The Edmonton Oilers continue their 2011 pre-season schedule tonight when they take on the Vancouver Canucks at Rexall Place.
Both the Oilers and Canucks are coming off a pair of split squad games on Tuesday which they both split.
Edmonton defeated Chicago 4-2 in Saskatoon while dropping a 4-3 decision at home to Minnesota. The Canucks, meanwhile, played a pair of games against Calgary. They lost at the Saddledome 5-1, but won at home by a score of 4-3.
AT THE MORNING SKATE
With the enemy Vancouver Canucks setting up on the south-side of Rexall Place, the Oilers assembled for a quick 20-minute morning skate in preparation for the team’s third pre-season contest.
Edmonton has composed a veteran-laden squad, combining the rosters from Tuesday’s split-squad action, with some minor changes:
94 Ryan Smyth
- 93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- 14 Jordan Eberle
4 Taylor Hall
- 89 Sam Gagner
- 68 Tyler Pitlick
91 Magnus Paajarvi
- 10 Shawn Horcoff
- 23 Linus Omark
16 Darcy Hordichuk
- 60 Tanner House
– 37 Lennart Petrell
5 Ladislav Smid
- 77 Tom Gilbert
24 Theo Peckham
- 58 Jeff Petry
41 Taylor Chorney
- 48 Alex Plante
The Oilers’ Swedish sensations combined to record two goals and three assists in the team’s 4-3 setback to the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night, but will be broken up (somewhat) tonight vs. Vancouver.
Replacing Anton Lander
on the team’s second line will be the captain, who's looking forward to getting back at it.
“Well, I never worry about it,” Horcoff said of his ankle, which forced him to miss the remaining 35 games last season. “If I was blowing shoulders or pulling hamstrings due to over-training or lack of training, then I'd be concerned and would change things.
“[The ankle] is good. It’s ready to go.
“I played with Maggie (Magnus Paajarvi
) a little bit last season, but not together with Omark. It will be fun tonight.”
, who did not play in Sunday’s Joey Moss Cup or in either of the Oilers’ two pre-season games earlier this week, will also be getting an opportunity this evening.
The 22-year-old centre was limited to only 68 games in 2010-11, but has been given a clean bill of health from his coach and the team’s medical crew.
“We have guys that are now healthy that need to get playing,” Head Coach Tom Renney said. “Horcoff and Gagner were not necessarily penciled in to be playing right now; I was a couple games away from using them. I didn't want to wait any longer to get them in.
“Sam's too smart a player and too good a player not to grow into something much bigger than what he has been. I see great potential in Sam. He looks a little leaner and certainly watching him skate, he looks quicker. Since Training Camp started to this date, I do look at him as being a quicker player.
“Dougie Gilmour comes to mind.”
Gagner agreed, adding that a boatload of summer training has helped him prepare as best as he possibly could for the 2011-12 campaign.
“I think towards the end of the year last season I started feeling better and better,” he said. “I want to find that level of consistency where I can bring it every night of the year. There's a lot that goes into that and I feel like I've grown a lot as a pro.
“Part of being consistent is knowing when to be hard on yourself and knowing when to relax. At this time of year, you have to make sure that you're doing the right things and creating the right habits for when the season starts. I want to continue that throughout the pre-season and make sure I'm sharp going into the regular season.”
The Oilers’ bench boss is heading into the new season with an outlook that his club is tougher, more experienced and ready to challenge the league’s best.
“Last year was an investment in a lot of ways for returning players,” he explained. “We've added some muscle in our lineup that will help us compete harder, longer.”
Among those returning is Tom Gilbert
, who’s heading into his sixth NHL season. The veteran, puck-moving rearguard is taking on a leadership role, with so many young guys battling for a position on the Oilers’ inexperienced blueline.
He believes that his past experience under similar circumstances will help enlighten his new teammates.
“I like it,” he said when asked about his role in mentorship. “As a young guy, they're thinking about what the roster is going to look like: 'Am I going to be on the team or not? Am I going to play here?' The more you think about that, the more it gets involved in your game.
“I try to tell them all the time and show it with the way I practice. Go out there and, when you have a chance to play, play your butt off.”
Gilbert will be paired with Ladislav Smid
tonight and, pre-season or not, he’s excited to be going head-to-head with the team’s most-hated divisional counterpart.
“Regardless of who's in the lineup, this is a rivalry,” he said. “They're always physical games. We matched up okay against them last year, but we've got to start somewhere against these guys.
“We see them six times during the year, so regardless of if it's the pre-season, we've got to bring our 'A' game against them They're a fast team, they know their systems, and they're going to be pretty physical. I'm looking forward to it."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com. Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
LINE COMBOS: The Oilers will be dressing a solid lineup tonight peppered with some interesting additions. The line of Ryan Smyth
, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
and Jordan Eberle
will be making their Rexall Place debut this evening while Magnus Paajarvi
and Linus Omark
will be centered by Shawn Horcoff
will also suit up, centered by Sam Gagner
with Tyler Pitlick
on the right side. Darcy Hordichuk
makes up the fourth line with Tanner House
down the middle and Lennart Petrell
on the right side.
ON THE BLUELINE: The Oilers will have an experienced blueline with all six defenders having seen action with the club last season. Ladislav Smid
teams up with Tom Gilbert
, Taylor Chorney
goes with Alex Plante
and Theo Peckham
and Jeff Petry
make up the other pairing.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Starting in goal for the Oilers tonight will be Devan Dubnyk
. He will be backed up by off-season acquisition Yann Danis
KEEP AN EYE ON: Oilers 2010 second-round pick Tyler Pitlick
looks to be getting a real look tonight alongside Hall and Gagner. Pitlick had a strong season last year in Medicine Hat despite a slow start with 27 goals and 62 points in 56 games. Pitlick will be turning pro this season.
Also, the line of Smyth, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle impressed nearly every time they were on the ice in Saskatoon. Oilers fans will be keeping a close eye on all three, particularly Smyth and Nugent-Hopkins who make their Rexall Place debuts (Smyth for his second tour of duty, of course).
80 DIMITRAKOS, Niko
79 DUCO, Mike
25 EBBBETT, Andrew
55 FEDORUK, Todd
39 HODGSON, Cody
24 MANCARI, Mark
77 NOLAN, Owen
38 ORESKOVICH, Victor
13 PINIZZOTTO, Steven
73 ROUSSEL, Antoine
45 SCHROEDER, Jordan
54 VOLPATTI, Aaron
58 CORRADO, Frank
44 BAUMGARTNER, Nolan
5 ERIKSSON, Anders
7 PARENT, Ryan
47 SAUVE, Yann
52 SULZER, Alexander
34 LEGACE, Manny
31 LACK, Eddie
LINE COMBOS: Vancouver's top line tonight will be comprised of camp tryout hopeful Niko Dimitrakos, Cody Hodgson and Owen Nolan. Second line is Todd Fedoruk, Andrew Ebbett and Victor Oreskovich. Jordan Schroeder centres the third unit with Aaron Volpatti on the left side and Mark Mancari on the right. Fourth line has Antoine Roussel down the middle between Mike Duco and Steven Pinizzotto.
ON THE BLUELINE: Vancouver has an interesting combination of vets and rookies on the blueline tonight. Nolan Baumgartner and Anders Eriksson - in camp on a tryout - make up the veteran talent. Baumgartner will be paired with Ryan Parent whiel Eriksson skates with Yann Sauve. Alexander Sulzer and Frank Corrado, who both saw action in Penticton at the Young Stars Tournament, make up the third pairing.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: A familiar face backstops the Canucks tonight as Manny Legace gets the start for Vancouver. He'll be backed up by Eddie Lack, who played last season for the Manitoba Moose in the AHL.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Owen Nolan spent last season in the Swiss League with Zurich where he picked up 26 points in 24 games. He spent the previous two seasons with the Minnesota Wild and looks to break back into the NHL at age 39.
- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com