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AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Edmonton Oilers kick off a five-game road trip tonight when they take on the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.
The team will have some lineup adjustments in place, most notably Taylor Hall will not be playing after suffering a season-ending high ankle sprain on Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Magnus Paajarvi will take Hall's place on the top line alongside Shawn Horcoff and Jordan Eberle. The second line will be comprised of Ryan Jones, Sam Gagner and Linus Omark.
"Paajarvi, Horcoff and Eberle is kind of a natural fit for us," noted head coach Tom Renney. "At the same time as I say that, last time we were here Paajarvi, Jones and Sam (Gagner) were real good together."
Gilbert Brule will not play tonight as he is out with an illness. As a result, Alex Giroux has been called up from the Oklahoma City Barons and will make his Oilers debut. Giroux has been tearing up the AHL with 29 goals and 65 points so far this season in 61 games. He ranks second in the league in scoring and should get an opportunity to show what he can do offensively in Edmonton.
"He's a sniper and he certainly does that real well," Renney said of Giroux. "We want to make sure we put him in the right place."
Giroux will play on the left side with Cogliano in the middle and Reddox on the right.
Colin Fraser, J-F Jacques and Steve MacIntyre make up the fourth line while Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal.
On defence, Alex Plante will play his first game of the season with the Oilers. Plante, 21, has a goal and 10 assists as well as 112 penalty minutes in 57 games this season with the Barons.
"It's been going really well," Plante said of his experience this season in Oklahoma City. "We're really trying to make a push for the playoffs and it's really exciting."
Plante played four games with the Oilers last season, picking up one assist but this season has seen Belle, Petry, Petiot and Chorney all called up to the Oilers blueline before him.
"Not really," said Plante when asked if that's bothered him. "I feel if I start thinking about that I'm just going to go bald a lot quicker than I want to. We've got a great D-core down there and it makes us competitive."
DUBNYK BACK IN GOAL
Although Nikolai Khabibulin has returned from injured reserve, Devan Dubnyk will get his second consecutive start tonight. That could be partly due to a strong performance 10 days ago when a very strong first period from Dubnyk helped propel the Oilers to a 5-1 win over the Avs.
"The start's the key," said Dubnyk. "I always say that, especially on the road. Whether that start for me is 10 minutes into the period or 15 seconds into the period it's my job to be ready to go. If they make a play and get one early it's just as important to continue to go after that."
Dubnyk has a 9-9-6 record this season with a 2.85 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.
"It's been an exciting year for me. Obviously, the start of the year I didn't know what to expect in terms of games but it's exciting to get the opportunity to play and just earn more starts."
LIFE WITHOUT TAYLOR
Tonight is the first game this season the Oilers have had to play without their leading goal scorer, Taylor Hall. It's something the team will have to get used to as the rookie left winger has been shut down for the season.
One player who can identify with what Taylor is about to go through is Jordan Eberle, Hall's roommate who missed most of January with a similar ankle injury.
"It's the same thing I went through, same injury, maybe a little worse," said Eberle. "I know for him - like me - it's the first time he's ever been injured. It's tough but you've got to battle through it."
Renney looked at the positives of the situation, which included the ability to look at new players - such as Giroux - or a longer look at players with added responsibilities - such as Paajarvi.
"It presents options and opportunity," said Renney. "We realize what's not in our lineup beyond Taylor, too. The past week there's been a lot of changes."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10: Edmonton 6-4-0; Colorado 1-7-2
Season Series: The Northwest Division rivals are meeting for the fourth time this season. Edmonton has won two of the first three contests, a 3-2 decision on Nov. 25 and a 5-1 victory on Feb. 23. Colorado's lone victory came in a 4-3 shootout win on Dec. 30. Milan Hejduk notched the shootout winner in that contest. Edmonton scored three power-play goals in the second period of their last meeting to win in Denver.
Big Story: The Oilers begin a five-game road trip on Saturday night, but the season is over for rookie Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick in last June's Entry Draft. Hall, who had the game-winner against Colorado in the Nov. 25 win, is gone for the season with a high ankle sprain.
Oilers: The Oilers are trying for their third consecutive win, but they've now seen their top three scorers taken away this week. Dustin Penner was traded to Los Angeles on Monday and Ales Hemsky went down with an injury on Tuesday before Hall was hurt in Thursday's 4-2 win against Columbus.
Before he was hurt, Hall notched a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal in the first period, and an assist in the second. He was hurt in a fight with Columbus' Derek Dorsett -- Hall fell to the ice awkwardly and twisted his left ankle.
"We drafted character, so we definitely expect character to show up and it did," coach Tom Renney said of Hall after the game. "Good for him. Scraps happen. He had enough of the liberties."
Avalanche: While the Avs are enduring one of the worst stretches in franchise history, winning just once their last 14 games, they're still playing hard. Colorado took red-hot San Jose to a shootout on Tuesday before losing 2-1, the Avs' third one-goal loss in a row.
"The way we've been playing the last few games, I think it's been a positive for us" center Paul Stastny said. "It's been like that for a while. You can't hang your head. I think you just have to stay positive and work hard to get out of it."
Who's Hot: Edmonton's Jordan Eberle has 4 points in his last five games, including a two-point game on Feb. 23 against the Avalanche. … Erik Johnson has four points in six games as an Av after he was acquired from St. Louis. Johnson scored the lone goal at San Jose.
Injury Report: In addition to Hall and Hemsky, defenseman Theo Peckham is day-to-day with concussion-like symptoms. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (eye infection) and defensemen Taylor Chorney (knee) and Ryan Whitney (ankle) are all on injured reserve, though Khabibulin is just about ready to return. … Colorado captain Adam Foote is expected to return on Saturday after missing the last 11 games with a leg injury.
Stat pack: Hall and Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins are the only players to notch both a Gordie Howe hat trick and a traditional hat trick this season.
Puck Drop: In the last meeting between these two teams, Colorado blueliner Ryan O'Byrne left the game just four minutes in after Hall's skate swiped O'Byrne's cheek in an awkward play behind the Colorado net. O'Byrne, despite bleeding profusely, finished his shift before skating back to the bench 45 seconds later. He was whisked to a local hospital where he received 100 stitches to close the wound, but O'Byrne returned to the ice this week and is practicing with a full face shield.
-- Deborah Francisco - NHL.com Staff Writer