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AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Oilers held an optional morning skate Tuesday, with approximately 14 players taking to the Rexall Place ice.
At one end of the ice was goalie Jeff Deslauriers, who will play his third consecutive game tonight and assist his club in their quest for a three-game winning streak.
"I think if you go through our four lines, all the four lines have contributed, there's no question, if not playing hard defensively then cashing in a goal. But we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the play of JD, that's for sure," Assistant Coach Kelly Buchberger said after practice.
"These past couple of games have been good," Head Coach Pat Quinn added. "As I say to these young men, it may look pretty bleak as far as the end of the road because it's a playoff position you want and then you want results there too. That's not a possibility, so they have to really concentrate on their individual development now to continue to become better players, both on the physical side but more importantly in areas that will help them be a complete player."
PECKHAM MAKES IMPACT
One of the players who has improved significantly this season is defenceman Theo Peckham. After a disappointing initial call-up in late October, the 22-year-old rookie has been productive and powerful in the past four games with the Oilers and even earned third star for his efforts Friday, March 5 vs. Minnesota.
"I know when I came up earlier in the season I didn't really show the new coaching staff what I could do -- I was pretty shaky out there," Peckham said. "So coming up for the second time, I knew that it's kind of all or nothing, this is kind of like my last crack at it. I think so far I've kind of taken advantage of it."
The road back to Edmonton has been a bumpy one, he explained.
"I hurt my ankle in the summer. I missed training camp, I missed the first few games of the season in the American League, and when I came back I think I played 20 games, and the first 10 of those were pretty bad with my ankle. And as soon as I started to get my feet under me, I had a concussion so I missed seven weeks. And with concussions it's kind of tough because you can't work out, you can't do anything so your conditioning goes out the door.
"So I came back, and four games later I hurt my knee and I missed a couple weeks with that. I came back in early February from that and I guess now I'm here."
Quinn is pleased with the improvements he's seen.
"He's a good athlete but nothing good happened for him in that four-game or five-game stretch he was here -- not very many positive things," the head coach commented. "He's made way less mistakes in his couple of games that he's played, and hopefully that continues. I like what I see right now."
In addition to covering tonight's game, local media were eager to interview goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin in the Oilers locker room Tuesday. It was his first media availability since undergoing spinal surgery in mid-January.
Khabibulin explained that the injury arose suddenly in mid-November and failed to improve on its own.
"The night before I felt great and everything and was pretty excited about the game (vs. Chicago) here, and then in the morning I was walking to the rink from my car and I just started feeling kind of funny. I went out, skated, and it kind of started progressing a little bit. And the next day it got worse and it never got better, really."
"Even after it happened, I thought it wouldn't be too big a deal," he added. "Obviously I didn't think it would take two months and then I would go for surgery. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I thought maybe it would be a week or so, but it just never got better."
Khabibulin said the season has been "disappointing" and is looking forward to returning to the Oilers once he's made a full recovery.
"[The doctor] said that if I rehab correctly, properly there shouldn't be any problems down the road, so I'm pretty optimistic about it and trying to do everything that I've been told to do," he said. "Obviously it's not fun to rehab most of the time. Hockey's what I love to do and that was disappointing, especially with the team being in last place, it's never fun."
SENATORS (36-25-5) at OILERS (21-38-6)
Last 10: Ottawa 5-4-1; Edmonton 3-7-0
Season series: Second and final meeting of the regular season between these teams. Ottawa won 4-3 at Scotiabank Place on Nov. 10 as Jason Spezza scored the decisive shootout goal.
Big story: Break up the Oilers! Seriously, though, as a difficult season in Edmonton winds down, Pat Quinn and his troops have some reason to smile after consecutive wins over Minnesota and New Jersey, each impressive in its own right. The Wild are in desperate need of points as they chase a Western Conference playoff berth, while the Devils are fighting for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Senators: This is Ottawa's fourth game out of the Olympic break and the Senators are still looking for their first win. The offense has been sluggish since NHL play resumed, with the team managing just one goal in each of its three previous games. That includes a 2-1 shootout loss on Saturday to visiting Toronto, the basement team in the Eastern Conference.
"It was a tough game," said forward Chris Neil, who scored the lone goal despite being one of several Senators affected by a flu bug that recently hit the team. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to play tonight but the guys battled through it and we were able to get a point out of it but it would have been nice to get two."
Oilers: Jeff Deslauriers probably wishes he could play the Devils every game. The second-year Edmonton netminder has allowed just one goal in two career starts against New Jersey, and on Sunday he recorded his third shutout of the season in a 2-0 win at Rexall Place. Gilbert Brule and Marc Pouliot scored the goals. This is the best run for the Oilers since a five-game winning streak to begin the month of December.
"What we had before was a bit more of a negative situation, but the break just cut the mood and everybody had a time to relax and refresh their mind," Deslauriers said. "After the break we came here, we started working hard, and we changed a bit our system. Everybody had to be on the same page and now it's getting better. Everybody is more comfortable in it and we just have to work together to win hockey games."
Who's hot: Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire had perhaps his best performance of the season with a 30-save effort against Toronto. … Brule has two goals and three assists in his last five games and is now tied for second on Edmonton with 14 goals. Deslauriers has stopped 50 of 51 shots over his last two starts.
Injury report: Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and forward Peter Regin missed Saturday's game with the flu and are day-to-day, as is defenseman Filip Kuba with a lower-body injury. Forward Nick Foligno (broken leg) and defenseman Chris Campoli (knee) are on injured reserve.
Edmonton forward Ethan Moreau (neck) is day-to-day. Recently-acquired forward Ryan Jones tore his MCL and is likely to miss the rest of the season. Defensemen Ladislav Smid (neck) and Sheldon Souray (hand) and forwards Ales Hemsky (shoulder) and Jean-Francois Jacques (back) have already been ruled out for the season. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (back) and forward Ryan Stone (knee) are out indefinitely.
Stat pack: Ottawa forward Mike Fisher leads the team in game-winning goals this season with six and shots with 176. His 20 goals are one behind Milan Michalek for the team lead. … Ryan Whitney has been a minutes eater since arriving in Edmonton. The defenseman led the team with 26:20 of ice time against Minnesota and 25:46 against New Jersey.
Puck drop: The Senators made sure an important piece of their future will be staying put by signing 22-year-old defenseman Brian Lee to a new two-year contract on Monday, preventing him from becoming a restricted free agent at season’s end.
"It feels great," said Lee, who has four goals and 17 points in 77 career games. "Now I don't have to worry about anything but having fun, working hard and playing hockey. … It takes some of the pressure off."
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com