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AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Oilers boarded a plane for Vancouver this morning at 8:30 a.m. Upon landing in Vancouver about 90 minutes later, the team went straight to Rogers Arena for the morning skate at 10:30 a.m. Vancouver time.
"This is great. This is old-time hockey, I love this. Get to the game and play," noted Oilers head coach Tom Renney.
"There might even be a benefit to travelling, getting on the plane and getting to the morning skate."
The team raised some eyebrows when Ales Hemsky, Gilbert Brule and Jim Vandermeer all took the ice in the skate but in the end there will be no lineup changes from what the team put on the ice Thursday in Los Angeles.
Top line will be Hall, Gagner and Eberle followed by Penner, Cogliano, Paajarvi. Third unit will be Omark, O'Marra and Jones with Jacques, Fraser and Stortini making up the fourth line.
The Canucks will be going with Cory Schneider in goal tonight while Edmonton will counter with Nikolai Khabibulin.
"Roberto's been well-documented as a goaltender and Cory we know a little less of. Freddy (Chabot) does a great job of doing pre-scouts on opposing team's goaltenders so I think we'll be fine."
BIG TEST TONIGHT
Once again, the Oilers are going to be tested in a big way tonight by Vancouver.
"They're really good," said Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney. "They're deep up front and they've got some puck-moving defencemen and a really good goalie. We've just got to play the way we did in California and we shoudl be good."
The team has had two close games against the Canucks, considered one of the elites of the Western Conference, but came away with no points each time.
On November 2 at Rexall Place, Vancouver roared out to a 3-0 lead. The Oilers fought back to tie it but the Canucks managed to score another late in the third - former Oiler Raffi Torres netted his third of the night - to win the game.
On December 12, the Oilers were outshot 32 to 12 and were defeated 2-1. The game was 2-0 for most of the contest until Jordan Eberle scored with 4.5 seconds left to make it close.
"We have to penetrate this team," Renney said. "They do a very good job protecting their goaltender and they do a good job when they've got the puck of not giving it back.
"I don't care if they count it as a shot on goal as long as we're doing everything we possibly can to get it on net."
Edmonton's penalty killing is the worst in the NHL at 71.4% while Vancouver's power play is the League's best at 24.4%. The Oilers are bottom five in faceoffs while Vancouver is the league's best on the dot.
"We're the type of team that has to do pretty much everything as a group and certainly faceoffs is an example of that," Renney said. "When you can work to tie and then really work to get that free puck, that's a win. In the defensive zone a tie is as good as a win."
TRIO RETURNS TO THE ICE
Brule, Vandermeer and Hemsky all returned to the ice to practice with the team but none of them will be ready to play tonight.
"(Ales is) day-to-day," stated Renney following the skate. "I'm not going to look at him in a 14-minute skate and see him for the first time in quite some time and decide to put him in the lineup in a game like this, that's for sure."
It was a similar story with Brule.
"He still has a little bit of the flu symptoms and actually came off a little bit early from practice for those reasons. It's day-to-day."
Brule said he felt a lot better than he did last week after he was ravaged by the flu.
"I had a stomach bug, was sick for a couple of days then felt drained. I had no energy and was pale," said Brule. "But I'm feeling better now. Had a good couple days off here and getting back to it. Felt good on the ice today."
Vandermeer is a little further away from returning but also not that far off.
"I haven't talked to (Head Medical Trainer) T.D. (Forss) that much about him but I'd say close to that, maybe a little longer."
EYES ON THE WORLD JUNIORS
Oilers head coach Tom Renney remarked that he will be watching this afternoon when Team Canada kicks off the World Junior tournament against Russia. Of particular interest, Oilers prospect Olivier Roy will be getting the start in goal for Canada.
"I really like this kid," Renney said of Roy. "He's a great competitor. Nothing fazes him. Two straight years in a row, he's been cranked hard off the collar bone and right back out there.
"I think he'll do a heck of a job."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10 -- Edmonton 5-3-2; Vancouver 7-1-2
Season Series -- These Northwest Division rivals will meet for the third time this season. The Canucks have won both previous meetings, beating the Oilers 4-3 and 2-1 in the first two meetings. Canucks forward Raffi Torres, a former Oiler, recorded a hat trick in the first game.
Big Story -- Staring at the Oilers is an opportunity to close a three-game road trip on a winning note, after going 0-1-1 in the first two games. Meanwhile, the Canucks will look to take their recent good fortunes back to Vancouver, after collecting five of a possible six points on their most recent road trip.
Oilers -- Edmonton has had a busy December, but has played like a young team that has discovered an identity. The proof has been in their recent play. Despite sitting 15th in the Western Conference, the Oilers have been playing better and providing stiff competition on a nightly basis.
Canucks -- Vancouver comfortably atop the Northwest Division and has been one of the League's hottest teams of late. Losing just once in regulation in their last 13 games, the Canucks have emerged as a bona fide contender in the West. Leading the way have been twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who have propelled themselves into the top five in League scoring behind Sidney Crosby and another dynamic duo, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
Who's Hot -- Henrik and Daniel Sedin have been putting up points all season, but have each taken their game to new levels lately. Daniel has points in 12 of his past 13 games, while Henrik has points in seven of eight games, including a goal and 3 assists against Columbus on Tuesday. … Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney is tied for seventh in the League in assists (25) and is riding a four-game point streak.
Injury Report -- Flu-like symptoms have made Oilers forward Gilbert Brule questionable for Sunday’s game. … Vancouver will enter the game with a healthy lineup.
Stat Pack -- Henrik Sedin leads the NHL in assists with 35, while Whitney is tied for most assists among defensemen with former Pittsburgh teammate Kris Letang.
Puck Drop -- With a win, the Canucks can overtake Detroit and Dallas for the top spot in the Western Conference.
-- Sergei J. Feldman - NHL.com Staff Writer