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AT THE MORNING SKATE:
There were few changes to report at the Oilers skate Saturday morning, with Pat Quinn confirming that the club will ice the same lines they utilized Thursday night in Minnesota. As a result, the same players will sit out tonight's contest, including forwards Robert Nilsson and Gilbert Brule.
"The criteria that we're going to have to establish here to make our selections about who deserves to play or who needs to come out or whatever it is, we need to do some refining on that because here's a couple of young kids that, on a skill-level, should probably be in the line-up," Quinn admitted after the skate.
Defencemen Ladislav Smid and Steve Staios will also miss the game due to concussions, but after Friday's full team practice, Quinn said he expects them both back soon.
"They've been both medically cleared. Yesterday was their first real practice after considerable time out. We do a time test on recover, and they both are near good numbers right now. So I would say they'll be in very shortly but not tonight."
Saving face at Pepsi Center
The last time the Oilers were at Pepsi Center was nearly three weeks ago but the club would like to put it further behind them. The Oilers were thumped 6-0 by the Avalanche that night, and coaches and players agree that a repeat performance is not acceptable.
"That was such a disappointing night because we saw a side of our team that to me was ugly," Quinn said. "It's one thing to lose; the other thing is who you are and how you do it. That one was not pretty at all."
Defenceman Tom Gilbert said that with two wins in the past three games, the club's improvements are obvious.
"I think the biggest difference is that the effort has been there a full 60 minutes. We might have a couple breakdowns, but just the way we respond on the next shift, try to apply pressure to them, control the puck, less turnovers, I think we're doing a really good job of that."
Quinn wants to see more of what really counts: winning.
"There's lots of good things these kids do, they just haven't learned to win on a regular basis or play as consistently as you need to get the result that they'd like to have. But I think they'll be good tonight," the coach said.
OILERS (18-32-6) at AVALANCHE (31-19-6)
Last 10 -- Edmonton 2-7-1; Colorado 6-4-0
Season series -- This is the fifth of six meetings this season between Northwest Division rivals, with the first four being split. Goalie Craig Anderson shut the Oilers out in the first and most recent matchup, while the Oilers scored 11 goals in taking the other two, one of those with Peter Budaj in net for the Avalanche.
Big story -- In a conference race where a good week or two can rocket a team up the standings, a bad one doesn't have quite the same downward effect. The Avs remain in the sixth spot despite dropping four of five, but with the eighth-seeded Flames and Red Wings a mere four points behind, it's time to get going again.
Oilers -- February started nicely for the Oil, who beat both the Hurricanes and Flyers at Rexall Place, but then they had to go on the road again, and the woes picked up where they left off in January.
After coming back twice to tie the game and in perfect position to steal it with a cold backup goalie making his NHL debut, the Wild seized the initiative in the final 10 minutes and the game, relying on Anton Khudobin's nine saves and late goals by Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat to win 4-2 and extending Edmonton's road losing streak to eight, all in regulation.
"We had some really good efforts tonight out of some people, but in the third period, three goals that you really don't like," coach Pat Quinn said. "But we've been fighting that all year, you can have good efforts and somehow at the end of the day shrug your shoulders and say we missed it, but we shouldn't have missed it."
Avalanche -- While the Oilers were eking out a single win from Dec. 15 to Jan. 30, the Avs were working on a trend of their own, never allowing more than four goals in a game. That is, until Thursday, when the Predators scored five in a lackluster 5-3 loss for Colorado, its fourth in the last five games, and a prompt to coach Joe Sacco to start scrambling things a bit.
At practice on Friday, Sacco put T.J. Galiardi alongside Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart, with Wojtek Wolski joining a line with rookies Matt Duchene and Brandon Yip.
Saturday's game is the first of a four-game homestand leading up to the Olympic break, and the Avs don't want to waste an opportunity.
"There are things that we know we can fix," Stastny said. "I guess that's a positive, because we know what we need to do to get better as a team and as individuals. But at the same time we've got to turn it around. We've been slipping a little bit in our game and it's showing in the standings."
Who's hot -- Before the Nashville game, Anderson had gone 11-6-0 in 17 starts with a 2.00 goals-against average, dropping to 1.26 in the eight starts immediately prior to Thursday. Galiardi assisted on four of the Avs' five goals in heir 5-1 win over Columbus on Tuesday.
Oilers center Sam Gagner has a five-game points streak and eight in his last eight games.
Injury report -- Good news coming out of Avs practice is that defenseman Ruslan Salei (back) could return to the lineup soon enough to get a couple of games in before joining the Belarus national team in Vancouver.
Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid (concussion) has been skating with the team but wearing a non-contact jersey. Defenseman Steve Staios (concussion) did likewise. Defenseman Sheldon Souray (hand) underwent successful surgery on Thursday and expects to be back before the end of the season, but trade rumors have him possibly in a different uniform by then. He has listed Anaheim, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington, Philadelphia and the Rangers as teams for which he would waive his no-trade clause.
Stat pack -- The Oilers have totaled only nine goals during their eight-game road skid. Anderson has three shutouts in his last four starts against Edmonton and will be making his 12th start in a row Saturday night.
Puck drop -- While the Avs remain confident, they realize they need to right themselves quickly or risk getting steamrolled in a highly competitive Western Conference race.
-- Matt Mankiewich, NHL.com