GAME DAY: Oilers' attack sputters in 3-1 loss to Stars
STARS 3 - OILERS 1The Dallas Stars registered only 15 shots, but a pair ended up behind Nikolai Khabibulin while another slid into the empty cage. Sam Gagner added a late tally to put the home side on the board, but it wasn't enough as the Oilers' sputtering attack resulted in a 3-1 loss Friday night.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - There's a special buzz in the air when the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers meet. From 1997-2003, the clubs met in the post-season six times, playing 33 spring matches in which 22 were decided by a single goal – nine went to overtime.
While tonight's game likely won't match the intensity of those decade-ago moments, the teams' longstanding rivalry always promises an entertaining 60-minute clash.
Back then, Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, and even a no-namer (relatively speaking) in Benoit Hogue became the club's archenemies at Rexall Place. None were ex-Oilers, but one whose welcome will echo a similar sound (booing) pays a visit tonight.
Elk Point, AB native Sheldon Souray will play his first game in Edmonton since being bought out in the summer.
"I can only say positive things about him," said Ladislav Smid, who was often seen as No. 44's protégé. "He was a really good teammate, a really good guy. He helped us big time. He's got good leadership skills and I sat next to him (in the locker room) for a season and he was a great guy. I was really young back then and he was helping me along the way."
"He's a big, strong man and is imposing as heck, he's intimidating and he's all those wonderful things that you want in the game" added Head Coach Tom Renney, who coached Souray both in Edmonton, as an associate coach to Pat Quinn, and at the 2005 World Hockey Championship in Austria. "There's always a time in a player's situation where the crosshairs don't quite line up and maybe you handle it wrong, and maybe you wish you hadn't or vice-versa. It doesn't matter. He's not here, but he's had a pretty good year."
After spending the 2010-11 season with the AHL's Hershey Bears, on loan from the Oilers as part of the parties' messy breakup, Souray returned to the NHL this season and has rebounded nicely. The 6'4", 237-pound rearguard has potted six goals and 20 points, along with 61 penalty minutes in 51 games.
In many ways, he's still the same player that was, during the 2008-09 campaign, an all-star in orange and blue.
"Obviously he's really good on the power-play," explained Smid, noting his cannon from the point. "He has one of the hardest shots in the NHL and it's pretty scary sometimes. He brings a strong physical presence, too, and is really hard to play against. He'll be a challenge to go up against tonight."
Smid shouldn't be worried. The 26-year-old has had an equally as stunning season, ascending the NHL's shot-blocking rankings to the fourth spot overall, sacrificing his body to absorb 149 pucks en route to his goalie.
Even with Souray's bomb incoming at over 100mph, his mindset hasn't changed. His pain threshold may have to, however.
"I'm trying not to think about it," he said, laughing hysterically. "It's pretty scary. But if he's got a chance to take a shot and I'm out there, I'm going to try and go down and block it.
"We need a win. That's the bottom line and that's part of my game to help out there."
PETRELL ON PATROL
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who's scored two goals and three points since returning to action, will have a new linemate on his left side tonight. Lennart Petrell will move up to play alongside him and Jordan Eberle – a reward for strong play and an indication that the rookie Finn's skill-set can help that line produce even more.
"You get a play a little bit more, and these guys are really skilled, really talented guys," Petrell said. "The main thing is not to get carried away or think about it too much. I still need to work really hard, create turnovers. That's the way I play and I'm not going to try and change too much."
"If you look at my shooting percentage (16.7-percent), I'm pretty much a goal-scorer by those standards," he added, laughing.
Renney, who stressed the importance of giving Petrell this opportunity, is eager to see the 27-year-old impart ‘his' game in a scoring role.
"You'd like to think it's like riding a bike. The problem is, it's somebody else's bike," he laughed. "[Petrell] has to play the way he plays, and we love that in him. He's a real, hard-working two-way guy, he's smart, he understands what his attributes are and what he has to do contribute to that line. He's got to use his size and strength to create an advantage.
"Lennart's played well. I'd like him to shoot, too, because he's got a very good shot."
In the end, it's something the entire squad needs to bring in order to topple their opponent as they battle tooth-and-nail for a post-season sniff. Dallas is currently in with 71 points, one up on the hard-charging Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche, and two up on the Calgary Flames.
"It's an important game for them, but it is for us too," said Smid, who will continue to guard the club's top pairing with Jeff Petry tonight. "We still have 19 games on the schedule and we want to win as many as we can. We need to do all the things we talk about in the locker room; being strong in our own end, playing physical, keeping things simple, limit our turnovers. If we do all that, it should be enough to win the game."
Strong goaltending will help, too. Devan Dubnyk got the hook in Wednesday's 5-2 loss to St. Louis after allowing three goals on 19 shots. Nikolai Khabibulin hasn't started since Feb. 19 vs. Vancouver, but is ready to return to action and will get the start tonight. He's amassed a 12-16-5 record, along with a 2.60 goals-against average and .914 save percentage this season.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick