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AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Oilers took to the ice for a skate at Rexall Place Thursday morning, and there were a few notable changes, absences, and additions.
Firstly, Ales Hemsky was not present. The talented forward suffered an injury during Wednesday's practice, and there is no word on when he will return to the line-up.
"I'd call it day-to-day -- he's got a little bit of a groin pull," head coach Tom Renney later explained. "It's more precautionary right now than anything. We think we're doing the right thing under the circumstances."
Associate coach Ralph Krueger is hoping that Hemsky's absence inspires offensive contributions from other forwards.
"Hemmer's been our leader truly emotionally and with the puck, without. He's been a physical presence, he's been a very complete player here lately," Krueger said.
"What that can do is get everybody else to raise their game knowing there's a huge hole left behind with him not in the line-up. That can pull a team together, that can show our character and grit, and that's the kind of reaction we're expecting from the team."
Due to Hemsky's absence, Oilers coaches shuffled the lines into the following combinations:
Hall - Horcoff - Eberle
Penner - Cogliano - Brule
Jones - Gagner - Paajarvi
Jacques - Fraser - Stortini
Cogliano is looking forward to skating with Penner and Brule.
"I think we had a couple of good games together this year, we've had some chemistry last year, which was nice," he said. "I just think with Ales out it gives me an opportunity to play with Pens and a guy like Brule and create some offence. It's exciting."
After aggravating some facial injuries over the past few games, Cogliano will play with a mask tonight.
"With the shots to the face it isn't helping, but hopefully things will clear up with my face over the next couple of days and I'll just feel good about my play and get going," he added.
In addition to Cogliano's mask, another notable addition to the Oilers tonight will be Ladislav Smid. The defenceman suffered a head/neck injury Nov. 14 in New York and missed the following four games.
"We've got a really tough opponent tonight and I'm just excited to be in the line-up again," Smid said after the skate.
MARTIN'S THE MAN
Another Oiler is also excited to join the line-up: goaltender Martin Gerber. The 36-year-old was recalled from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons when Nikolai Khabibulin suffered a groin injury one week ago. Tonight's game will mark his first NHL start since April 11, 2009.
"It definitely feels great. I'm really happy about it and just looking forward to tonight," Gerber said. "It's been a while, so definitely I've got to be sharp and try to keep things simple and go from there."
Edmonton's coaching staff is supportive of the team's new veteran goalie and his journey back to the NHL.
"It's an amazing story: he broke his neck 11 months ago in Russia and they thought he was going to be gone, it was the end of his career," Krueger explained. "He's a battler, and for him to have an NHL game here tonight is a huge step from where he was 11 months ago."
"It's outstanding, he certainly deserves it," Renney added. "He's worked very, very hard, he had an excellent training camp, he's been everything you could hope for in Oklahoma City to allow that team to get some traction and feel good about their game. So he's certainly deserving of a start."
As for Khabibulin, he participated in today's skate, sharing time with Devan Dubnyk in the net opposite of Gerber.
Although the Avalanche have hit some injury trouble, Renney knows his club will have its hands full tonight.
"They're organized, they're well-coached, they're prepared, they like to play with pace and tempo too -- I like that. Their game is a north-south game and a transition game and they attack well. They're certainly organized on the ice and I think that's a testimony to the players, obviously, and the coaching staff putting it together for them," Renney said.
-- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10: Colorado 6-4-0; Edmonton 2-6-2.
Season Series: This is the first of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals. The Avalanche went 3-2-1 against the Oilers in 2009-10.
Big Story: Just when Colorado coach Joe Sacco thought his goaltending situation was shored up with the return of Craig Anderson, the latter suffered another injury on Wednesday night and was forced to leave after the first period due to a groin injury. Colorado dropped a 4-2 decision at Vancouver, which ended a four-game winning streak.
Anderson was making just his second start after missing 10 games with a knee injury sustained during warm-ups for an Oct. 26 game, also in Vancouver.
Avalanche: Not only did Colorado lose its No. 1 goaltender after 20 minutes on Wednesday night, but it also lost captain Adam Foote late in the first period. The veteran defenseman had to be helped off the ice after sustaining a leg injury, which put the Avalanche -- who now share first place in the Northwest with Vancouver -- in an enormous hole. Both are unlikely to be in the lineup against the Oilers, which means Sacco must once again turn to Peter Budaj in goal. Budaj stopped 9 of 12 shots after Anderson was forced to leave the game.
"Peter (Budaj) came in and played fine," Sacco said. "I don't think there was any issue there.
"When you lose one defenseman, you're down to five so that changes the chemistry a little bit back there. But I'd say overall we just weren't good enough tonight."
Oilers: A 5-0 loss at Phoenix on Tuesday night left Edmonton coach Tom Renney in a very foul mood, and rightfully so. Renney -- who labeled the loss "a joke" and "an absolute travesty" -- put his team through a physically-draining skate on Wednesday and hopes for a much better effort against the Avs on Thursday night.
"Nobody said we were going to win the Stanley Cup this year," Renney said. "It is a work in progress, and the one thing I don't want to see happen here is people bail out on this, on our expectation of becoming a good team as the season goes on.
"It's not going to happen overnight and we've shown some touches where we've been good, and we've shown some times when we haven't been very good, and I don't think that should come as a surprise to anybody."
Who's Hot: Avs defenseman John-Michael Liles had a goal and an assist Wednesday night. He now has 22 points (4 goals, 18 assists) in 21 games. … Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney doesn't have a goal, but he leads Edmonton with 17 points.
Injury Report: As if the injuries to Anderson and Foote aren't enough, Colorado is also without Kyle Cumiskey (concussion), T.J. Galiardi (broken wrist), Peter Mueller (concussion) and David Van Der Gulik (torn MCL). … Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid (concussion) is day-to-day. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (groin) is out.
Stat Pack: With Wednesday's loss, Colorado fell to 0-7 when scoring two or fewer goals. … The Oilers currently have the worst-ranked power play in the League. They've scored only once via the man advantage in the last six games. They've lost five of those contests.
Puck Drop: "Some guys want it to be easy, but this is the best League in the world. It's never going to be easy. We think after one (win) that it's going to be easy and we forget how hard it was to get that win." -- Oilers forward Sam Gagner after Tuesday's 5-0 loss at Phoenix.
-- Brian Compton - NHL.com Staff Writer