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AT THE MORNING SKATE
After following up Sunday's win in Chicago with an off-ice workout Monday, the Oilers returned to the ice Tuesday for morning skate at RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.
There was one notable absence: Shawn Horcoff. The Oilers captain suffered a deep bruise to his left thigh early in the second period vs. the Blackhawks and has not taken to the ice since.
Head coach Tom Renney later confirmed that Horcoff will not play tonight vs. the Hurricanes.
"It's day-to-day with him. We are on a long trip here that we've got to pay attention to its entirety, so this is one of those games that we have to sacrifice using Shawn at the expense of what we could do to hurt him even more. We're not going to do that, naturally."
"It's an opportunity for others," Renney added. "I like that and that's what this is all about this year."
Horcoff said his recovery has been good and he's optimistic about returning to the ice later this road trip.
"It's getting better. It's still stiff and pretty sore, but it's just one of those things that's just kind of a day-to-day thing. But I saw some good progress from yesterday to today, so hopefully only a couple more days."
The injury resulted from an awkward collision, he explained.
"I don't know [which Blackhawk] it was. I was just kind of coming back up the ice and he just tried to jump over me and he just kneed me in the thigh. My leg was kind of extended and he just kneed me in the thigh and it was kind of immediate."
As a result of Horcoff's absence, the Oilers shuffled their forward lines for morning skate. Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano, and Jordan Eberle skated together, as did Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, and Ales Hemsky.
Magnus Paajarvi, Gilbert Brule, and Ryan Jones formed the third line while, while Steve MacIntyre, Colin Fraser, and Zack Stortini completed the fourth.
With Horcoff out, fellow centerman Cogliano said he's ready to step up his game.
"Obviously Horc's an important part of our team, he plays a lot of minutes and really tough minutes," he said. "I feel like the last five games for sure my game has come along. I'm just a little bit off right now, but I need to have a good game and a good start for myself tonight to help the team. Like I said, with Horc out, guys like myself have to carry the load."
Renney is pleased with Cogliano's recent performance.
"Cogs has played well, he's had his feet under him all year, he's worked hard, he's skating well, he's in on top of people on our forecheck, he's been able to finish his checks, he's coming back well, he seems to be responsible on both sides of the puck, and that's a testimony to him," the coach said. "With that, he's been able to make some things happen offensively. So we like that (line) combination this morning, and we'll see what happens tonight."
-- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
Season series -- This is the only meeting of the season for Edmonton and Carolina. The Oilers took the only game between the two last season, knocking off the Canes 4-2 at Rexall Place on Feb. 1.
Big Story -- Things are drastically different now than they were when the Oilers and Hurricanes went seven games in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, but with both teams still looking to climb into the playoff hunt in their respective conferences two valuable points are on the line Tuesday in Raleigh.
Oilers -- The stable of talented young players populating the Oilers' roster this season has been a major source of excitement for fans looking to Edmonton's bright future. Jordan Eberle and 2010 No. 1 pick Taylor Hall have had their share of highlight-reel goals, with Hall potting three in his last five games after waiting seven outings to light an NHL lamp for the first time.
But the fast passing and bright future of the Oil's young guns hasn't translated to much success this season. Despite opening the 2010-11 campaign with two straight wins, Edmonton is mired in last place in the West with a 10-point total that is the second-lowest in the League.
Fortunately for Edmonton, the season is still young and last in the West is only six points out from the top eight in early November. As the Oilers make their second stop on a five-game road trip, they're coming off just their second win in the last 10 games, but if they can navigate a brutal three-games-in-four-night stretch after they leave Carolina, one which will take them to Detroit, New York and New Jersey later this week, they just may be in decent shape.
Sam Gagner's three goals in the last four games have been a nice boost to the offense, but the key is between the pipes. Nikolai Khabibulin's .905 save percentage and 3.10 goals-against average are less than inspiring, but the 16-year veteran has given up just three goals in his last two starts, signaling he may be rounding into form.
Hurricanes -- Carolina, too, is on the outside looking in at the playoff picture right now, but the Canes are on slightly better footing than the Oilers these days. While they sit six points behind Southeast-leading Washington, the Hurricanes are just one point outside the final playoff slot in the East. Carolina can make a move into the top eight with a win Tuesday night, but to sustain any success they'll need more sustained consistency from their goaltender.
Cam Ward's greatest moment -- his Conn Smythe-winning performance in the 2006 Final -- came against these Oilers, but he has headed a rocky road since then, with this season being no exception. Ward is 7-5-0 on the year, but his 2.90 GAA is indicative of his up-and-down performance. A split home-and-home against Florida last week was a microcosm of Ward's season so far, as he only gave up two goals in a win against the Panthers, coming after he surrendered six tallies the previous night.
Despite concerns in net, Carolina does have some pleasant surprises keeping it afloat this season. While Eric Staal has continued his steady production -- he has 3 goals and an assist in the last three games -- 18-year-old center Jeff Skinner has been turning heads at the RBC Center. The No. 7 pick this June, Skinner has 5 points in his last four games, a performance that is no fluke considering his 12 points in 14 games this season.
Who's Hot -- Kurtis Foster has lent the Oilers some surprising production from the blue line with 5 points in his last five games. … Left wing Sergei Samsonov has been pulling his weight in Carolina of late with 1 goal and 4 assists in his last three games.
Injury Report -- Joni Pitkanen is questionable for Tuesday with an upper-body injury, but Carolina is otherwise healthy ahead of the game. Edmonton, however, could be in a much more tenuous position as Shawn Horcoff (lower-body injury), Jean-Francois Jacques (back surgery), Theo Peckham (flu-like symptoms) and Steve MacIntyre (back) are all considered questionable for Tuesday.
Stat Pack -- Fans of Carolina and Edmonton will no doubt remember the thrilling series the two teams put on four Junes ago, but the players themselves may not. Only six current Hurricanes skated in the 2006 Final -- including one, Samsonov, who did so for Edmonton -- while Alex Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff are the only two current Oilers remaining for their '06 dream run.
Puck Drop -- While the Oilers and Canes aren't in direct competition with one another for a postseason berth, Tuesday is still an important chance to climb back into the race for both teams. Edmonton may have had a rough season to this point, but Carolina would be wise not to underestimate the Oil. The only two wins for the Oilers in their last 10 games came against the defending-champion Chicago Blackhawks.
-- David Kalan - NHL.com Staff Writer