GAME DAY: Oilers' attack sputters as Kings down Oilers 4-1
KINGS 4 - OILERS 1Anze Kopitar, Dwight King and Matt Greene all recorded multi-point nights, while the Oilers were unable to generate shots and a sustained attack, resulting a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night at Rexall Place.
Jordan Eberle scored the Oilers' lone goal of the night -- his 33rd of the season and 74th point to remain at a point-per-game pace.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - As the Edmonton Oilers' 2011-12 season winds down, opportunity has been presented to the club's strong farmhands. Recalled bright and early Friday morning, Magnus Paajarvi is back in Oil Country on his third trip up, ready to make an impact after a strong showing in Oklahoma City.
The 20-year-old has collected 22 points in 27 games with the AHL's Barons, showing glimpses of what ensconced a productive rookie campaign a season ago; then, he scored 15 goals and 34 points and didn't show any signs of slowing.
He did, but he's back once again.
No. 91 is likely to line up with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle on the Oilers' top unit, adding some much-needed speed and resurged grit to the club's skilled attack.
"Our whole package needs to be speed-oriented, anyway," Head Coach Tom Renney said, citing what the recalled sophomore can add to that line. "Certainly when he's in the lineup, it adds to it. It's a north-south speed that we require, and he can come back as well as anybody can, too."
Lineup changes won't stop there, as the recently recalled Chris VandeVelde -- who scored a goal in his only NHL action of the season last week in Columbus -- will slot back in, pivoting the fourth line alongside Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk.
That means Eric Belanger will join Linus Omark, Lennart Petrell and Cam Barker in the press box as healthy scratches as the 25-year-old VandeVelde basks in the moment.
"Down in Oklahoma, the team as a whole has played very well," he said, looking back it what earned himself a ticket to Edmonton. "My individual game was developing well, too. The last couple months have been very good to me; it's nice to have all the hard work pay off with a call-up. I think I played pretty solid in Columbus, got the goal out of the way, and now I get another chance.
"I need to make the most of it."
VandeVelde had spent all season in OKC, posting seven goals and 22 points in 65 games. It culminated with an incredibly strong showing last weekend against the Texas Stars in which he was named the game's third star, one night before getting the call and a cab ride to Will Rogers World Airport.
"There's a little been of a learning curve, but guys go hard down there (in the AHL) -- they compete. Up here they might be a little bigger or more talented, but you've just got to play the simple game that I've been playing the whole time. When I do that, add the physicality and other elements to my game that make me successful, I think I can help the team quite a bit.
"Up here I want to make sure I get in hard on the forecheck, be a physical guy and be reliable in all three zones -- all the things you need to do to be a good fourth-line centre," VandeVelde added. "I don't know how many minutes I'll get, but it doesn't matter. It's about going out there and making your opportunities count, doing the things that I've done to get to this point."
The 6'2", 190-pound centre hasn't quite seen it all when it comes to the Oilers' role as spoilers. Down in OKC, the Barons lead the AHL's Western Conference and were gearing up for a lengthy post-season run. It's been a unique challenge to adapt to.
"It's a little different," he said. "But we're really embracing the spoiler role. That's what we have to play for and we're going to play hard for it. [Los Angeles is] is really going to be pushing us hard. They're in that playoff hunt, so we're expecting them to be at their best. It's going to be a tough, physical battle out there and I know we're all ready for it."
MOVIN' ON UP
With a win on Wednesday vs. Dallas, the Oilers would have vaulted from 29th to 26th spot in the West. It didn't happen, but with a close race at the bottom still to determine April's lottery order, the orange and blue are most concerned with setting a benchmark heading into next season. Priority No. 1 is competing, night-in and night-out until the season's schedule says you can't anymore.
"It's really important," said Ryan Whitney, who's turned around his game in recent weeks. "Even though training camp next year is a long way away, you can go back on that (success) when you do get in and realize that you were a real, solid team down the stretch and beat some good teams.
"We've got be ready and play a lot better than we did the other night."
"It's valuable," Renney added, noting tonight's big-game mentality. "This is a big, heavy team (Los Angeles) that's battling tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot. I'm sure they'll do everything they possibly can to get the two points. We have to make sure that we're every bit as ready to play hard for those two points as they are. Quite honestly, if we're going to win here, we're going to have to be more ready and more prepared to man up.
"That's important because it's an acid test."
Nikolai Khabibulin, who's posted a 12-19-7 record, 2.62 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, will get the nod between the pipes. The 39-year-old hasn't recorded a win since Feb. 11 in Ottawa.
THE CALDER RACE
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sits tied with Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog in the NHL's rookie scoring race. The 18-year-old has tallied 18 goals and 49 points in only 57 games. Landeskog has equaled RNH's 49-point output, but it's taken him in additional 22 games to reach his counterpart.
On paper, Nugent-Hopkins should have the edge. But it seems as though Landeskog is a shoo-in to capture the NHL's Calder Trophy as the league's most outstanding rookie, according to various media reports around the league.
No. 93's teammates don't understand why.
"I think Landeskog is an awesome player," Whitney explained. "But I don't even really understand how it's that close. I know I'm on Nuge's team, but he's got more points than him and he's played 22 less games. I think everyone would choose to have Nuge on their team. He's such a good player and he's dominated at times as the youngest player in the league, and I think that should mean something as well.
"For me to think that he might not win it is mind-boggling."
Renney agreed, adding that his young superstar adds a certain spice to a lethal scoring attack's requirement.
"Without your centre ice men, it's like playing Scrabble without any vowels. It looks great. You've got all these big letters and some nice numbers going with them, but if you don't have somebody there that can connect all that, it's useless. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is way beyond useless. He's hugely important to this team and he has been all year long, and he should be.
"For my money, he's the Calder Trophy winner. No question."
How about Jordan Eberle for the Lady Byng? He's the club's leading scorer (11th-best in the NHL), notching a point-per-game pace through 73 (including 32 goals) and he's taken a mere four minor penalties all season long.
"Sure," Renney said. "Look at what these kids are doing. These kids are outstanding hockey players and the league is lucky they've got them. So, recognize that -- early, so they've got them for a long time."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick