There were eight days between the Oilers' pre-season schedule and regular season opener vs. Pittsburgh; another three followed, but now the team's 2011-12 slate has reached a more normal rotation.
The Oilers have collected three of a possible four points and a 1-0-1 record to this point, and will be looking to improve upon that in the next four days when three games vs. Vancouver, Nashville and Calgary dominate the schedule.
and Nikolai Khabibulin
have split the ‘tending duties to this point, each recording a 0.92 goals-against average and .971 save percentage in 65 minutes.
Dubnyk, 25, will get the nod between the pipes tonight. The sophomore netminder has played a career 292 minutes vs. Vancouver, notching a 2-1-1 record, 1.85 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
Current Line Combinations
The starting goalie isn't the only lineup change heading into this evening's matchup, either. Linus Omark
will make his return in place of Ales Hemsky
, whose sore shoulder will keep him out.
"You don't want to sit in the press box," Omark explained. "I'm going to be ready tonight and do my best out there. We beat [Vancouver] twice last season near the end, so we know what to expect.
"They're a really good team, but we are too. It's going to be a tough game, but we'll go hard from the beginning and try to score some goals."
will also slot in, lining up with 14-year veteran Andy Sutton
on the team's third pairing; Jeff Petry
is the odd man out.
Potter spent the 2010-11 season with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, playing in 75 games and recording seven goals and 37 points. The 27-year-old potted one assist in two pre-season games.
THE DIVISION RIVAL
played two seasons and 129 games with the Canucks from 2008-2010. The 31-year-old tough-guy is eagerly anticipating going head-to-head against his former team.
Back when he signed on Jul. 1 to a one-year, $825,000 deal, Hordichuk wasn't shy to voice his intentions:
"Hopefully Vancouver's going out and getting a tough guy right now, because I'll definitely be going after some of their key players."
The message is the same three months later, but his approach was much more reserved.
"Every time you play one of your old teams, there's always some excitement," he said at the team's morning skate. "It should be a great game tonight, so we'll see what happens. I'll go out there and do what I do best: bang some bodies.
"I think [Vancouver's] got a lot of skill up there, so we've got to make sure we're being physical and being hard on our checks. We've got a similar team that they did a couple years ago with a lot of young, skilled players that skate pretty well. I think we've got to get pucks on Luongo early and see what happens."
On Thursday in Minnesota, Edmonton struggled to keep up for 35 minutes, surrendering 25 shots in the second in third periods, while producing only eight on Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom.
"We understand the mistakes that we were making," Hordichuk said. "We weren't getting pucks deep and were trying to get too fancy; that's all part of maturing as a team. I think going into tonight we have a better understanding of what needs to be done to have success."
, who will be skating on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
and Jordan Eberle
tonight, agreed with No. 16's assessment.
"Our consistency," he said about what needed to improve vs. Vancouver. "We played sub-bar periods [vs. Pittsburgh]. In Minnesota we played very well in the opening period, but then our second and third periods weren't very good.
Hall is naturally excited about playing on Nugent-Hopkins' wing, which helped register some pre-season (and early-season) success.
"He got the big goal at the end, and everyone was cheering for him and chanting his name. That was pretty cool for me to be out there for that.
"We did play pretty well for a couple games in the pre-season; but it was the pre-season and we've got to take whatever we can from that. We've got to focus on doing the right things tonight and limit the time in our end and we'll do good."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
: It's the first of six intradivisional matchups. The Canucks took the first four games last season, with Cory Schneider getting the home wins and Roberto Luongo winning on the road. The Oilers won twice in the final week of the season, sweeping a home-and-home with a 4-1 drubbing at Rogers Arena and a 2-0 shutout at Rexall Place.
Big story: Believe it or not, the Canucks had the same record last year after four games -- and they finished with the best record in the NHL. Still, it's out of character for this team to struggle at any time, even on a four-game road trip that has seen them go 1-2-0, including a 2-0 loss at Detroit on Thursday. Edmonton has played a pair of 2-1 games that were decided in shootouts, beating the Penguins and losing to the Wild, but injuries are starting to cause trouble again.
Canucks: Vancouver came flying out of the gate against the Red Wings, but the Wings turned things around in the second period, launching 24 shots, scoring twice on Canucks mistakes and dominating the rest of the way in a 2-0 win.
"We can't let this slide here," captain Henrik Sedin said to the Vancouver Sun. "We need some wins. We had a good start tonight but we've got to keep going. We [want] to make the other team break down and make mistakes. Right now, we're the ones making mistakes."
Oilers: Some streaks take on lives of their own, like the Oilers' five-year run of futility at the Xcel Energy Center. Nikolai Khabibulin did all he could to prevent a 17th straight loss to the Wild in their St. Paul home, making 33 saves in regulation, stopping Marco Scandella on a breakaway in overtime, but allowing the deciding goal to Devin Setoguchi in a 2-1 shootout loss.
But it was the loss of winger Ales Hemsky, scorer of the shootout winner that beat the Penguins last Sunday, that took the fire out of the Oilers late in the first period. He left the ice after hurting his right shoulder, the same shoulder that was surgically repaired last March.
"He was really flying around early," coach Tom Renney said. "That whole line was buzzing. He was really good tonight, and it's unfortunate he got hurt. The game was definitely different when he left."
Hemsky has had both shoulders repaired in the last two seasons, reducing him to 69 total games played. He was expected to be evaluated by team doctors on Friday.
Who's hot: The Sedins have five points each through four games, while the two Oiler goals scored in regulation so far went to the youngest player on the team (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and one of the oldest (Ryan Smyth). Both Devan Dubnyk and Khabibulin have allowed a goal apiece in their 65-minute performances so far.
Injury report: Unlike Hemsky's past shoulder issues, this one wasn't the result of a hit. "I think it was a sweeping motion with the puck; making a pass or making a play," Renney said. Forwards Ben Eager (concussion) and Sam Gagner (ankle) skated Friday wearing non-contact jerseys. Ryan Whitney (ankle) is still considered day-to-day but will not play. … As Vancouver center Ryan Kesler (surgically repaired hip) continues to skate, speculation builds up about a sooner-than-expected return to game action, perhaps as early as Tuesday at home.
Stat pack: One reason the Oilers have kept games tight is a strong penalty kill that's snuffed out 10 of 11 man-up opportunities. The power play, though, is looking for its first score in seven attempts. ... The Canucks have been a so-so 3-for-18 with the man advantage, and with a man down, an uncharacteristic 4-for-20, a number skewed a bit by the Penguins' 2-for-3 performance in the home opener last Thursday.
Puck drop: "We like to have a good system, like to play as a team. We like to make the other team crack before we do, playing well all over the ice … and being defensively sound. I think we still have a lot of work to do. We've got to make sure we play together and keep working hard and keep getting better." -- Alex Burrows in the Vancouver Sun on the Canucks slow start.