Following a three-day break between the team’s opener and second regular-season contest, anticipation was high as the Oilers skated in an energetic, 20-minute morning skate in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Oilers will have a couple changes to keep an eye on this evening: Lennart Petrell
will draw in alongside Anton Lander
and Darcy Hordichuk
, while Linus Omark
will be scratched.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Getting the start in goal tonight is veteran Nikolai Khabibulin
, who’s 4-12-2 all-time vs. Minnesota. The 38-year-old netminder posted a 2-0-0 record, along with a 2.38 goals-against average and .872 save percentage in three pre-season games; in total, he made 41 saves on 47 shots.
"It's always exciting to start a new season," Khabibulin said. "Overall I'm pretty excited to be playing. Obviously you don't want to sit on the bench. Devan (Dubnyk) played really well vs. Pittsburgh and could have played again tonight, but it's Tom (Renney)'s decision and I'm happy to play."
Khabibulin understands that Dubnyk is chomping to earn the club’s starting role on a full-time basis, but the 14-year veteran is eager to earn his own playing time as well.
"It's an extra push," he explained. "It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge."
Head Coach Tom Renney was pleased with Dubnyk’s 33-save outing vs. Pittsburgh, but wanted to give Khabibulin a chance as early as possible.
"[Dubnyk] played very well and we all know what he's capable of. We wanted to make sure, as quickly as we can, that we know what Khabby is up to and there's no better time than right now."
While the bench boss didn’t give much heed to the team’s rotation between the pipes (especially in the season’s opening week), Khabibulin and Dubnyk have both been told they’ll play. How much is still to be determined.
"This is not a free ride here," Renney said. "We're now in the business of winning hockey games. Last year, as much as we tried to and wanted to and thought we could, we didn’t win very much."
"I don't know what I'm going to go," he added when asked about who will assume the reigns as the club’s go-to keeper. "I won't be surprised if it's close to being even or having some balance there. I want to make sure guys know they've been given a chance and that there are no excuses."
Opposite Khabibulin, Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom has an impeccable home record vs. Edmonton: 14-0-0 at the Xcel Energy Center. Combined with the team’s 16-game losing streak in St. Paul, the Oilers know they’re in tough.
"With each loss, I think the chances of winning the next game are increasing, because I've never seen streaks that have never been snapped," the veteran ‘tender laughed. "It has to stop some time.
"It's always in the back of your mind a little bit. Every game starts at 0-0 and on that day, both teams have an equal chance of winning. There's no use putting emphasis on [the losing streak].
Renney couldn’t agree more.
"[Minnesota is] a division opponent," he deadpanned. "That's the only thing that I'd suggest we have to embrace, in terms of beating this team tonight. I don't give a crap about history. I really care about what's in front of us and that's Minnesota.
"I'm not going to build this thing up into something it's not. It's not an insurmountable challenge for us at all. We're out there like any other team going after our win, and we'll do that again tonight."
The Oilers’ last win at the Xcel Energy Center came on Jan. 16, 2007. Shawn Horcoff
, Ladislav Smid
and Ales Hemsky
were all there, but so was Ryan Smyth
; and in his four seasons departed from Oil Country, the Oilers couldn’t capture another victory in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
"We're going to change that," the 35-year-old veteran said. "We've got to beat teams in our division. They’re well rounded and they've got some great depth. Backstrom is Backstrom – he plays solid.
"We’ve got to minimize turnovers, too. Those guys live on them.
"We can't give them time and space either."
is also making his return to Minnesota. The 6’3", 223-pound defenceman played in 71 games over two seasons with the Wild from 2009-2011. He potted only two goals and 12 points, as well as a concerning -12 rating before being bought out on Jun. 30.
He then signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Oilers the next day and is thrilled with his new chance to succeed. The 25-year-old rearguard is looking forward to his return – and a victory.
"We want a big win tonight. The guys are feeling good, we had a good week of practice and, obviously, we want to start [the season] on the right foot."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
This is the first of six meetings between the two Northwest Division rivals. Minnesota swept the season series in 2010-11, outscoring Edmonton 23-9.
The Oilers look to take advantage of their first shot at redemption against the Wild, who owned them last season. Conversely, the Wild aim to prove last season’s dominance will be part of a trend that continues this season.
Oil Country is buzzing with hope that the Oilers can climb out of the NHL basement, a spot they’ve occupied in consecutive seasons. They got off to a good start in their season-opener on Sunday, tying the game in the third period and beating Pittsburgh 2-1 in a shootout. It was a big night for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, the first player taken in the Entry Draft this past June. After trailing 1-0 for the better part of that game, Nugent-Hopkins scored late in the third period.
"Going into the game, I was really nervous, but I tried to use that to my advantage," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It felt pretty good. It was really exciting. But, I’m more excited about the win."
While the Oilers have played just once, the Wild have played three times, including consecutive road contests against the Islanders and Senators after winning their season-opener against Columbus. Minnesota couldn’t overcome a bad start Monday and lost 2-1 on Long Island, then blew a 3-1 lead in the third period and fell 4-3 in a shootout at Ottawa on Tuesday.
"At least we got one point," goaltender Niklas Backstrom said after stopping 41 of 44 shots through 65 minutes. "And in the end it could be a big difference."
Goaltending will be an area of emphasis for the Oilers this season and so far, it’s been strength of the club. Young goalie Devan Dubnyk
kept his club in the game, allowing just one goal while stopping 33 shots. … Newcomers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi have looked solid for the Wild so far. Heatley has a goal and two assists through three games, while Setoguchi has found the back of the net twice.
Talented offensive-defenseman Ryan Whitney
remains sidelined with an ankle injury for the Oilers and is still day-to-day. Sam Gagner
also deals with an ankle injury and is expected back in late October. … For the Wild, defenseman Mike Lundin is day-to-day with a back injury.
Minnesota has beaten the Oilers in their last 16 visits to the Xcel Energy Center -- the Oilers haven't won there since a 2-1 victory on Jan. 16, 2007. … Overall, the Wild are 14-4-1 in their last 19 games against Edmonton.
The Oilers aim to keep their momentum going against the Wild after an emotional first game opening game.
"It was hormone hockey," coach Tom Renney said of the season opener. "I guess you have to expect that. Our team hadn’t played in a while and we had some guys playing their first ever NHL regular season game. They were almost over-excited … But we started to play a little better and started to share the puck better."