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Last 10: Edmonton 2-5-3; New York 5-5-0
Season Series: This is the only meeting on the 2010-11 schedule between these teams. Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik each finished with a power-play goal and an assist in the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Oilers at Rexall Place on Nov. 5, 2009, in their most recent matchup.
Big Story: Following a day off to explore the Big Apple, the Oilers finish off their five-game road swing with a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden. Edmonton has lost three in a row since opening the trip with a win in Chicago, but Friday’s game in New Jersey marked the team’s best effort since beating the Blackhawks, as they picked up a point in a 4-3 overtime loss.
Oilers: Behind a pair of goals from Colin Fraser, his first two of the season, Edmonton had a reeling New Jersey squad behind the eight ball, as the Oilers led 3-1 on the Devils’ home ice late into the second period. But they let the advantage slip away, thanks in part to penalties that led to the tying goal and Ilya Kovalchuk’s overtime winner.
"For a while it looked like two teams who were playing not to lose," coach Tom Renney said. "That being said, and coming off (Thursday) night and a couple pretty good licks (in a 6-2 loss to Detroit), I thought we showed some mettle."
Rangers: The return of Marian Gaborik to the lineup Thursday against Buffalo was a welcome sight for New York, which managed to play .500 hockey in the 12 games the star forward missed. Gaborik didn’t have a point in his first game back, but Artem Anisimov stole the show with a pair of goals, including the winner 1:32 into overtime as the Rangers edged the Sabres by a 3-2 score.
"It was a big win for us after the last two games," said Anisimov, who now has 5 goals on the season. "We played hard and deserved to win. And winning at home right now is very important."
Who's Hot: Ryan Whitney has 4 assists in the Oilers’ last four games and leads the team with 13 points, all assists. ... Anisimov picked up his team-leading second game-winning goal Thursday and his 42 shots for the season are second on the Rangers to top goal-scorer Brandon Dubinsky.
Injury Report: Edmonton forward Shawn Horcoff is day-to-day with a bruised thigh, while forward Jean-Francois Jacques is out indefinitely recovering from back surgery.
New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist missed Thursday’s game due to illness. If he’s still feeling the effects, Martin Biron, who made 29 saves against Buffalo, is ready to go. Defenseman Michal Rozsival is out with a shoulder injury. Forwards Chris Drury (broken finger) and Vinny Prospal (knee surgery) are on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: Oilers defenseman Kurtis Foster leads his team in shots, and by a wide margin -- his 46 are a dozen more than forwards Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi. ... Gaborik had three shots on goal and saw 18:40 of ice time for the Rangers in his return.
Puck Drop: Home ice has provided its fair share of struggles for the Blueshirts -- they were just 2-5-1 at the Garden before pulling out the OT win over Buffalo, as opposed to an excellent 5-2-0 on the road. This game may come down to how much Edmonton has left in the tank, as it finishes a long, tough road trip with its third game in four days.
-- Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer
How you finish can change everything.
For the Edmonton Oilers, an emotionally taxing road trip hasn’t gone according to plan. After beginning the excursion with a comeback win against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Oilers have fallen in three consecutive decisions en route to a 1-2-1 trip record.
And yet, the opportunity to salvage respectability and establish some good vibes before returning to Edmonton most certainly exists.
With a win Sunday morning, the Oilers could return home with a .500 trip record and book-end their journey with victories over some highly-skilled teams. It is feasible? Of course, but it highly depends on a number of factors that have plagued the young Oilers in the central portion of this road trip.
While underlying numbers can often be misleading, the statistics certainly don’t lie here. Edmonton’s penalty kill has been the team’s undoing; perhaps even single-handedly accepting responsibility for many of the losses this season.
If the Oilers hope to complete the road trip on a high note, the importance of a strong penalty kill is essential. To put the struggles in perspective: The Oilers hold a disappointing 1-8-1 record this season when allowing at least one powerplay marker.
With that in mind, the message and goal to execute is simple. Improve the penalty kill and good things will come.
While immersed in a three-game losing skid, the need for certain players to step up in situations like this could be the difference between establishing a successful road trip record and going home with only one victory to the team’s credit.
Nikolai Khabibulin’s performance will be under the microscope for Sunday’s early-morning affair. The veteran goaltender has had a hot-and-cold start to the 2010-11 season as he looks to further establish his role in the crease with young protégé Devan Dubnyk waiting patiently.
After an incredible performance against the Chicago Blackhawks to open the road trip, Khabibulin followed it up with two losses to the Hurricanes and Red Wings respectively; one game in which he was pulled after allowing four first period goals, and the other where the team allowed six goals as they paced another blowout loss.
With one last chance to tally a victory on the road trip, Khabibulin will need to respond with a solid performance between the pipes.
Ales Hemsky had perhaps his best performance of the season against the New Jersey Devils Friday night. The crafty winger was buzzing all evening, as he showed some tremendous chemistry with new linemates Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall.
Surprisingly, Hemsky was unable to record a point on this night but looked poised to break-out at any moment. With further chemistry developing, in addition to what seems to be a greater willingness to drive the middle of the ice, look for Hemsky to have a strong outing against a sixth place Rangers team.
While the Oilers will certainly be in tough in the final game of the marathon road trip, strong performances from the penalty kill, a goaltender looking to bounce-back, and a talented winger poised to break-out could send the Oilers back to Edmonton with a 2-2-1 trip record and good vibes heading into next week.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com