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AT THE MORNING SKATE
Two days after posting a disappointing 12 shots in a losing effort vs. Vancouver, Edmonton was back in game-day mode with morning skate Tuesday.
Injuries to Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, and most recently Jim Vandermeer have forced head coach Tom Renney to make adjustments at both ends of the ice.
Among the changes tonight, Gilbert Brule moves from right wing to center between Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Jones. The 23-year-old is looking forward to returning to the position he played in junior.
"It's going to be a bit of an adjustment obviously. There's a lot more responsibility in your own end down low, but I'm looking forward to it and looking forward to the challenge and getting on guys."
Renney hopes the change will spark the 23-year-old's confidence.
"He grew up as a centerman, clearly he can play both wing and centre, but we're going to try to put him into familiar territory," the coach explained. "He's a good little centerman, a good little face-off guy, and I like the way he plays the game when he's on, so we're going to give him a chance to have some success there."
On the fourth line, bruiser Steve MacIntyre returns to the line-up and will skate with Zack Stortini and Colin Fraser.
MacIntyre last saw action Dec. 2 in Toronto and is eager to face the Leafs again.
"I'm pretty excited to be playing against them and excited to be back in the line-up," he said after the skate. "I think the main thing is to go out there and play the game."
Fraser said he enjoys playing with Stortini and MacIntyre but won't rely on them to do all the enforcing.
"I'm not the biggest guy but I'm certainly not scared of anyone out there. That doesn't mean I'm going to go fight Colton Orr, but at the same time I'm not going to back down from him in a scrum or something like that."
"I'm certainly willing to fight anybody but I don't win many fights, I'll tell you that. For me I think showing up is what counts."
Another player who will be returning to the line-up is defenceman Jason Strudwick. The veteran's most-recent game was Nov. 14 in New York City, and although he admits he's been out of the in-game loop for a while, he insists that he is ready to go tonight vs. Toronto.
"I don't really change the way I work out or eat or anything when I'm not playing, I just want to be prepared when I do get the chance to play," he said. "I've been through this before and I feel pretty comfortable in this role."
With Vandermeer out "a couple of weeks," according to Renney, the Oilers haven't yet decided who they will recall from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons. The head coach said Shawn Belle is the leading candidate.
"We've talked about what's down there and what we might do, but certainly he's a name that comes up most often."
REVENGE OF THE LEAFS
Edmonton is hoping its revamped line-up will excel through three periods, but Toronto isn't going to make it easy. After suffering an embarassing 5-0 defeat at the hands of the Oil two weeks ago, the Leafs have won three of their last five and will be looking for revenge tonight at Rexall Place.
"I think we've got to be ready here off the hop," Fraser said. "We can't sit back and wait because they're going to come hard, obviously, with us beating them in their building last time. They're going to be ready to go. They're not happy and I think they've been playing a lot better hockey since that game."
Renney knows his club will have to be sharp to get two points.
"They have our respect and we have to play hard tonight. There will be lots of people here who like the Toronto Maple Leafs, that just happens, and so we've got to make sure that we come out and play hard and pay attention to our game," he said.
"I think the emotion of Toronto being in town, an original six, I think that should help us. That being said, regardless of who the opponent is, we just really have to string three periods of hockey together on a regular basis ... We've got to try to just play the complete game and we're learning how to do that."
-- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10 -- Toronto 4-5-1; Edmonton 6-3-1
Season series -- This marks the conclusion of the season series after Edmonton took the opener 5-0 in Toronto on Dec. 2. It was Nikolai Khabibulin's first game back from injury and he stopped all 33 shots he faced. Rookies Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle stole the show offensively, with Eberle opening the scoring and Hall adding a pair of goals.
Big story -- The Maple Leafs started fast, winning their first four games this season, but it's been the Oilers coming on strong of late. With the Western Conference jam-packed from top to bottom, it's not unrealistic to think this young but talented Edmonton squad could be a playoff contender if it can continue to get strong play in goal from Khabibulin and backup Devan Dubnyk.
Maple Leafs -- There was a positive vibe in Toronto after Phil Kessel and Tomas Kaberle scored first-period goals to spark a 3-1 win against Montreal on Saturday, the third in a five-game stretch which also featured Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as opponents. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 22 saves and won for the second time in three starts since returning from a groin injury.
"You look at the whole week and we essentially did something (no one expected)," coach Ron Wilson said. "I don't think anybody said we were even going to win one of those games. We won three of them so I'm proud of our team."
Oilers -- Since its last meeting with Toronto, all four games Edmonton has played have come down to the wire -- two were decided in a shootout, another in overtime, and most recently the Oilers fell 2-1 to the Canucks on Sunday. It was a disappointing loss because they failed to test Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo in the third period, not managing a shot on goal until Eberle scored with under five seconds remaining. But the Oilers didn’t have enough time to pressure for the tying goal.
"We allowed a real good team to come in and have it easy," coach Tom Renney said. "We certainly need to be better.
"I'm disappointed in our compete. Vancouver is a good team but they didn't blow the doors off of anybody here. That's probably the most frustrating thing. We had an opportunity to beat a very good team if we had been as ready as we have been for most of this month."
Who's hot -- Mikhail Grabovski scored goals in three-straight games for the Maple Leafs before being held off the board by the Canadiens. Kaberle's goal was his first of the season, but he also has 5 assists in as many games. ... Hall has 4 goals in his last five games and 7 in his last 11 for the Oilers.
Injury report -- Toronto forward Mike Brown is on injured reserve with a broken finger, forward Jay Rosehill is day-to-day with a broken nose and defenseman Mike Komisarek is out 1-2 weeks with a finger injury. ... Edmonton defenseman Jim Vandermeer is day-to-day with an ankle injury, while forwards Ales Hemsky (groin) and Shawn Horcoff (knee) are on injured reserve.
Stat pack -- The Maple Leafs and Oilers have identical .636 winning percentages when scoring first in a game, tying them for 23rd in the League.
Puck drop -- Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf, recovered from a serious skate laceration to his leg and back in the lineup, will play in his hometown of Edmonton on Tuesday and then Thursday he'll play in Calgary where his NHL career started.
"I really enjoy playing in Edmonton in front of my family and friends. It's always a special building to play in, and then going back to Calgary, I had a lot of good years there, played a lot of hockey in that building," he told the Toronto Star.
"I'm excited about the trip, but our focus, first and foremost, is one game at a time. It's not me going to Calgary; it's our team going in to win a hockey game."
-- Brian Hunter- NHL.com Staff Writer