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AT THE MORNING SKATE
After arriving in snowy St. Louis late Thursday afternoon, the Oilers headed over to Scottrade Center Friday morning for game-day skate.
Following in the footsteps of Ales Hemsky, who made his healthy return to the line-up Wednesday night, forward Jordan Eberle is off the injured reserve and will play tonight vs. the Blues.
The talented rookie spent nearly five weeks nursing an ankle injury and appendectomy, an experience he is eager to put behind him.
"I've actually never missed a game because of injury, so this is the first time I've ever actually had to sideline to watch hockey and it's been tough," he said. "There's definitely a little jump in my step out there today."
There is always the risk of a returning player trying to do too much too quickly, but Eberle has no such concerns.
"I've got to keep it simple and just move on as it keeps going, and as the game progresses, get better and better. That's always kind of been my goal throughout the year and you have to kind of step in, when you get injured, into a game situation where each shift I have to get better and get down my timing," he explained.
Head coach Tom Renney also has reasonable expectations for Eberle's first game back.
"A suggestion to him was to sort of let the game come to him, don't stand around and be a spectator but don't chase it down either," the coach said. "It's game pace and we're in February, so he's not going to be able to step on the ice and keep right up to it right away. So just be the intelligent player that he is and he'll be fine."
One player who may not be fine tonight is Dustin Penner. After arriving in St. Louis, the big forward came down with the flu and did not attend the morning skate.
"We'll see how he's making out, but it was certainly one of those nights that I'm sure he would like to forget because he didn't get a lot of sleep," Renney explained. "Pens is our biggest, strongest forward and possibly player, for that matter, and naturally with the way we like to play and need for him in our line-up, we're going to miss him if in fact he can't go tonight."
To help bolster the Oilers' size and toughness, Steve MacIntyre has been slotted into the fourth line.
"I think he gives us that sense that we can take care of ourselves from that point of view and beyond, so it's important for him to be in the line-up," Renney explained.
With addition of Eberle and MacIntyre, as well as the absence of Penner, Oilers lines at morning skate were as follows:
Jones - Horcoff - Hemsky
Hall - Cogliano - Eberle
Paajarvi - Gagner - Omark
MacIntyre - Fraser - Reddox
DUBNYK TO START
Protecting the Oilers net from the Blues boys will be Devan Dubnyk. The 24-year-old netminder has helped his team secure at least a point in 11 of his 15 starts so far this season but his looking for his first career victory vs. St. Louis.
"I got a chance to play them a couple times last season -- my first start obviously which wasn't the best, but the second game went better," he said. "They're a big strong team with a lot of big bodies, so it's going to be a battle in front of the net and I'll just try to fight for sightlines and fight for rebounds."
"I'm still young, I don't have a ton of games under my belt, so I just want to feel like I earn every start that I get, based off of my play in the last game ... It's an exciting situation for me and I just don't want to take it for granted, just enjoy it and continue to work."
Renney told fans to expect more frequent appearances from Dubnyk as the season goes on.
"The big thing here is that we have about I think four or five games to go to reach that number we had planned for him anyway in September, so he's going to get those in for sure, and more. So there's no question Devan's going to play a lot more."
-- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10: Edmonton 2-7-1; St. Louis 2-7-1
Season Series: This is the second of four games this season. The Oilers took the first meeting with a 2-1 overtime win at Edmonton on Dec. 4. Rookie Taylor Hall tallied in the extra period.
Big Story: Both teams have struggled recently, as the Blues return from the All-Star Break seeking to snap a four-game losing streak and the Oilers are looking to avoid losing three in a row. But the Blues will get some help on the offensive side, as center Andy McDonald (17 points in 25 games this season) has been cleared to play on Friday after missing the last 24 games due to a concussion suffered at Edmonton in the clubs' last meeting.
Oilers: Edmonton currently resides in last place in the Western Conference with 38 points and will need to play much better hockey if it is going to catch up to Blue Jackets or Blues, who both sit right above with 51 points each. But if the Oilers remain in the cellar, they will no doubt be able to improve on an already young and talented squad by getting a shot at drafting one of the top prospects for 2011.
The Oilers' first-round draft picks from the last three years are all among the 2010-11 team scoring leaders as 2010 pick Hall is second on the club with 31 points, followed by 2008 choice Jordan Eberle (sixth with 23 points) and 2009 first-round selection Magnus Paajarvi, who is seventh on the team with 20 points through 48 games.
Blues: St. Louis has a tough hill to climb if it hopes to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, but it should benefit from being the most well-rested club coming out of the All-Star break with a full nine straight days off due to the postponement of its Feb. 1 game at Colorado.
McDonald should help provide an offensive spark, while the return of defenseman Barret Jackman from a nagging lower-body injury strengthens the blue line.
Who's Hot: Paajarvi scored the lone goal in Edmonton's 3-1 loss to the Kings on Wednesday and now has 3 goals and 5 points in his last seven games. … Center Patrik Berglund has reached the score sheet in six of his last seven games for St. Louis, tallying 3 goals and 4 assists over that span.
Injury Report: Eberle (ankle) and Gilbert Brule (upper body) remain day-to-day for Edmonton, while Ryan Whitney is out for the season with a knee injury. … Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo has missed the last four games for the Blues with an eye injury and the club has not yet provided a timetable for his return.
Stat Pack: The special teams for Edmonton this season hasn't really been too special at all, as the power-play unit is last in the West at 12.5 percent and its penalty-killing team is at the bottom of the NHL at 73.4 percent.
Puck Drop: Hockey players are no doubt some of the toughest athletes out there, but an eye injury will lead to some of them counting their blessings. Colaiacovo spoke to the club's website reporter, Chris Pinkert, on Thursday to share his thoughts about getting hit in the eye with a puck on Jan. 18 vs. Los Angeles.
"Really scary moment for me, it really made me appreciate the gift of having two eyes," Colaiacovo said.
-- Eric Goodman - NHL.com