PREVIEW: Oilers host Sharks in home opener
|TV: TSN (HD)
RADIO: 630 CHED & Oilers Radio Network
PUCK DROP: 8:10 p.m. MT
AT THE MORNING SKATEEDMONTON - After defeating the rival Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in a shootout Saturday night, the Oilers will be looking to continue their winning ways in the club's home opener tonight at Rexall Place.
At Tuesday's morning skate (which are now all optional, according to Head Coach Ralph Krueger), Ben Eager was absent. The 29-year-old winger is still recovering from a swollen right eye after Sunday's tilt with Canucks forward Zack Kassian and will be scratched vs. San Jose.
As a result, Magnus Paajarvi will slot in on the fourth line alongside Lennart Petrell and Eric Belanger.
There will be no other lineup changes.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Paajarvi, who was scratched in the weekend's season opener. "I think I've adapted pretty well in OKC and it's my goal to bring that same defensive play up here in Edmonton. They want me to play a little bit more on the PK and I can use my speed for that. I know I have the offence in me, too. It's a new role, but I'm ready to do it.
"Once I nail down the new role I can work on my other skills. It's something I can really develop and become a whole new better -- a better player. We have so much talent up front, super offensive guys that are so skilled. If I can help the team by addressing a two-way role, I'm more than ready to do it. That can only make the team better in the long run.
"It's nothing new for me. I'm going to go out and do it."
Krueger is encouraging the smooth-skating Swede to embrace his new role. With the loss of Ryan Jones in the bottom six, Paajarvi's versatility is needed. Not only will the 21-year-old provide energy, speed and aggression on an even-strength shift, but those strong points will be highlighted in a penalty-killing role as well.
"He's a player that brings us depth as a scoring checker," Krueger said. "He's worked a lot on the checking side of his game in Oklahoma City. We would like to see an aggressive game from him; using his body, using his size physically and stepping into that hole that Ben Eager opens up. It's what the team needs. With Magnus, we'd feel comfortable if we needed him up the lineup as well. He needs to become one of those players like Ryan Jones because of his versatility of playing all the different roles. That's where we'd like to see Magnus come in.
With 16,839 in attendance ready to unleash 292 days worth of pent-up Oilers energy, Rexall Place is going to be a madhouse at puck drop.
"It's a big one," smiled Paajarvi, who will be dressing in his third Oilers home opener. "There isn't really one thing in particular that stands out, but it's a whole big thing. In my rookie year when we played Calgary and won 4-0 (Oct. 7, 2010), Ebs (Jordan Eberle) scored that unbelievable goal.
"It's a great game. The crowd always goes bananas."
In 32 home openers all-time, the Oilers sport a 19-8-5 record, winning their last two with victories over the Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It's a great night," said defenceman Jeff Petry, who led the Oilers in ice time with 22:42 played on opening night in Vancouver. "We're all looking forward to getting the fans back in the building. It's actually a bit of a balancing act. We want to be feeding off that energy, but we also can't get too caught up in it. We want to concentrate on the game plan so we don't get distracted and can stay disciplined."
As Krueger explains, discipline will be crucial. The Oilers struggled with that at times in Vancouver -- three minor penalties (tripping, roughing and interference) were charged to the visitors in the opening 20.
"It's important to remained disciplined," chuckled Krueger, reiterating the obvious and noting that the Oilers out-chanced and outshot the Canucks heavily on Sunday. "Today we want to continue to attack, continue to use our speed up front and continue that aggressive pressure. But it's the defensive side that can get lost in a home opener. We would like to see some stability there and make it a habit."
"Right off the bat on the opening shift (in Vancouver), we were stuck in our own end and were battling pretty hard," added Petry. "That was sort of a, 'welcome back' moment for us. Falling behind 2-0 didn't help, but we rebounded. We expected it a little because we hadn't played in nine months. Overall our start was OK, but it was the rest of the game that truly showed what we're made of. I expect it to get better the longer we go.
"Now, we're approaching tonight's game like any other. All the nerves are gone and we're back in our routine."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
TV: TSN, CSN-CA
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Season series: This is the first of three meetings between the teams. They split four games last season, with each decided by one goal. Both Oilers wins came via the shootout.
Big Story: This should be an interesting matchup between San Jose's veteran talent against the Oilers' youth brigade.
Taken by the Sharks with the third pick of the 1998 NHL Draft, he spent his first six seasons in San Jose, and then was re-acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in June.
"It felt good. It was strange, but it was good," Stuart told CSNBayArea.com on Monday. "I was excited about it, and to get that first game out of the way is nice. I'll start to feel a little more comfortable, I think, now that we've all gotten back to the swing of things."
He said he also enjoyed playing alongside Vlasic.
"He's a good, smart defenseman, and those are always the easiest guys to play with," Stuart said. "It will take us a few games to kind of learn how to read off of each other a little bit better, but I think for the most part it's been good."
Oilers: For his first game as a full-time NHL coach, Ralph Krueger wasn't very nervous. In fact, he said his first game, a 3-2 win in Vancouver on Sunday, was easier than some of his previous coaching jobs.
"I'm used to coaching [international] teams where everything is a one-off, where you would coach at the Olympics or the world championship, and you had to win every game, whether it was France or Belarus," he told the Edmonton Journal. "This is 48 games. I was very calm and relaxed."
Krueger had filled in for former coach Tom Renney last season after Renney's father died and when he sustained a concussion, but now it's his team, and his systems. Well, at least some of them.
"We have a new specialty team," Krueger said. "That's all Freddie [Chabot, goalie coach]," Krueger said.
Who's hot: Sharks forward Patrick Marleau started the season the right way, scoring a pair of goals in San Jose's season-opening 4-1 win in Calgary on Sunday.
Injury Report: Sharks forward Jason Demers is out with a wrist injury, while defenseman Brent Burns is questionable while recovering from hernia surgery. … The Oilers are missing defenseman Andy Sutton (knee) and Theo Peckham (hip flexor), forward Ryan Jones (eye) and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (hip).
-- Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor