OILERS vs. AVALANCHE:
AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Oilers started their final game-day of 2010 with morning skate at Rexall Place. After skipping Wednesday's practice, defenceman Jim Vandermeer participated in the drills but is not ready to participate in the match.
Forwards Linus Omark, Jean-Francois Jacques, and Steve MacIntyre will also watch from the press box as healthy scratches. To fill the forward gaps, Zack Stortini will return to action, skating with Ryan Jones and Colin Fraser.
"It's great to be back in the line-up," Stortini said. "You always hate sitting out, and I'll just try to make the most of this opportunity."
Gilbert Brule has also recovered from the flu and will be paired with Ryan O'Marra and Magnus Paajarvi.
"I had a couple of days of sickness the first two days and after that I was just wiped out basically, dehydrated, so I had to get some fluids back in me," Brule explained.
Although Brule has come off the injured reserve, the spot was quickly filled by defenceman Ryan Whitney, who injured his ankle Tuesday night vs. Buffalo.
"It was a pivot," he recalled. "I just felt something kind of almost pop a little bit. It was an innocent play. I think I might have maybe caught a rut."
Unfortunately, it will take two weeks before a proper assessment can be done on the injury, Whitney explained.
"I had obviously an MRI yesterday and there's some damage obviously in my ankle," he said. "Talking to the ankle specialist last night, I've got to wait about two weeks just to see swelling to go down. There's so much inflammation, he really can't say for sure yet what's going on."
Head coach Tom Renney said "only time will tell" how the team adapts to the absence of its leading scorer, but that adaptation must begin immediately.
"We can't sit back feeling sorry for ourselves under these circumstances," he said. "We just have to understand it as game-on and go play hard for a teammate."
BIG SKATES TO FILL
The Oilers will be looking to the rest of their defensive corps to step up in Whitney's absence, but Renney admits he's unsure who can match the veteran's contributions, especially on the power-play.
"At this point in time, after having spoken about it last night and again this morning, we're not sure exactly who that might be and whether or not we've got anyone capable of that, quite honestly," he said candidly.
"At this point in time, we think we've got some pieces to move around to give us some success. We brought a young guy (Jeff Petry) up from Oklahoma City that I think will give us a chance to have a look at him on the power-play as well, so we'll see what we've got."
Although Petry has only one NHL game on his resume, Renney said he wouldn't hesitate to test him in key situations.
"Bring him in, play him -- that's what he's here for. We're not going to protect guys from playing hockey. That's what they've been doing all their lives.
"It's a tough situation, we all get that, but it's an opportunity now to look at our defencemen, for example, in the organization. And Pete, it's a good opportunity for him to have a look at it, and we'll just see if he can contribute on our power-play and how he does on our penalty-kill and what type of a hockey player he is and how close he is to being a regular NHLer," Renney said.
Taylor Hall hopes the team responds well to Whitney's absence, as they did earlier in this month when Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky were both out of the line-up due to injury.
"It's unfortunate that we've had some injuries this year with Hemmer, Horc and now Whits," the rookie said. "We're not sure how long it is or what the circumstances are, but we have to play well. We did play well when Hemmer and Horc were out, we had a good streak going there, and we've got to kind of fight through it."
The fight starts tonight as the Oilers host the Avalanche. Renney is ready for an exciting match.
"They're an energetic team, they certainly believe in their game plan, they play the game on their toes, they're relentless, they don't quit by any stretch, and they're a team that really believes in who and what they're all about," the coach said.
"We have to be very, very good defensively, we need all hands on deck. We have a back end that's gotten a little bit younger again and our forwards need to step up and help them with that. That said, transition is paramount in this league for the teams that are very successful, and we hope to be able to capitalize on that."
After Nikolai Khabibulin manned the pipes for the past two games, Devan Dubnyk gets the start tonight. He comes off a 27-save performance in Los Angeles a week ago that resulted in a 3-2 shootout loss.
AVALANCHE 4 - OILERS 3 (SO)
After allowing three goals in the game's first 15 minutes, the Oilers pulled up their bootstraps and scored three of their own to force extra time vs. the Avalanche. An exciting overtime whipped fans into a frenzy, but Colorado goalie Craig Anderson silenced the throng by stonewalling Oilers snipers in the shootout. With the lone shootout goal, Milan Hejduk secured a 4-3 victory for the Avs.
Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky, and Andrew Cogliano crafted the Oilers comeback attempt with goals, while Devan Dubnyk made 24 saves to help secure the single point.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola & Bob Stauffer