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AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Oilers’ game-day morning began with a short walk to the exceptionally close-by Bridgestone Arena for the morning skate. The beautifully warm Tennessee weather put everyone in good spirits, as the Oilers completed the 20-minute skate with smiles and good vibes despite battling through a six-game winless skid.
The optimism was warranted, mind you. In the past two months, Edmonton and Nashville have met twice, with the Oilers coming away victorious in both. The team’s last visit to Bridgestone Arena saw the Oilers skate away with a commanding 4-0 win on Feb. 7.
STICK TO THE PLAN
Although the Oilers have managed to have some success against the Predators in recent meetings, the visitors understand that Nashville is a talented club in the midst of a heated post-season race.
"I don't think it factors in at all," Ryan O’Marra said when asked about Nashville’s position in the NHL’s Western Conference standings.
"I think we've just got to go out there and play the game-plan that Tom Renney has outlined for us. That's how we'll be successful. We can't be too concerned about where they are in the standings based on the fact that we're in a certain position in the standings."
"Obviously we want to rebound with the two losses and come out with a big win here. They've played well, they've split the season-series so far, so we're looking to come out and put in a good effort and come out with two points."
Fellow energy forward Ryan Jones agreed, adding that Nashville’s success over the years can be credited to their dedicated structure.
"I don't think that Nashville has changed [in the last 11 years]," said Jones. They've had the same system, they've had the same coach, the same guys to tell you the truth -- Legwand is still around. He can attest to the fact that they just work as hard as they can, they stick within the system well and they don't do anything outside of their game and that's how they manage to work their way into the playoffs every year."
Although the mantra of hard work is traditionally seen as a hockey cliche, Jones emphasizes that the key to success will be reliant on that this evening.
"I think we have to outwork them and then limit our turnovers. They're like us: a good transitional team, and if we can get more pucks behind them so they can't turn against us, then I think we're going to give ourselves a chance to win."
Head Coach Tom Renney echoed Jones’ "outworking" mentality, as he described the required elements for a successful evening.
"We'll just work, that's all. We'll protect ourselves by playing hard within our structure and within our system of play. [Nashville is] a team continues to be very, very hungry and playing well for points."
"We want to make sure we have a solid foundation of how we play without the puck, we want to make sure we've got a backend that's solid and strong and can defend as well as advance the puck. And with the forward group, be that as it may, the big thing for us is to try and play strong within our structure," Renney continued.
"Nashville could become frustrated by that. That's our objective tonight."
IN THE BIG LEAGUES
Recent call-up Chris VandeVelde is making his inaugural NHL road trip this week. After spending the last few seasons at the University of North Dakota, and most of the season riding busses with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, the NHL travel plan has most certainly been an upgrade.
"It's been a lot of fun," said a smiling VandeVelde. "Traveling on the team's plane and with all the guys and just kind of hanging out and having some laughs. It's quite a bit different than traveling on a bus for seven hours. So far it's been a great experience."
"It's definitely a dream come true and hopefully we can just go out there and play our game and we'll have a good opportunity to win it."
Although the big league experience is growing for VandeVelde and others, Renney believes that his newcomers will succeed under the circumstances tonight in Nashville.
"I am looking forward to seeing how they play. It's an important opportunity for them to step up and contribute to our needs," Renney said of the call-ups.
"We want to make sure that the five skaters on the ice are doing things together and stay connected, quite honestly. If we don't get disconnected by how Nashville chooses to play, those guys will at least be protected by the numbers, obviously."
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Devan Dubnyk returns to the crease tonight following a two-game break that saw fellow masked man Nikolai Khabibulin tend the pipes. Having won in his last visit to Nashville -- his first career shutout in a 4-0 victory -- Dubnyk sees an opportunity to continue his Midwest success.
"It's only been one game, but I certainly can't complain. I just try to take some things that made me feel good from last time here into tonight. I've got to make sure I'm ready to make it happen."
"I've tried to grow and establish myself a little bit at this level. That's important this year to learn how to play and learn how to consistently play every game and give the guys a chance to win every night."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10: Edmonton 3-5-2; Nashville 6-2-2
Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting this season between these teams. They each have a shootout win, while the Oilers topped the Predators 4-0 in their last visit to the Music City on Feb. 7.
Big Story: While Nashville remains in the thick of the contentious Western Conference playoff race, Edmonton has been playing the role of spoiler for some time now. With six consecutive losses, it's a role the Oilers appear to have struggled with lately.
Oilers: While the young and rebuilding Oilers have been out of the playoff picture for some time, the crushing blow to their season may have come on March 3, when star rookie Taylor Hall went down for the remainder of the season with a high ankle sprain incurred during his first NHL fight. At the time, the No. 1 pick in last June's Entry Draft was leading Edmonton with 22 goals and ranked third among rookies in goals and points.
The Oilers have gone 1-4-2 since Hall went down and their situation worsened with the recent loss of Sam Gagner for the remainder of the season. In their last game on Saturday, the Oilers hosted the Colorado Avalanche, who they had throttled 5-1 just two weeks earlier. Against the Avs, Kurtis Foster tied the game with just 3:50 remaining in regulation, but the Oilers couldn't solve goaltender Brian Elliott in the shootout, falling 3-2.
Predators: With 86 points, the Predators have kept pace with a group of six Western-Conference teams separated by a single win. With three straight wins over teams currently occupying playoff spots, the Predators have done their part. But it hasn't been easy, as two of those three wins required overtime.
Perhaps most surprising with this veteran-heavy squad has been how rookies have led this recent win streak. After rookie defenseman Jonathon Blum scored the game-winner in a 3-1 win in Detroit on Saturday, fellow rookie Blake Geoffrion led the charge in a 4-3 Sunday OT win over Buffalo. Playing in just his 11th game, Geoffrion registered his first career hat trick before Martin Erat scored the winner 27 seconds into the extra frame.
"It's a great comeback," Erat said. "It's a great feeling. But the game is over and we have to focus on the next one."
Who's Hot: For the Oilers, Linus Omark has points in consecutive games while Ryan Jones has 2 goals in his last four games. … Geoffrion has 4 goals in his last two games while Erat has 11 points in his last nine games. Ryan Suter, Sergei Kostitsyn, and David Legwand all have 4 points in their respective three-game points streaks.
Injury Report: In addition to Hall and Gagner, Edmonton also has Ryan Whitney (ankle) and Taylor Chorney (knee) on IR. Ales Hemsky is also out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury while Shawn Horcoff (ankle) Jean-Francois Jacques (foot), and Gilbert Brule (concussion) are out for this game. … For Nashville, Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Cal O'Reilly (broken fibula), Francis Bouillon (concussion), Marcel Goc (shoulder), and Steve Sullivan (groin) are all on IR.
Stat Pack: With 16 goals this season, Nashville captain Shea Weber is assured at least 15 goals in each of his last three seasons. The only other defenseman who can make that claim is Dustin Byfuglien, who played primarily at forward for the Blackhawks last season. Mike Green has scored at least 18 goals in the previous three seasons, but with 8 goals this season and injury problems, he is unlikely to repeat that feat in the 2010-11 campaign.
Puck Drop: How much has Edmonton struggled lately with injuries? Its top three scorers -- Hemsky, Gagner, and Hall -- are all done for the rest of the season.
-- Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer