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AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Oilers took to the ice for morning skate Thursday with two notable absentees: Theo Peckham and Ales Hemsky.
Following a fight during Sunday night's game vs the Bruins, Peckham continues to suffer from concussion-like symptoms and, as a result, call-up Richard Petiot continues to fill his spot on the blue line.
The injury bug has also hit Hemsky, who suffered a shoulder injury midway through Tuesday night's game vs. Nashville.
"There's nothing that traumatic, but it is involving the rotator cuff," head coach Tom Renney explained. "It looks like it's going to be two to three weeks. We're not 100% sure."
The coach said a second MRI next week should clarify Hemky's timeline for return. "Obviously we hope sooner rather than later, but that's as much as I can tell you now."
With Dustin Penner's trade on Monday and Hemsky's injury Tuesday, Edmonton's remaining forwards have the opportunity to prove they can contribute at a high level.
"I think it's a chance for a lot of guys to step up and fill in different roles here with those two guys gone," Gilbert Brule said. "They're huge components, obviously, to our team, but I'm definitely excited to be on the power-play and get a chance there."
With Hemsky's injury, Renney has had to shuffle the lines once again. On the top line, Taylor Hall, Shawn Horcoff, and Jordan Eberle will be reunited.
"Horc and Ebs, we've played together for a long time and hopefully it works out," Taylor Hall commented. "Horc's always been fun for me to play with and we've always had pretty good chemistry."
Renney admitted injuries have challenged his ability to balance the lines, but he emphasized that the team's identity lies not in line combinations but on-ice effort.
"It becomes increasingly difficult as players fall by the wayside, but again it is about our identity and no identity matters if you don't work," he said.
"I hate the fact that this is a cliche, but it is: We have to take our games one at a time and be the best team that we possibly can, hopefully the better team on the ice that night, for all the right reasons and not because we had just great goaltending, or our power-play scored one finally, or we might have been outshot tremendously but we got a timely goal. We just want to play a complete game and we want to do that 18 times, and then we'll evaluate where we are beyond that."
BATTLING THE BLUE JACKETS
Edmonton's next immediate test is Columbus.
"They're going to come hard, we know that, so we're going to have to really navigate this game quickly in terms of retrieving pucks and moving it past their forecheck and forcing them to have to maybe adjust their game plan," Renney said. "We have to play to our strengths, and one of them is quick puck-movement and using our speed."
Devan Dubnyk will be responsible for Oilers netminding tonight. After watching last game from the bench, the 24-year-old is eager to get back between the pipes.
"I've always said I've got to continue to earn my spot in there, and it would be great to get that many more games in and that much more experience building to next year, obviously," he said. "I just want to continue what's been going on and continue to feel good in the net and work on all those little things that are just going to make me better going on. Every opportunity, however many it is, between now and the end of the year is a great opportunity for me."
Renney understands the importance of Dubnyk's development.
"We have to play him. He's got to get opportunity to play and we've got to continue to develop him like we would any of our skaters."
-- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
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Last 10: Columbus 6-2-2; Edmonton 5-5-0
Season Series: Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The home team has won each of the first three matchups. Kristian Huselius of the Blue Jackets has 5 goals to lead all scorers, including a hat trick on Dec. 16 in a game the Oilers won by a 6-3 score. He added a pair, with the second goal proving decisive, in a 4-3 victory for Columbus on Feb. 5. Edmonton is led by rookies Taylor Hall and Linus Omark, who have 1 goal and 5 points apiece.
Big Story: The Blue Jackets have been coming on strong, with eight wins in their last 12 games and single points coming from two of the losses, but will it be enough? They're still five points out of a Western Conference playoff berth entering Thursday, so this game is one they can't afford to let slip away.
Blue Jackets: This stop in Edmonton marks the midway point on a potentially season-defining five-game road trip for Columbus. The first two games have been one-goal affairs that didn't go the Blue Jackets' way, although they did manage to gain a point out of Wednesday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Canucks. Successful attempts by Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette had them one save away from the win on two occasions, but Vancouver extended the penalty-shot tiebreaker each time and finally prevailed in the eighth round.
"It would be nice to finish that off with both points, but I thought we played a heck of a hockey game against a real good team in a tough building," coach Scott Arniel said.
Oilers: He's been the forgotten man for most of this season, but veteran goalie Martin Gerber continues to make the most of the few opportunities he's been given. Recalled from the AHL with Nikolai Khabibulin sidelined, Gerber started against Nashville on Wednesday and made 34 saves during regulation and overtime before also denying three of four shootout attempts in a 2-1 Edmonton victory. Omark showed off his shootout prowess again with the decisive goal, going five-hole on Pekka Rinne.
"He's a sneaky [guy] on the shootout, that's for sure," Gerber said. "He has a really good eye, really good timing. It's not the first time I saw him do that. He did it yesterday in practice and it worked."
Who's Hot: Scottie Upshall scored the only goal for the Blue Jackets in his debut after being acquired via trade from the Coyotes. It was his 17th of the season, placing him third on the team behind Nash and RJ Umberger.
Injury Report: Columbus defenseman Anton Stralman is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a knee injury. Huselius (lower body) and fellow forward Derick Brassard (hand) are on injured reserve. … Edmonton defenseman Theo Peckham is day-to-day with concussion-like symptoms. Khabibulin (eye infection) and defensemen Taylor Chorney (knee) and Ryan Whitney (ankle) are on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: Nash is one goal shy of reaching 30 for the sixth time in seven seasons. … Gilbert Brule had a team-leading six of the Oilers' 34 hits against the Predators.
Puck Drop: In three appearances this season, the first two coming back in November, Gerber is 3-0-0 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .958 save percentage. Being out of the race, Edmonton will want to give plenty of action down the stretch to the young Devan Dubnyk, but Gerber can't be ignored for the occasional spot start if Khabibulin isn't back soon.
-- Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer