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AT THE MORNING SKATE
Edmonton rolled into Scottrade Center early this morning to participate in the 20-minute morning skate as the team prepares to take on the St. Louis Blues this evening.
Unlike yesterday, the temperature in windy Missouri was on the chilly side; perhaps a sign that this Midwestern road swing is wrapping-up and that a trip home to Edmonton will soon follow the Blues battle.
Although lines were not run at the skate, it is expected that Head Coach Tom Renney will start the game with the following combinations, with some well-known faces welcomed back into the lineup:
Jones - Cogliano - Eberle
Paajarvi - Reddox - Omark
Jacques - Fraser - Hartikainen
MacIntyre - VandeVelde - O’Marra
THE ‘NEW’ GUYS
Although Jacques and Fraser admit they’re not feeling top-notch, their respective conditions have been improving significantly since suffering their injuries a little more than a week ago.
"Good," Fraser said of his sore foot. "Obviously not 100 percent, but it's getting better every day. It felt good out there yesterday at practice, and I rested a little bit last night and it felt good this morning."
Jacques echoed Fraser’s sentiments, explaining that it has been a steady improvement over the past few days.
"It's getting a lot better. It's been a little bit over a week now and it kept improving every day, and I think it will keep improving over next couple of days as well. It's finally good to get back at it."
A greater opportunity has been presented for both, as they look to make an impression on the coaching staff in the final nine games of the season.
"With all the guys that are hurt right now, if I can get a couple more minutes tonight and bring something to the team that I know I can bring, it's certainly going to help me stay there until the end of the year," Jacques said.
With an inexperienced team going to battle each night, 26-year-old Fraser has inherited a mentorship role has one of the team’s veterans.
"I'm not even an old guy, but I'm an old guy in this locker room," laughed Fraser.
"Obviously with the injuries we already had, I was hoping to get to play a little more. We'll see here and see how the foot holds up. We've got a lot of young guys. It's good, too, to see how these guys play and see where the team's going in the right direction."
Head Coach Tom Renney is looking forward to the contributions that Fraser and Jacques can bring, and is hoping that both will keep things simple as they look to reintegrate themselves back into the fold.
"I think they've got to bring some energy. They need some physical play, obviously," Renney said.
"In the case of [Fraser] he's got to win some faceoffs for us. We almost seem to struggle there, so he's got to be good there. With a man like [Jacques] he's got to go to the net. He's got to be that strong, physical presence that we require, too. If they can do that and play the game sort of at even, if you will, it will be a good first game back for them."
READY FOR THE BLUES
Although St. Louis has endured a similar run of injuries, the Oilers are prepared for what should be an excellent test tonight.
"They're a good team," said winger Jordan Eberle. "Obviously they've got some injury problems, too, but they're battling through a playoff spot, too. It's nice to come in and get the team's 'A' game.
We've been getting teams like that, with Nashville the other night and we're getting Calgary the next night. Teams are gunning for that playoff spot and it's nice to get that competition that we can step up and hopefully get a win."
Fraser agreed, adding that his time with the Chicago Blackhawks helped him get a better understanding of St. Louis’ structure and overall team game.
"I think they play hard every time. In Chicago, we knew it was never an easy game against St. Louis. They've obviously got some skilled guys, but even their second-third line guys can grind and finish checks and play hard. It's never an easy game against them, so we've got to be ready for a physical battle tonight."
Ryan Jones, who has been promoted to the top line recently, believes that the key to success will revolve around keeping things simple; an element that Jones has embodied this season, having posted 16 goals in 72 games.
"We've just got to put pucks and bodies to the net. That's the way that you score goals no matter what time of the year it is. Go to the net and look for all the loose stuff. You've got to go to the hard areas to score goals and it's matter of getting there and creating a bit of space for the other guys on my line."
"We have to be opportunistic," Jones concluded.
In what has become somewhat of a sore spot for the Oilers, getting off to a quick start will be key for an Edmonton squad that has fallen behind early in recent games.
"We need a really strong start," Jacques said. "It's something we've talked about for a while and it seemed like something we were getting away from. It's been really good to us at the beginning of the year when we had a strong start, we got ourselves right in the game and we were ready for a big game."
Renney agreed with Jacques' assessment and further commented on what the team needs to tonight to return to the win column.
"We do need a good start. If you look at our last couple games, we haven't started particularly well," Renney said. "We need a good start to make sure that, right away, we get the respect of our opponent for the right reasons. I think you'll see some juggling of the lines, some personnel moving around a little bit; we have to stay really close to the detail in terms of our game-plan, so that it doesn't matter who you're with, this is how you're playing."
"Beyond that, we have to compete. I really believe that we've got to work hard for every inch of ice that we get and make sure that our opponent has to work hard, and even harder, for what they get."
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Nikolai Khabibulin will return to the crease tonight as he makes his 42nd start of the season. The veteran netminder will be searching for his 11th win, as he currently boasts a 10-28-3 record overall.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10: Edmonton 3-5-2, St. Louis 4-6-0
Season Series: The Blues have won the last two, scoring five times in each, but the Oilers still have a chance to split the four-game set.
Big Story: With playoff prospects basically done for both teams and the Oilers gutted by injuries, now has been a good time to get the top prospects some NHL ice time. Unfortunately for the Oilers, that's meant negligible offensive production, to the tune of seven goals in seven games -- all losses. Things haven't been particularly rosy for the Blues either, as they return home after having dropped three straight on the road.
Oilers: It's not for lack of trying. The Oilers had scored seven goals on Pekka Rinne in the three previous times they faced him this season, but with Taylor Hall (ankle), Sam Gagner (cut tendons in hand), Shawn Horcoff (ankle) and Ales Hemsky (shoulder surgery) all out, there weren't many people left to put the puck in the net. Coupled with the Oilers' traditionally slow starts, the result was a big two points for the Predators in a 3-1 win -- and more frustration for the Oilers.
"I don't think anybody in here is going to tell you it's easy. It's not. It's frustrating," said goaltender Devan Dubnyk in the Edmonton Journal. "It's more frustrating when we show we can go play. It doesn't matter how depleted you are, if you stick to a system, and you play it hard, which is what Tom and the coaches have been preaching, you have a chance. That's more than anything, what we have to do. We show we can do it then we get away from it. That's what's frustrating."
Blues: Four games in a row against playoff contenders have resulted in a win and three losses. The Blues got a good jump on fourth-seeded Phoenix, but the Coyotes picked up a pair of second-period goals and made off with a 2-1 win, leaving the Blues 1-3-0 on their four-game road trip.
"I thought we played solid from start to finish," Blues coach Davis Payne said in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Against a good team, the game is going to go back and forth, it's going to be tight scoring chances, it's going to be saves, a bounce here or there is going to make the difference in a hockey game, and that's what happened."
Who's Hot: Jordan Eberle scored the Oilers' lone goal Tuesday, putting him four points behind Horcoff, Hemsky and Hall (all of whom are injured) for the team lead. … Blues forward Matt D'Agostini had his five-game point streak (4 goals, 5 assists) end on Tuesday while switching from the first to the second line.
Injury Report: The Oilers got another scare in the Nashville game as Eberle was hit in the foot with a puck. He completed the game but left the arena with a walking boot. However, he is expected to be ready for Thursday. Defenseman Kurtis Foster took a nasty hit from David Legwand and was not able to skate on the off-day but says he is improving. Winger JF Jacques (foot) is still day-to-day while Colin Fraser (foot) is still at least a week away, as is Horcoff (ankle). Hall (ankle) is out indefinitely as is Gilbert Brule, who is recovering from a concussion.
Blues forward Patrick Berglund left the Phoenix game with a lower-body injury and is day-to-day. Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (food poisoning) was a late scratch Tuesday and is likewise. Forward Alex Steen (high ankle sprain), defenseman Barrett Jackman (right index finger) and David Perron (concussion) are done for the season. Forward Vladimir Sobotka (broken bone in left foot) has resumed skating a little ahead of schedule after being projected to miss four weeks.
Stat Pack: The Blues have fielded three different goalies against Edmonton this season. Ben Bishop and Ty Conklin both have wins, Jaroslav Halak the lone loss. Dubnyk has both losses for the Oilers, allowing five goals in each outing. Steen leads both teams with three goals in three games. The series has gone back and forth in recent years, the Oilers sweeping in 2008-09 and the Blues three of four in 2009-10.
Puck Drop: "As an organization, in terms of how we call people up and who we might call up to help continue to grow this thing and provide opportunity at the same time. To educate ourselves on what we've got." -- Renney in the Sporting News on how he and the Oilers' front office will deal with mounting injuries as the season winds down.
-- Matthew Mankiewich - NHL.com