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AT THE MORNING SKATE
After a lighthearted game of shinny Thursday morning, the Oilers were back to business Friday preparing for a tilt against the Phoenix Coyotes at Rexall Place.
Head coach Tom Renney continues to tinker with Edmonton's lines, showcasing the following threesomes at the skate:
Hall - Horcoff - Eberle
Penner - Gagner - Hemsky
Jones - Cogliano - Paajarvi
Jacques - Fraser - Stortini
With Jacques re-entering the fold this week, Renney has chosen Gilbert Brule to sit out tonight's game.
"There are parts of his game he's got to bring more often more consistently," the coach explained. "I don't think it has a lot to do with work habits, it's a matter of just playing to his strengths and bringing those on a regular basis."
Brule, who has played in every game so far this season, agrees with the coach's assessment.
"I need to play more consistent and play more like myself," he said. "I haven't been playing that well as of late and just not getting pucks to the net and that's what I need to do."
DUBNYK TO START
On the back end, a tweaked groin for Nikolai Khabibulin has propelled Devan Dubnyk into the starting position. The 24-year-old will be backed-up by veteran Martin Gerber, who was recalled from Oklahoma City Thursday afternoon.
"It's exciting," Dubnyk said. "You never want a teammate to go down injured, obviously, but that's part of the role of being a back-up is when someone goes down, then you're the guy, and I'm just going to try to have fun with it."
Renney is confident in the young goalie's abilities.
"He's looked very good in the little bit that he's played so far, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him run off with some games here and certainly play at least regularly from this point on, until we can get Khabi back.
"My hope is that we can play well enough in front of him where it's not a barrage, but at the same time he's going to have to stand tall for us, as would any of our goaltenders, as we plow through this," the coach said.
As the starter, Dubnyk was the first goalie off the ice this morning, a situation he isn't used to.
"It's certainly a little different. It's weird. It's like I feel bad leaving when I see all the guys on the ice. I feel like I should just go skate some laps or something, but I guess maybe I'll start getting used to it."
SMID INJURY UPDATE
Following the game-day interviews, injured defenceman Ladislav Smid addressed the media. Smid suffered a concussion in a sudden brawl with Sean Avery Sunday night in New York, and he recapped the event.
"Fras (Colin Fraser) got smoked by the boards and I saw it, I was the first guy around that incident, so I just came to Avery," Smid recalled. "It was 5-2 and I thought, 12 minutes left, I thought we had a chance to come back.
"So I asked him if he wants to go and made two steps back and he said 'No, let's do it next shift.' So I kind of half turned and he kind of jumped me.
"But like I said before, I should know better," he added. "I know what kind of guy he is, he has done it before, so next time it's a good lesson for next time.
"I'm not scared to fight, for sure, but usually I take off my helmet and that kind of stuff. Good learning lesson for sure."
After staying off the ice for four days, Smid was cleared to skate today.
"After what happened Sunday, I feel good. I did the bike ride, I skated today, I cleared the neuropsych test. I feel good. Just conditioning wise I'm going to probably have to do some bag skates and some bike rides and stuff like that," he explained.
-- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10: Phoenix 6-2-2; Edmonton 2-6-2
Season series: First of four meetings on the 2010-11 slate. The Coyotes have won the three most recent matchups after the Oilers drew first blood during last season's series. Ilya Bryzgalov started all four games in goal and Shane Doan had a pair of goals for Phoenix in a 5-4 overtime win on Jan. 5. Dustin Penner led the way for Edmonton with 3 goals.
Big story: Four wins in as many games and all of a sudden the Coyotes once again resemble the team that surprised the NHL last season en route to a franchise-record 107 points. On the other hand, everything seems to be going wrong for the Oilers right now -- back home after a dreadful road trip, they got shellacked by the Blackhawks on Wednesday.
Coyotes: The first stop on a three-game road trip through western Canada was a successful one for Phoenix, which received 39 saves from Bryzgalov and goals by Wojtek Wolski and Martin Hanzal in a span of 5:20 during the second period in recording a 3-1 victory Wednesday. Bryzgalov came up big during a scoreless first 20 minutes in which the Coyotes were outshot 16-9 but didn't allow the Flames to get the all-important first goal.
"It was a solid road win for our team," Wolski said. "We are playing hard and 'Bryz' played great. We have to keep it going the rest of the trip."
Oilers: Beating Chicago at the United Center on Nov. 7 got Edmonton's five-game swing off to a positive start, but the Oilers are 0-4-1 since and the Blackhawks got revenge for having lost twice to them at home this season by claiming a 5-0 win in their first game back at Rexall Place. Starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin left after two periods and was subsequently placed on injured reserve Thursday with a groin injury. Veteran Martin Gerber was recalled from the AHL.
"It's almost like we're waiting for something poor to happen," coach Tom Renney said. "We've got to avoid that because we could become our own worst enemy here if we're not careful. We could be the biggest opponent we face."
Who's hot: Hanzal has goals in consecutive games for the Coyotes and 3 points during that span. Bryzgalov is 4-0-2 over his past six decisions.
Injury report: Phoenix captain Shane Doan (upper body) and defenseman Kurt Sauer (concussion) are on injured reserve, as are Khabibulin and defenseman Ladislav Smid (concussion) for Edmonton.
Stat pack: Nolan Yonkman, who registered 1 goal and 8 points in 50 games for the Capitals from 2001-06, made his Coyotes debut on Wednesday and finished a plus-1 in 4:50 of ice time. … The Oilers have given up an average of six goals per game during their losing streak and allowed 47 shots to the Blackhawks.
Puck drop: Ales Hemsky was Edmonton's first-round pick in the 2001 Entry Draft and a key cog in the 2006 squad's run to the Stanley Cup Final. This season his 11 points are tied for second on the team in scoring and his plus-2 rating leads all forwards. Hemsky sounded off to the Edmonton Journal following Wednesday's defeat.
"I don't care about rebuilding … it's nice to rebuild, but I'm here to win games," he said. "It's just excuses that we're rebuilding.
"We work hard in practices, but the games come and we have no confidence. If you don't have that, nothing is easy.
"We can't point fingers. Everybody has to look at themselves. Nobody's going to do it for us."
-- Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer