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Last 10: Edmonton: 4-5-1; Pittsburgh: 3-3-4
Season Series: This is the only meeting of the season between these two teams. The Oilers and Penguins met once during the 2009-10 season, when Pittsburgh escaped Rexall Place with a 3-2 victory on Jan. 14, 2010.
Edmonton scored twice on the power-play, with Andrew Cogliano and Lubomir Visnovsky doing the damage, but the visiting Penguins responded with three unanswered goals in the third period to claim the two points.
Big Story: With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin relegated to the sidelines, the Penguins have only recorded a single victory in the team’s past five games; directing focus to the team’s .550 winning percentage without the team’s top snipers.
The Penguins, who are currently positioned fourth in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings, are looking to get back on track to ensure home-ice advantage in the post-season.
Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the hard-charging Montreal Canadiens has presented an even greater challenge as the struggling, playing-for-pride Edmonton Oilers roll into town.
Oilers: Edmonton began its current five-game road trip with a dominating 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche last Saturday. Since that game, the team has struggled, dropping three consecutive decisions to the Flyers, Capitals and Red Wings respectively. In those three matchups, the Oilers have been out-scored 11-3, but did see improvement as the week progressed.
Although the Oilers dropped a heartbreaking overtime result to the Red Wings on Friday, Edmonton battled hard and competed all night, despite challenging the highly skilled home side with a depleted lineup.
"I'm damn proud of our hockey club tonight," said Head Coach Tom Renney. "We stuck with our game-plan. We stuck to the strategy that we thought would help us win. Our penalty killing was absolutely outstanding; our power-play was less than what we needed. We knew we could be challenged there, but that's okay."
"We fought hard and we tried to win a hockey game. We deserved a better fate, but Detroit is a good hockey club."
Providing the opportunity to capture victory was the strong play of rookie netminder Devan Dubnyk, who made 42 saves in the overtime loss. Edmonton’s record on the season has dropped to 23-37-9, but Dubnyk's personal stat-line remains at a .500 clip with a 10-10-7 record.
Following Friday's game, Renney commented on his goaltender’s poise and overall brilliant play vs. Detroit.
"He's been good. He's played very, very well for us. He looked solid, he looked big and he tracked the puck well. He was an efficient goaltender. They loaded up pretty good on the power-play and he was big for us."
Dubnyk credited his performance to the team’s overall success in disarming the Red Wings’ net presence.
"It's my job to battle with them, look over them and find a line on the puck. They're good at getting tangled up with you and making it look like they're not, so I have to be aware of that and not allow myself to get tied up with them."
"The guys did a good job on the rebounds after," Dubnyk concluded.
Penguins: The Penguins’ struggles continued Saturday afternoon when the Montreal Canadiens exited Consol Energy Center with a 3-0 blanking of the hometown squad.
Pesky winger Matt Cooke summed up what his club needs to improvement on for Sunday’s matchup vs. the Oilers.
"We have to come [Sunday] more focused, more prepared and ready to make a play when the puck is on your stick."
Elk Point, AB native Mark Letestu -- who has been promoted to the top line alongside James Neal and Alex Kovalev -- is looking forward to facing the Oilers for the first time in his career.
"I'm pretty familiar with them. My in-laws are season ticket holders and my family is pretty involved with the organization, so I keep up pretty close with them," said the 26-year-old centre.
"Anytime family gets to watch, it's pretty special for me. Being the hometown team, we want to put on a good performance and hopefully have the bragging rights all summer."
Although the game will be memorable on that front, Letestu remains focused on the task at hand and believes Edmonton will be a challenging opponent.
"They're having some injury problems right now. They're scrappy, though. They almost had Detroit [Friday night] and we expect a team that's going to be battling for everything they get."
Who’s Hot: Oilers forward Ryan Jones played a season-high 24:50 vs. the Red Wings, in the process notching his 15th goal of the season. Between the pipes, the aforementioned Devan Dubnyk has a 2-1-1 record in his past four starts, stopping 124 of 132 shots for an impressive .940 save-percentage.
Although the Penguins were shutout Saturday afternoon vs. Montreal, forward James Neal has acquitted himself nicely into the team’s lineup since been acquired from the Dallas Stars. In the team’s previous game vs. Buffalo, Neal recorded one goal and one assist, adding a plus-three rating in the Penguins’ 3-1 win.
Injury Report: Sunday’s matinee will be a battle between the depleted rosters. Oilers Taylor Hall (ankle), Ryan Whitney (ankle), Sam Gagner (hand) are all out for the season. Ales Hemsky will be out another 1-2 weeks with a shoulder injury. Theo Peckham, who is currently at home in Edmonton, is still day-to-day with a concussion. Fellow blueliner Taylor Chorney is also on the sidelines with a week-to-week knee condition.
Penguins sniper Evgeni Malkin (knee) is out for the season. Arron Asham, Sidney Crosby, Nick Johnson and Eric Tangradi are all out for an undisclosed period due to concussions. Mike Comrie is also on the IR with a hip injury, while Brooks Orpik’s broken hand will keep him sidelined for another month.
Stat Pack: The Oilers’ all-time record against the Penguins is an impressive 35-24-5, but success in Pittsburgh has been a challenge. Edmonton boasts a 13-15-4 all-time record in the Penguins’ home rink. The Sunday matinee will be Edmonton’s first visit to the brand new Consol Energy Center, meaning the visiting slate can be wiped clean.
Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner all suffered serious injuries after climbing atop the Oilers’ leaderboard with 42 points each. Devan Dubnyk made 42 saves vs. Detroit before Pavel Datsyuk ended the game in the overtime. That normally inconsequential number appears to be presenting some unfortunate luck.
Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff has scored a hat-trick once in his career. His three-goal performance came against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 10, 2006 when the Oilers rolled over the Penguins 3-1 at Mellon Arena.
Saturday’s game vs. Montreal represented Pittsburgh’s 200th consecutive sell-out, combining the team’s efforts at the old Mellon Arena and the recently introduced Consol Energy Center. The Penguins have marked an impressive 123-58-19 (.666 winning-percentage) record in that time.
Puck Drop: As the Oilers conclude the extensive road trip, Ryan Jones believes that a number of positives can be taken forward into Sunday’s matinee.
"We the more simple we keep it, the better team we're going to be. When we stretch out of our element, we seem to pull away from each other and teams can pick us apart a little more. "
"When we stay within our systems and just play together, we're a hard team to beat."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com