MORNING SKATE REPORT: Oilers vs. Jackets
|TV: Sportsnet West (HD)
RADIO: 630 CHED & Oilers Radio Network
PUCK DROP: 7:38 p.m. MT
AT THE MORNING SKATEEDMONTON - The games just keep getting bigger.
With a win tonight in regulation, the Oilers would move into a tie with Dallas and tonight's opponent, Columbus, with 33 points for 10th in the Western Conference. They would also move within a point of ninth and within three points of the eighth and final playoff spot.
"Columbus has been possibly the best team in the Western Conference in the last month," Krueger stated matter-of-factly. "They've got 13 points in their past 14 games. Since we saw them last, they took points in nine out of 10. The reason is they're the hardest-working team in the NHL in the last month. That's why they've had success."
In the month of March, Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has a record of 8-1-3 with a 1.23 goals-against average and .960 save percentage.
"We have a lot of respect for how hard they work and how hard they play. And how good Bobrovsky's been playing in net," Krueger said.
KID LINE BACK TOGETHER
The Oilers will be going with the same line combinations and defence pairings that finished the Blues games -- a game the Oilers won 3-0.
That means Taylor Hall will play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi skates with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, Ryan Jones plays with Shawn Horcoff and Nail Yakupov and Ryan Smyth centres Lennart Petrell and Mike Brown.
"That's always a line that's in the back of your mind," said Krueger of putting the kids back together. "We had a pretty good run when we had the three pairs and brought some muscle into three different lines. We got that streak of five games with points and felt good about it but losing here at home in our last game against St. Louis and the way we started in Nashville, it was time to bring them back together again."
Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle enjoyed a great amount of success on Tuesday night, contributing to all three Oilers goals.
"They seemed a little stale for us at times before when we broke them up and I thought the time apart was good but they just reconnected immediately in Nashville so it was a no-brainer going into the St. Louis game."
Krueger noted that while they did generate chances earlier this season, it was very nice to see them finally convert on those opportunities against the Blues.
"We were very pleased to see that production five-on-five. It was like something opened up in their repertoire that hadn't been there at the start of the season. Even though they and a lot of O-zone time they just had trouble scoring five-on-five. To get three five-on-five goals in one game gives them confidence."
Taylor Hall said that despite the back-to-back situation, he was happy that the line was able to have some offensive success.
"It's hard to feel great on a back-to-back," said Hall. "We just came into the game hoping to play well. We had a period together in Nashville where we felt we were doing a lot of good things. To start the game, we got a goal pretty quickly and that kind of settled things down."
Hall added that he felt the time away helped to re-energize the trio.
"You take a break from playing with each other and when you get back (together) it's kind of fresh and new and makes it exciting. Hopefully we can keep going because we if we have a game tonight where we don't produce anything, everyone will forget about the other night."
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins echoed Hall's sentiments.
"It was definitely nice being back with those two guys," Nugent-Hopkins stated. "They make things happen all the team so it's a lot of fun. But we've got to make sure that we're playing solid in our defensive zone and it all starts from there."
RNH added that he felt he bounced back well from an illness that sidelined him for two games prior to the recent road trip.
"I felt good," he said. "I was surprised having a few days off with no real exercise or anything that I felt as good as I did. I felt high-energy out there."
The defence pairings will be the same tonight, which means the odd-men out on the blueline will be Theo Peckham and Mark Fistric once again.
Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid will skate together as will the two Schultzs. Ryan Whitney and Corey Potter will also be paired up.
Nikolai Khabibulin gets the start in goal.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
TV: FS-Ohio, SNET-West
Last 10: Columbus 6-1-3; Edmonton 4-4-2
Season series: Rubber match of the three-game set; the opener went to the Edmonton Oilers in February, but the Columbus Blue Jackets' 4-3 shootout win at home March 5 was their second straight in what would become a season-turning five-game winning streak.
Big story: Both teams are outside the Western Conference top eight but are lurking. The Blue Jackets had to go on a monumental tear to get where they are, securing points in 13 of 14 games. They have 20 points in March; the previous time they did that was in 2009, their only Stanley Cup Playoff season. With 10 of their final 15 games on the road, however, the Blue Jackets have to find a way to improve on a 3-9-2 record, third worst in the NHL.
Goaltending has been the mainstay for both recently, the Blue Jackets riding red-hot Sergei Bobrovsky and the Oilers getting a boost from Nikolai Khabibulin, who shut out the St. Louis Blues 3-0 Tuesday.
Blue Jackets: When your offense is still the worst in the League, the only way to win is to make sure the other guys don't score. So when the Blue Jackets score 2.15 goals per game, Bobrovsky's 1.23 goals-against average in March certainly helps explain an 8-1-3 record. All three of his career shutouts have come in his past nine starts, including a 1-0 shootout loss at the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
"He was by far our best player out there, he gave us a chance to maybe win in overtime," top scorer Vinny Prospal said. "We don't score enough goals as it is and today I don't think we really played that hard as a team."
Oilers: Goalies can also stop losing streaks. Going into longtime house of horrors Scottrade Center Tuesday night on an 0-2-1 slide, the Oilers looked to Khabibulin to put on the brakes. The 40-year-old turned in an epic 43-save performance in the win, his first shutout since 2011 and his first 40-save shutout since 2002.
"I actually thought this was our most complete game from a compete level, from the goalie on out," Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said in the Edmonton Journal.
"To take this game going forward with us is going to be important. We're going to work very hard at maintaining this kind of hockey."
Who's hot: The Oilers have won four straight against the Blue Jackets at home and are 17-4-1 in Rexall Place, including a 3-0, 22-save shutout by Devan Dubnyk in the Blue Jackets' previous visit, March 14, 2012. Hall's three-point game on Tuesday gave him points in six of eight.
-- Matthew Mankiewich - NHL.com Staff Writer