CHICAGO - With an early (6:00 p.m. local) start, the Oilers only had an optional skate in Chicago this morning in addition to a team meeting. The coaches needed the preparation time with a bunch of lineup changes expected for tonight's contest at the United Center.
"We're bringing Shawn Horcoff back in. Teemu Hartikainen is coming off IR. We've put Eric Belanger onto IR. He's going to be going home tonight. It's definitely an injury in the groin area that needs some care and some time," said Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger.
Krueger added that Ales Hemsky is also drawing back into the lineup but he would not tip his hand on the new line combinations or defence pairings for tonight.
"We have just now got all the information in. I can tell you the scratches will be tonight definitely Ben Eager and Theo Peckham. Mark Fistric remains in the IR status. Eric Belanger moves to the IR status. It will be a game time decision on Petrell and/or Jones but everybody else will be in."
Krueger said that the Belanger injury occurred late in the Nashville contest.
"It was the last shift of the game (in Nashville). He went straight into the dressing room, felt a little bit of a pop in the groin area. We've done our best here the last couple of days (to treat the injury) but realized this is an injury that needs deeper care. That's why he's going home tonight so he can get right into treatment in Edmonton. The earliest he could play is next Sunday."
With Belanger out and Horcoff just returning from a hand injury that will affect his face-off ability to start, Krueger said everyone on the team needs to step up in the dot.
"We're going to really have a lot of work with everybody on the draws. Chicago is an excellent face-off team and I have to say that Shawn has developed very, very well. He felt really good today and we believe he's going to be 95% on his face-offs. But we're going to have to work those draws as a group. Winning face-offs is not only the centreman, it's everybody getting engaged and being activated in those situations and now more than ever we need to do that."
Krueger added that Ryan Smyth will be playing centre again tonight.
"We thought he did an excellent job last game of stabilizing that line and he's going to have a character line around him again."
Horcoff spoke to the media and expanded further on his status and abilities heading into tonight's game -- his first following a 17-game absence.
"I can shoot it, just not as hard as I'd like to. It's all going to come back relatively quickly," he began. "The fact that I haven't been able to do a lot of rehab on it up until the last week or so is a reason why it's like that. It feels good and it's healed to the point where I don't have to worry about anything like that. I just expect it to get better and better every day and it shouldn't be too long until it's back to 100%."
The captain added that face-offs are another thing that is about timing and even though he feels great it might take a bit to get his timing back.
"It's hard to mimic the intensity of an actual game face-off in practice but that's probably the last thing that will come."
Teemu Hartikainen will be seeing his first action on this road trip after missing the last seven games with a shoulder injury. The big winger hasn't played since February 23 against Phoenix -- a game he scored in -- but the injury came on February 19 against L.A.
"I got hit above my shoulder in the corner. I knew right away (I was hurt) but then I played two games after that and I couldn't play my game. It was a big difference," he stated.
With the Oilers carrying the maximum number of roster players of 23, Hartikainen was able to take his time before returning.
"We had a full roster so I was able to take my time to rehab my shoulder and now it's 100%. I don't have to do any medication," he said. "Now I feel great and I'm ready to go. I'm happy I got my time to rehab my shoulder. It's perfect now."
Hartikainen knows from watching the past seven games in the press box that the Oilers can badly use the physical element that he can provide.
"I've been watching the games upstairs and I've seen a lot of things. Now I see really well why I'm on the team and what I have to do. It's confirmed to me seeing those games that I can do all those things. Coaches are saying all the time to me what they want me to do and I can see why and I like to do some greasy stuff, go to the net, bring some energy through the lineup and play simple."
Mark Fistric has rejoined the team after missing the past five games with an elbow injury.
"We've got Mark Fistric back here but he's only skating with us, he's not coming in the lineup," said Krueger.
Fistric fell awkwardly on his elbow as his elbow pad had slipped down during the team's game in Dallas. He played the rest of the game but the elbow ended up getting infected and he had to return home.
Back in Edmonton, Fistric ended up getting IV three times per day and seven times total.
"It's hard to get ice in Edmonton on the weekend so it may more sense to rejoin the team," he said. "I skated this morning (in Chicago) and it felt good."
Fistric said there's a chance he could be ready to play for Tuesday in Denver.
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