- Following a four-game road trip in which the Oilers split the set with a .500, 2-2-0 record, the boys are back in town and read to make hay in an extended six-game homestand beginning tonight vs. the Nashville Predators.
On the heels of Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers are preparing for tonight's clash having lost more than two points in the team's last outing over the weekend.
took a crunching opening-period hit from Colorado's Colin Wilson, prompting the 20-year-old to leave the game favouring his shoulder; the winger returned moments later, but received a cross-check on his next time out, sending him to the room once more with a low-hanging arm.
Hall didn't return and will be unavailable to go tonight, as he'll undergo an MRI later today to determine a timeline.
The Oilers' whispered response was a concern, but tough-guy Darcy Hordichuk
promises a more robust and preventative measure tonight.
"There's no doubt that (Colin) Wilson might drop the gloves every once in a while," he recalled. "You try to get out there and engage him, but you've always got to look at the score of the game. You realize he might not always be interested, but at the same time you've got to send a message."
No. 16 was instrumental in the Oilers' 5-1 beating of the Minnesota Wild one night earlier, drawing eight minutes in penalties and getting under the skin of Brad Staubitz; which helped, too, considering the Oilers completed the game having gone 1-for-4 on the power-play.
So much of the Oilers' response is dependent on the opponent, Hordichuk explains.
"You want to do something, but at the same time, I caught him once near the end and let him know we were going to go, but I never saw him again. It's a long season and you've got to be watching the scoreboard closely, but you also want to let guys know that they can't do that.
"There needs to be a response; you want to do more and hold guys accountable, and that's I'm supposed to do out there."
Tonight the Oilers will be up against a similar opponent. Jordin Tootoo, who, in 22 games, has plastered his enemies with 46 hits this season, will be running and gunning to punish the Oilers' skilled talent. Hordichuk, along with his eager teammates, will be determined to keep him in check.
"There's no doubt that you're going to try and calm guys down like that and let them know early, but they've got a guy over there that's going to try and calm me down, too (Brian McGratton)," he said. "It's like any other game. I've got to go out there and bang some bodies, and when you do that, their guys come your way."
"You make sure you've got muscle in your lineup," Head Coach Tom Renney added, regarding the team's response to an attack. "You play the game and the spontaneity of playing when the opportunity presents itself, you play physical. Otherwise, like everyone else, you take your lumps and you keep playing."
Renney went on to comment on the Predators' unique and unrelenting style, which should pose a great challenge once again for the up-and-coming orange and blue squad.
Nashville holds an all-time 27-18-5 record vs. Edmonton, but the Oilers have won this season's battles by 3-1 (Oct. 17) and 6-2 (Nov. 22) scores, so the men donning the oil drop have some extra incentive to keep the ball rolling.
"I think [Nashville has] taught us a lot," Renney said. "We're still on the learning curve here as a team. But I think (Head Coach) Barry (Trotz) has this team competitive year-in and year-out. Here's a classic example of a team having a dip right now (1-3-1 in their last five), but you know darn well that when they come back to playing together, they'll be a good team again.
"What they've helped us learn is that you've got to stay with it," the bench boss added. "We're trying to develop a reputation here, an image, a look, a style of play that's 'Oiler.' We have to continue to try and sign our work the same way, and certainly we've learned that from Nashville.
"Are we a good matchup for them? I'd like to think we're a good matchup for any team that we're playing now that we're a little closer to what we want to be."
, who spent three seasons with the Predators organization between 2008 and 2010, scoring 14 goals and 28 points in 87 NHL games with Nashville, agreed with his coach's assessment and is looking forward to tonight's challenge.
"They're a very structured team and they don't get too far outside of their system, so we've got to do the exact same," he said. "We've got to match their intensity and let our skill take over. If we play our game, we'll give ourselves a chance to win.
"We've played great games against [Nashville]. I don't know if they didn't play their best, but it doesn't really matter when we're playing that way. When we do that, we give ourselves an opportunity to beat any team in the league."
(9-4-2 record, .936 save percentage and 1.87 goals-against average) will make his 16th start of the season tonight.
For a complete look at the Oilers' lineup, view the updated line combinations
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
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NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
: Nashville 4-4-2; Edmonton 4-6-0.
: The Oilers have taken both of their two meetings with the Predators this season. Their most recent victory against Nashville was a 6-2 win at Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 22.
: After strong starts both Nashville and Edmonton have endured slumps lately that have them suddenly outside the top eight in the West. As both the Predators and Oilers get into the second quarters of their season, they'll look to get a win to jumpstart their rise back into playoff position.
: Nashville had a promising start to its season and plenty of high expectations for a club coming off its first ever postseason series win, but now the 2011-12 campaign has hit the skids in a big way. The Predators have suddenly lost three in a row and won just two of their last seven, dropping them to fourth in the highly-competitive Central Division and a full seven points back of the first-place Blackhawks.
One thing that may be becoming clear is that as Pekka Rinne goes, so go the Preds. Rinne has struggled significantly of late, giving up 14 goals in his last four starts -- including one where he was chased after just 20 minutes by these same Oilers. As a result, Rinne's goals-against average has jumped to 2.47 and the Predators are struggling. Rinne must turn it around for Nashville to get its season back in order, but as they make three final stops on this current road trip, that could be difficult. After Monday night's game in Edmonton, the Predators head to Calgary and Vancouver.
: With a roster loaded with young talent, Edmonton's rise hasn't been so much a surprise as the fact that it's happened so soon. Last season the Oil ended up in the League cellar, but this season Edmonton has been competing for the Northwest crown. The Oilers have slowed down somewhat from their hot start, enduring a four-game losing streak earlier this month, but since then the Oilers have recovered to win three of their last five games.
That recovery has kept the Oilers very much in the mix, though their losing streak two weeks ago has knocked them down the third in the division and out of the top eight. Still, Edmonton entered Sunday's action just three points back of first-place Minnesota and could have itself set up in very good position with a win against Nashville. The Oilers have certainly been playing well enough to put together another extended hot streak. Ryan Smyth
, Jordan Eberle
and Shawn Horcoff
have all been lighting up the scoresheet with regularity of late.
: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
may be a rookie, but he certainly isn't playing like one lately. The top overall pick from this year's draft has 10 points in his last five games. ... Ryan Suter continues to have a strong season on the Nashville blue line with six points in his last five games.
: The most notable concern for the Oilers is that Taylor Hall
is questionable with a left shoulder injury. Nashville, meanwhile, is likely to be without Francis Bouillon, who is doubtful with a groin injury.
: Do the Oilers know something about Rinne the rest of the League doesn't? The Finn has established himself as one of the steadiest goalies in the NHL, but in two starts against Edmonton this year Rinne has given up six goals in just 79 minutes, good for a 4.56 GAA.
: One could argue that given their expectations before this season, the Oilers are playing with house money. That seems an unlikely view for the Oil to take, but it is for that reason, and for the reason of Nashville's own preseason expectations, that the Predators are under far more pressure to eke out a win Monday night. Fortunately for the Preds, once their current five-game trek is over they'll get to stay home for a while. Six of their next seven games after the trip are in Music City.