After a short three-day rest, the Edmonton Oilers get back to action tonight when they take on the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena in their annual Boxing Day clash.
The Oilers last played on December 22nd, a spirited effort in a 4-1 victory at Rexall Place over the Minnesota Wild. Vancouver comes into tonight's game having gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 but dropped a 3-1 decision on home ice to the Calgary Flames on December 23.
Given that the Canucks lost their last game in less-than-inspiring fashion they will certainly be amped up for a big win tonight to close out their four-game homestand but the Oilers are not simply going to roll over.
"We're not coming in here with a hat in our hand, we're coming in to win a hockey game," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "We need to be real smart here and do everything we can to stay out of the penalty box and still be firm and decisive in our own game, naturally."
This morning, the Oilers called up Alex Plante
from Oklahoma City - a move made all the more convenient by the fact Plante was spending the holidays with his family in Brandon, Manitoba. The reason for the call-up was the fact that Ryan Whitney
has been suffering from tendinitis in his ankle.
"It's weak and we're going to do the precautionary thing. There's no real structural damage but we're going to rest him tonight, he won't go," said Renney, adding that Whitney is likely to play Thursday as that gives him a full week of rest for his ankle.
While Whitney is with the team, he did not take the morning skate. Ales Hemsky
took the morning skate but left a little early. His sinus infection has him pronounced as doubtful.
"He's having some dizziness. As you elevate the heart rate that becomes more clear so it doesn't look like he's going to go, either," Renney remarked.
PIVOTAL ROAD TRIP
With the World Juniors taking over Edmonton for the next little while, the Oilers have been pushed out on the road for the next seven games starting tonight.
With the team as of right now seven points out of a playoff spot, this is a stretch that could make or break the season.
"The upcoming trip can be the turnaround in our season. We believe in this group and we're going to do everything we can to get those wins," said Eric Belanger
remarked that the team was skating really well in the morning skate, hinting it could have been due to the recent time off.
"It's nice to get a couple days off to spend with the family and recharge," he said.
RNH RETURNS HOME
Tonight marks a homecoming for Oilers rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
as the Burnaby native steps on the ice in Vancouver for the first time in his NHL career for a regular season game.
"I've watched tons of games on TV from here as a kid. I'm pretty excited to step on the ice tonight," said Nugent-Hopkins.
One person who has certainly enjoyed watching Nugent-Hopkins grow up before his eyes is coach Renney. The Vancouver media was quizzing him this morning on what it is that makes Nugent-Hopkins so special.
"It helps you understand as a coach the difference between a first overall and what separates them from many and certainly this kid's got the goods," said the coach.
Nugent-Hopkins is arguably in the midst of his driest spell of the season with only two assists in his last five games and no goals in his last six but Renney was quick to point out that RNH is also elite defensively and playing well in the other facets of his game is what makes him so good.
"This is a kid that identifies his relevance to the game in other ways besides scoring. He contributes in other ways, his two-way game is very good. He's an awesome defensive player and that's pretty special," he said.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Edmonton 3-6-1; Vancouver 7-2-1
Third of six meetings between these Northwest Division rivals. They split a pair of games at Rexall Place during the season's first month. Sami Salo scored twice as the Canucks overcame a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
hat trick for a 4-3 win on Oct. 15, then the Oilers rebounded with a 3-2 victory on Oct. 25 as Taylor Hall
capped a three-goal second period with the decisive goal.
The World Junior Championship is invading Rexall Place, sending Edmonton on a seven-game road trip that begins Monday with a stop in Vancouver. The Oilers will also visit the Wild, Islanders, Blackhawks, Sabres, Blues and Stars before returning home to face the Devils on Jan. 11, 2012. They've lost their last four on the road dating back to Nov. 25 and are 5-10-1 overall.
The last month has carried its share of struggles for Edmonton, but the right elixir to snap a four-game losing streak turned out to be a team on an even worse skid. Minnesota might be leading the Northwest, but the Wild entered Friday's game losers of six in a row, and the Oilers would make it an unlucky seven for them by riding a pair of goals by Jordan Eberle
to a 4-1 win. Eberle opened the scoring with a power-play goal and added another early in the second, just 76 seconds after Lennart Petrell
"Jordan is an exceptional talent," Tom Renney said. "He wants the puck at all times and that’s what you want to see out of a young player like that."
A three-game winning streak by Vancouver coupled with Minnesota's struggles presented the Canucks with an opportunity to take over the division lead on Friday, but they couldn't capitalize and fell 3-1 to the visiting Flames. Roberto Luongo dueled rookie Leland Irving to a scoreless tie heading into the third, but Calgary struck for the first two goals before Dan Hamhuis cut the deficit in half with 3:01 remaining. An empty-netter sealed the Canucks' fate, however.
"It was an easy game for them tonight. Not good enough for us. They outworked us. That shouldn't happen," forward Daniel Sedin said in the Vancouver Sun. "We talked about [preparation] before the game and it looked in here like everybody was ready. Then we come out and have a first period like that. It's unacceptable."
Eberle has 4 goals in the Oilers' last three games and an assist in the game prior for a four-game points streak. … Luongo has allowed only four goals over his last three starts for the Canucks while stopping 99 of 103 shots, a .961 save percentage. Alexandre Burrows had goals in four consecutive games prior to being blanked on Friday.
Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky
(illness) and defenseman Theo Peckham
(upper body) are day-to-day, while defenseman Cam Barker
(ankle) is on injured reserve. … Vancouver defenseman Keith Ballard (back spasms) is day-to-day. Defenseman Aaron Rome (thumb) will be out several weeks. Forward David Booth (knee) is on injured reserve.
Eberle has as many power-play goals (6) as he does penalty minutes this season. … Henrik Sedin is poised to set the all-time ironman record for the Canucks, as he enters Monday tied with Brendan Morrison at 534 consecutive games played.
Coming off the disappointment of losing to Calgary, another division rival, Vancouver is mindful of not looking past Edmonton in the finale of a four-game homestand.
"Every time we play them they work hard," Sedin said in the Vancouver Sun. "They have a good system in place and with those skilled guys up front, they're going to make you work for every opportunity, so it's going to be a tough game."