Although they enter Saturday on a four-game winless streak, the points earned from the overtime/shootout losses kept them in the playoff race. Hosting the Stars on Wednesday, they got a goal and an assist from Ales Hemsky and took the game into overtime before yielding the record 17th career overtime goal by Jaromir Jagr in a tough 3-2 setback.
"It wasn't the greatest effort from us," defenseman Justin Schultz, whose power-play goal in the third period helped earn the Oilers a point, said. "We found a way to come back in the third period, but we needed to find a way to win it."
Red Wings: The expectation is workhorse Jimmy Howard will be back in net for Detroit, but coach Mike Babcock finally was able to get him a night off Thursday in St. Louis, and he had to be heartened by the response he got from rookie Petr Mrazek. In his NHL debut, the 20-year-old stopped 26 shots and led the Red Wings to a relatively easy 5-1 win against the St. Louis Blues. Five different Wings scored goals and 11 had at least one point. Cory Emmerton finished with a goal and an assist.
"The thing I liked about the kid was that he didn't generate second chances for them," Babcock said of Mrazek. "The puck wasn't coming off. He was soft and under control. Good for the kid. It's not an easy League to play in and St. Louis is a real good team. I thought our guys played hard and battled hard and in the end got a real big win."
Who's hot: Gagner had an assist Tuesday to extend his points streak to start the season to 10 games (3-8-11). Hemsky has two goals and two assists during a three-game points streak. … Red Wings rookie Damien Brunner scored his fifth goal in 10 games Thursday.
Injury report: Edmonton forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder), Darcy Hordichuk (facial laceration) and Anton Lander (foot), as well as defenseman Mark Fistric (back) all are day-to-day. Forwards Ryan Jones (eye), Ben Eager (concussion), Eric Belanger (foot) and Shawn Horcoff (hand), as well as defensemen Andy Sutton (knee) and Theo Peckham (hip) are on injured reserve. … Detroit goalies Joey MacDonald (back) and Jonas Gustavsson (groin) remain out, along with defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) and Brendan Smith (shoulder) and forwards Jan Mursak (collarbone), Mikael Samuelsson (groin) and Darren Helm (back)
-- Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer
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