GAME DAY: Oilers fail to sink shots in 3-1 loss to Stars
STARS 3 - OILERS 1Ales Hemsky broke the shutout 8:21 into the third, but a goal in each period by the visitors and three-point nights by Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro pushed the Dallas Stars to a 3-1 win over the Oilers on Wednesday night at Rexall Place.
Kari Lehtonen got the nod in goal for the Stars, posting 31 saves on the Oilers' 32 shots.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - Coming into Wednesday's game vs. Dallas and with six games remaining on the Oilers' 2011-12 schedule, the club is putting together a nice string to end the campaign on a high note.
Coming off a 3-0-1 road trip in which wins collected against Nashville, Florida and Columbus propelled them to a 31-36-9 record overall, good vibes reign supreme despite not being in the post-season picture.
The Oilers have already eclipsed last season's win total (25). In 2010-11, their power-play sat 27th in the league while the PK didn't look much better with a rank one spot about the NHL's last-place standing.
This year, the power-play is second-best and the penalty kill has leaped 11 spots to 18th overall. With nine more points than last season and with the possibility of being as many as 21 over their mark one year ago, there's not much to be upset about as the Oilers continue to ride an impressive wave down the stretch.
"Absolutely," Ryan Jones said, who put emphasis on the Oilers' winning ways in order to generate some momentum heading into next season. "The team that's in this room right now is pretty much the same group that's going to be back next year, so we're looking at winning as many games as we can so that we can head into the summer feeling good about our game.
"No one likes to lose, but it's even more disappointing at the end of the year. When you do that, everyone heads into the off-season with a sour taste in their mouth. We're trying to collect as many wins as we can, develop our game and build something for next season. We already know we're an improved team, so it's something where we need to use this energy we can gain down the stretch and make sure we apply it."
Jones knows about the Oilers' mid-season struggle all too well. The 27-year-old had recent stretches in which he went scoreless in a game count in the high-teens. But since then, a resurgence has been found and he's been able to bounce back, much in the same way the group has as a whole.
In No. 28's past six games, he's collected three goals and seven points -- including a three-point outing last Sunday in Columbus, which helped vault the visitors to a 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets.
"I'm feeling much better about my game," Jones explained. "I'm playing with some great players and we've been a nice complement to each others' style. "I've said it all season, it's about sticking with it and not getting too high or too low when things aren't going well. Right now things are going well for me and, again, it's a matter of sticking with it to make sure I keep it going."
Jones' game has truly been a microcosm of the team's. Which is the real Oilers? And which is the real Ryan Jones?
The team who collected a dominant early-season record and held the league's No. 1 spot as November hit, and the player whose pace in the same breath had him pegged as a shoo-in to record 20 goals -- or the club whose mid-season stumble caused a tumble to the league's basement alongside the Columbus Blue Jackets?
"You're seeing a good team now and you saw a good team back at the start of the year," Jones said. "We had some injuries to get through, as all teams do, but we didn't handle it very well. Even then, we've put together a nice stretch here and we need to keep it going, because I think everyone in this locker room believes this is the team we are; we should be in the picture contending for a playoff spot.
"We're embracing the role of playing spoiler (like tonight vs. Dallas), but honestly that's not our intention. It's simply a matter of us going out there and getting wins, no matter who they're against. That's all we're focused on in here and it's paid off in the last couple weeks."
"We want to climb [the standings]," added Head Coach Tom Renney. "That might not sound like much to most, but it sounds like a lot to us. We're certainly going to try and do that. It's a lot more fun to win than to lose, there's no question about that. Both can be contagious, but to the best we can, we're going to control our own destiny."
As the Oilers have done so, the Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild and others are within reach. A strong end to the season could mean a couple spots leapt, but it would also mean top prospects Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko could (and likely will) land elsewhere.
That's not of concern to the Oilers' rugged winger; or anyone associated with the club's iconic colours inside Rexall Place on game night.
"We've seen what (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins and (Taylor) Hall can do for a team," Jones said. "But that's not something we think about. I can honestly say that where we pick isn't a topic discussed in this locker room, ever. We're professionals, it's our job to win hockey games and that's what we set out to do each and every night."
Shawn Horcoff and Lennart Petrell both participated in a full practice yesterday, as well as today's morning skate. Both will play tonight, while recent call-up Chris VandeVelde will likely be the odd-man out (he will draw in for the warm-up, mind you).
Knowing that the Stars have kept a close eye on the Oilers' youngsters this season (targeting on destruction), Renney could potentially add some muscle to the team's top line off the bat tonight in order to set the tone.
Darcy Hordichuk may get the opportunity to play the role of protector, at least to start.
"I've thought of that," Renney said as he addressed the media post-practice at Rexall Place. "The other way [to send a message] is to say, if you're going to take a run at our skilled guy(s), we know you've got a couple too."
Do the Oilers have the personnel with the necessary gamesmanship to do it?
"Through a couple people. I'm not sure if it's throughout our lineup, but I think they've been reminded enough of it to understand that's what we're looking for."
Devan Dubnyk will get the nod between the pipes, looking to capture his fourth straight victory. The 25-year-old sophomore hasn't lost in regulation since Mar. 12 in San Jose, posting a 5-0-1 record overall in his past six games.
With an above .500 record (19-17-2) on a sub-.500 club, Dubnyk appears to have grabbed hold of the team's starting role. In total, he's notched a 2.70 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 42 games this season.
"I'm hoping so," Renney said, referencing his young netminder's arrival. "He'll play more in these last six games and we'll see. I think he's met the challenge now, whereas earlier in the year he may not have. To me that's a good sign. He's matured now, he's accepted the responsibility and the battle it needs to be to want that net and ultimately keep it. I'm not sure he was there three months ago."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick