PREVIEW: Oilers look to bounce back vs. Avalanche
|TV: CBC (HD)
RADIO: 630 CHED & Oilers Radio Network
PUCK DROP: 8:10 p.m. MT
AT THE MORNING SKATEEDMONTON - Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry, Ryan Smyth and Ryan Whitney will all be in the lineup tonight as the Oilers face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Rexall Place.
Smyth and Whitney were both healthy scratches in Tuesday's loss to the Dallas Stars. Smyth will play a line with Eric Belanger and Nail Yakupov.
"It's water under the bridge," said Smyth, who will be facing his. "Today is a new day and it's an exciting day -- a game day. It's going to be a fun one.
"I want to get the offence going. Just try to do the little things, get in the crease, cause a little havoc that way and hopefully get rewarded."
Whitney will be paired up with Petry, who left Friday's practice with a minor leg injury but is good to go tonight.
"I fell in an awkward position," said Petry. "It was a stretch and something that doesn't normally happen. It was precautionary. It felt good and I didn't feel it at all during practice."
Schultz missed the past two days of practice with back stiffness, but it has since loosened up. He, too, will not miss a minute of action.
"We have to manage ourselves properly with days off," said Justin's partner, Nick Schultz. "We've done alright with a couple days in between games and we're ready to go tonight.
"For the most part we got into a rhythm," he added of the season's condensed schedule. "We were playing every other day, but it was nice to get a few days here to recharge and get ready for the stretch coming up. These next four games at home, especially, are really important before that long (nine-game) road trip. We've got to really concentrate on tonight's game and make sure we get two points."
The top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle will remain intact. The second unit will be composed of Teemu Hartikainen, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, while the fourth will be made up of Ben Eager, Chris VandeVelde and Lennart Petrell.
Magnus Paajarvi will be the odd man out.
"We played together a little bit last year," Hartikainen said of his new linemates. "We all bring something different to the table and we had success with it last year, so I'm hoping we can do it again now."
The Oilers and Nashville Predators are the only two teams in the Western Conference that haven't scored four or more goals in a single game more than once this season.
Fittingly, the Oilers did it against these very same Avalanche back on Jan. 28.
"It's hard to say," said Sam Gagner, wondering whether or not past success against Colorado has any bearing on tonight's outcome. "The biggest thing for us, and I think we've been working on it quite a bit lately, is making sure our game is where it needs to be. Colorado is a tough test for us. We've had a couple battles with them already and have split the results, so we know what to expect."
According to Gagner, who's collected four goals and 13 points this season, getting to the net is key. With Hartikainen now on his left side, the potential is there.
"Me and Ales have made some nice plays this season and have been putting up points, but there are still things we're trying to iron out. Chemistry is a funny thing, but it's been going pretty well. We want to be a line that contributes every night and with Harti coming along, he's a big body with a lot of skill and should help us out in creating some space.
"It's an exciting contest for us. Colorado is a Northwest Division opponent. These points are huge and there's obviously a rivalry that comes with that. It's an exciting opportunity for us tonight. We feel like we played a good game against Dallas and we've improved on some things that we know needed attention, so we're really looking forward to it."
"Just go to the net," laughed Hartikainen, who's picked up a pair of assists this year but has yet score.
"It's actually that simple. We want to put more pucks on net and it's my job to crash the crease and hammer away at the loose pucks and rebounds. I feel like I'm getting really, really close. If I'm able to pot one goal I know they'll start coming in bunches. I can't put too much pressure on myself, either. I need to be relaxed and keep playing the game the way I know how to play it."
The Oilers come into tonight's game sitting 11th in the Western Conference standings with 13 points (in 13 games). Colorado is two points back with a game at hand.
"Every game is a big game," laughed Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "We need to keep the picture small. If you drift into the situation around this team or the standings or our recent results, it can distract from the task at hand. Stay small-picture. Stay focused on what we're doing well and believe the results will come.
"We also need to match the work ethic of Colorado. They've lost (Ryan) Wilson, (Erik) Johnson. We need to work very, very hard as a group.
"Above all, let's do the things that are necessary to score in the National Hockey League. Let's pay that price on every single opportunity tonight."
Devan Dubnyk will get the start in goal for the Oilers, while Semyon Varlamov will get the nod between the pipes for the Avalanche.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
TV: ALTITUDE, CBC, RDS
Last 10: Colorado 4-5-1, Edmonton 3-4-3
Season series: This is the third of five meetings between the teams. They split the first two, with each team winning on home ice.
Big story: Both the Oilers and Avs are on the outside of the playoff picture as the season moves into the second quarter. They'll need to remedy their struggles in a hurry before the line of postseason demarcation moves too far off in the distance.
Avalanche: Colorado fell behind midway through the third period Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, but Matt Duchene responded with a goal 46 seconds later to tie the score. In the shootout, Duchene and Milan Hejduk scored to give the Avs a much-needed 4-3 victory that snapped a three-game losing streak.
Oilers: Struggles to score at even strength have derailed a promising start to the season for the Oilers. Their 4-1 home loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday was their sixth defeat in seven games.
The Oilers have scored just 10 goals in their last six games, only seven at even strength.
Still, the Oilers were the victims of two bad bounces in their loss to the Stars that seemed to sap their spirits.
"Those first two goals were two of the most bizarre goals I've seen in a long time, and back to back that way was tough for us to swallow," Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said. "The result was painful to look at when you look at our execution for most of the game. For the first two periods, it looked like we were going to have our first real 60-minute game of the season. That second goal seemed to deflate us.
"We went back to some complicated habits after that and abandoned what had made us successful to that point."
Who's hot: Avs forward PA Parenteau has two goals and an assist in four games this month. .. Despite the losses, Oilers goaltender Devin Dubnyk has a .926 save percentage in five February games.
-- Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer