GAME DAY: Hall scores early in OT as Oilers win 4-3
OILERS 4 - SENS 3 (OT)Taylor Hall scored 17 seconds into overtime, while Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 39 shots as the Edmonton Oilers kicked off Hockey Day in Canada with a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place.
Also in the victory, Magnus Paajarvi collected his first goal of the season and first since Apr. 6, 2011 in Calgary.
AT FRIDAY'S PRACTICEOttawa, ON - With a 2:00pm ET start on CBC's Hockey Day in Canada on Saturday, the Oilers' morning skate took place 18 hours earlier and lasted 30 minutes longer than usual, as the club practiced at Scotiabank Place in Kanata.
Win and you're in, says Head Coach Tom Renney. So when you lose and are skidding on an eight-game road winless streak, changes are expected. Having made 26 saves on 30 shots and looking sharp throughout on Wednesday in Detroit, Nikolai Khabibulin will get another opportunity between the pipes.
But on the backend, where some have emerged and others have shown weakness in recent games, moves will be made. Andy Sutton, who has missed the team's last pair as a healthy scratch, will be re-inserted. Cam Barker will likely be the odd-man out, as the 25-year-old has notched a collective -6 rating on the Oilers' current trip.
"Guys were coming back," Sutton said, describing the reason for his demotion to the press box. "I'm 36 and I understand my role. If my role happens to be to sit out a couple games so someone else can play, that's probably the way it's going to be. I'm going to control what I can control, be a good teammate and try to keep things positive around here, talk to the guys and be ready to play."
"He's got a good presence, of course. He's got leadership in him. His size and reach and strength and those types of things are certainly something that we need," Renney added of Sutton. "When he's on his game, we seem to be a little bit more poised in our own end. He needs to come in and provide that for us.
"He needs [to play physical]. You hope that it's contagious and that others provide the same thing. It can't be incumbent on one person to do that and we have others capable of it. That's very much a part of [Sutton's] DNA and we need it."
Sutton, who has 55 hits this season, is hoping to provide that and more as the Oilers look to snap the skid. The 6'6", 245-pound rearguard ranks second on the team in plus-minus with a +3 rating and is one of only three plus players gracing the orange and blue's roster.
"Hopefully I can provide some stability back there, some leadership, get the goals-against down and give us a chance to win," he said. "It's really difficult to watch, especially when the team's losing and not losing well. We didn't look strong in parts of those games (in Toronto and Detroit), so it'll be good for us to get back and be more stable defensively."
Tomorrow's game will be a bit of a homecoming for Sutton, who spent part of the 2009-10 season with the Senators, notching a goal in 18 games. He's also from Kingston, a mere 2.5-hour drive from Scotiabank Place in southern Ontario.
He and his mom, Linda, had a slumber party last night while is dad and nephew will be in attendance to take in the Hockey Day in Canada atmosphere tomorrow.
The same(ish) can be said for Jordan Eberle, too. Just over a week ago, the 20-year-old sophomore took part in the NHL All-Star game in the very same rink; and it would be impossible to forget the young superstar's dramatic goal vs. Russia at the 2009 World Junior Championship.
Scotiabank Place. Hockey Day in Canada. Jordan Eberle. All seem to fit in a Canadian-as-can-be, grassroots matchup in Ottawa.
"Yeah, it's a big day," he said, smiling. "On Hockey Day and Canada and everything, we're really excited."
In order to overcome the Senators' skill and seventh-place ranking in the NHL's Eastern Conference, success in a matinee is vital. The Oilers have amassed a 1-2-0 record in midday contests this season, winning in Minnesota but dropping games to the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars.
"It's just a different routine," Eberle explained. "I think you're used to doing something at night all the time and napping during the day, whereas with this one you wake up, go eat breakfast and go play. In some ways it's nice, in some ways it's difficult, but I've done a few now so I know how to prepare for it.
"They've got a lot of skill over there," he added about the Senators. "They can shoot the puck, they've got a very good D core. I remember the last time we played them in our rink (5-2 loss on Nov. 17), we were outshooting them, but we couldn't score and all of a sudden they got two.
"It's the same story for us. If we can manage the puck the right way and do the right things with it and not turn it over, we'll give ourselves a better opportunity to win."
The Oilers' brass utilized a rare night off to catch the Senators' 4-3 win over Nashville last night. With some extra knowledge in tow, Renney feels as though his club is well prepared for tomorrow's challenge.
"We have to take our game to them," he said, adding particular attention to special teams, which hurt in the Oilers in Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Red Wings. "You can either have your power-play on the ice or your penalty kill on the ice and you have that choice, depending on how hard you want to work."
THIS & THAT
Having scored eight goals and 14 points in his last four games, Sam Gagner's spectacular turnaround has garnered extra attention. The 22-year-old will get another promotion, moving up to play pivot on the team's top power-play unit. As a result, Shawn Horcoff will move down.
"They're playing well as a trio," Renney said. "Putting them on the ice as a power-play unit, with the extra attacker and extra room, makes sense."
With the trade deadline quickly approaching, the rumour winds continue to swirl. While Ales Hemsky's name is brought up most, another is hearing more than he'd like.
"It's always on your mind," Sutton said. "Everyone wants to know where they're going to be tomorrow, right? At the same time, I'm not the general manager, I'm the player. The worst thing I can do is think about it to where it affects my performance negatively. That doesn't get you re-signed here and that doesn't make anybody else want you, either. You have to control your own destiny and try to stay calm, not really think about it too much and focus on playing well."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick