MORNING SKATE REPORT: Oilers at Detroit
Chris VandeVelde is back in, Ben Eager is out as Oilers prep for Red Wings
|TV: Sportsnet West (HD)
RADIO: 630 CHED & Oilers Radio Network
PUCK DROP: 5:38 p.m. MT
AT THE MORNING SKATEDETROIT, MI - After a shootout loss in Columbus on Tuesday night, the Edmonton Oilers returned to the ice this morning with a slightly different look to their front lines ahead of tonight's game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The top two lines remain the same with Magnus Paajarvi on the left side with Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ales Hemsky. Ryan Smyth moves up to the third unit to play with Eric Belanger and Nail Yakupov. Ryan Jones skates with Chris VandeVelde, who draws back in, and Mike Brown.
"It shows that we're a more mature team at the moment," said Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger on the lineup change seeing Ben Eager out and Chris VandeVelde in. "We have an opportunity to make changes without it being against the person coming out. It's about bringing in a definite centreman in there in Chris VandeVelde. When you look at Detroit, they're not a very physical team but they're a very deep, well-versed hockey team as far as the level play that comes out of here."
Krueger added that he felt that taking a step back would be a benefit for Eager who was very strong when he first returned from injury earlier this season.
"We feel with the back-to-backs we need four solid lines going and for Ben (Eager) to sit one back, the last few games didn't go as well as the first few games in the season after his injury and we feel that just a little step back is going to help him come back stronger. But VandeVelde, fresh for this tough battle tonight."
The head coach also said he wanted to stick with the same top two lines for more than just one game.
"We just switched them last game. It's not really about the line combinations as much as it is about our habits. The willingness to give up the puck, to create opportunities towards the other team's net, is something we're continuing to work on and we know it's not just going to happen overnight. We are a very skilled group and it's not easy for them to give up the puck."
Krueger pointed out what one of the big keys to defeating the Red Wings was.
"We want puck possession. We need to make it a little smarter and also create more chaos at other teams' nets," said the coach, adding that line adjustments sometimes have to do more with helping build team cohesion. "The way we move these forwards around, sometimes it just has to do with refreshment for players, let them see other people, and the skill level remains equally high whatever combination we put there."
JACKED AT THE JOE
One of the older buildings in the NHL, Joe Louis Arena has a way of evoking emotion in the participating players due to the history of the rink. Krueger said that it's one of the road locales where he has no issues ensuring that his team is ready to play.
"It's always a special opportunity for players to play against the Red Wings, with the tradition here in the last decade especially. We know this is a team that has done a lot of things habitually that we would like to do eventually but we've got to match the work ethic that they have -- that's going to be critical here."
Last time the Oilers were in Detroit they lost a close 2-1 contest.
"We played them pretty equal. It was a crazy 17 power play game, which I don't expect today, but we were even on chances. They had a few more shots. It was a 30-24 shot game. Building on that good experience in Detroit last time, we'd like to take it to another level today. Of course, being ready in Detroit is not a difficult thing. It's something you can feel in the air already, the excitement of this game."
The game has a little bit extra meaning for Oilers defencemen Corey Potter and Jeff Petry who both grew up in Michigan.
"It's not too often that you get to play in front of your family and it's a good time to come down and watch you play. They'll be pretty excited to see me out there," said Potter, who expects six or seven friends and family members in the crowd.
Jeff Petry, whose father Dan Petry played for the Detroit Tigers, also pointed out that he was looking forward to tonight.
"It's always nice getting back here," he said. "To play in front of my family and some of my friends it's good to come back and see some familiar faces."
The blueliner pointed out that the opponent is one that's always a challenge.
"They always have a good team," Petry continued. "They can't score from their own end so we need to have as much offensive time as possible and don't give them any space. They have some guys up front if you give them space and give them time they can make some special plays."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
OILERS (8-9-5) at RED WINGS (11-8-4)
TV: SNET-W, FS-D
Last 10: Edmonton 3-5-2, Detroit 4-4-2
Season series: This is the second of three meetings between teams, who will close their season series next week in Edmonton. Detroit topped Edmonton 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 9 and took the season series in 2011-12 with a 3-0-1 record against the Oilers.
Big story: While Detroit is enjoying success through a run in which they play four of five games at home, Edmonton is off to a rough start to a season-long nine-game r aoad trip. They'll need to turn things around to salvage any playoff hopes, but that will mean doing it against a Red Wings team that appears to be working toward another postseason run.
Oilers: Edmonton started their marathon road swing with back-to-back 4-2 losses in St. Louis and Minnesota. With a record that put them near the bottom of the Western Conference, they hoped to turn the corner Tuesday in Columbus.
Jeff Petry opened the scoring against the Blue Jackets 4:23 into what would be a back-and-forth affair. With both teams swapping leads at different points, the game ultimately was settled in the shootout, thanks in large part to goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 35 shots, marking the seventh time in 18 games this season that he has made at least that many saves. But Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu beat Dubnyk in the shootout, giving Columbus a 4-3 win.
Red Wings: With a 4-1-1 record in the last two weeks, Detroit appears to have moved past some early-season struggles and is coming together just in time for the playoff push. The only games in that run they haven't won have come against the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.
Following a shootout loss to Chicago on Sunday, the Red Wings hosted Colorado for the middle game in their current three-game homestand. Following a scoreless first period, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall scored in the second period to give Detroit a commanding lead. Paul Stastny's goal halved the lead for the Avalanche late in the third, but Jimmy Howard held the fort and secured the win for the Red Wings despite his team being outshot 16-10 in the final period.
"This was our loosest game in the last while," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "To win on a nightly basis, you can't leave your goalie like that as much as we did tonight."
Who's hot: For Edmonton, Ryan Whitney has two goals (his first two of the season) in his last three games, while Jordan Eberle has five points (all assists) on his current four-game point streak. Despite dealing with injury and a suspension, Taylor Hall has nine points in his last eight games. … For Detroit, Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson have five and four points, respectively, in the last five games. Goaltender Jimmy Howard has allowed six goals in his last five games.
Injury report: Theo Peckham is questionable for Thursday's game with an illness as the Oilers injured-reserve list now includes Andy Sutton (knee), Mark Fistric (elbow), Shawn Horcoff (knuckle), Anton Lander (foot), Teemu Hartikainen (shoulder) and Nikolai Khabibulin (undisclosed). … Detroit's IR list is just as long, with Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder), Darren Helm (back), Valtteri Filppula (shoulder), Todd Bertuzzi (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (finger) all out.
- Tal Pinchevsky, NHL.com Staff