Columbus, OH - Following a 20-minute bus ride to one of the NHL's premiere rinks, Columbus' Nationwide Arena, the Oilers took to the ice at 11:30am this morning in preparation for tonight's tilt with the Blue Jackets.
Expect no changes to the team's lineup, as Head Coach Tom Renney will go back with a winning concoction. Devan Dubnyk will get the nod in goal.
When these two teams last met on Dec. 2, the Oilers trotted away with a 6-3 win in a high-scoring third period that saw Ryan Jones notch three. No. 28's hat trick outing propelled the home side past the eager Blue Jackets, who held a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes and showed that, despite holding the NHL's worst statistical record, they weren't going quietly.
The orange and blue are expecting much of the same tonight, going head-to-head against a squad with a similar mindset; wins, losses and points aside, pride in the sweater and the gamesmanship within can do wonders to a struggling group.
When the puck drops, the standings don't matter. It's about topping the opponent, no matter what it takes.
"[Columbus is] a heavy team and they like to play down low and cycle it," Jones explained. "They've got some dynamic players who can score, so I think if we play the same way we did against LA, we'll have success."
And in doing so, avoiding the crumble is key. The Oilers had long addressed the need to complete a game, posting a full 60-minute string en route to victory. Although it took 63 on Sunday, prior to Taylor Hall's dramatic overtime winning goal on the power-play, it was there and it helped boost the Oilers' point total to 38 on the season.
As thrilling as it was, the triumph was a rebound; a determined one, too, as the Oilers surrendered a 5-0 score in the team's previous, some would argue, emotionless, matchup at Rexall Place.
"We were a little embarrassed against Anaheim; in our effort and in the way we carried ourselves on the ice," Jones said. "We came into the locker room and said, 'That's enough.' We're blessed to be able to put the Oilers jersey on, and we have to show more respect to the fans and to the organization than what we did against Anaheim, and I think that's what you're going to see for the rest of the season."
It would have been easy to endure another letdown as, in Sunday's game vs. New Jersey, the Devils scored early in the third to tie the game and ultimately send it to overtime. There was no crumble, no rolled eyes. The orange and blue battled through, continued to push and snatched the win.
"There was a lot said on the bench," No. 28 said, noting the team's third-period mindset. "It seemed like in the past when something went wrong, we slumped our shoulders and put our heads down and let them keep coming at us. It didn't really matter what happened, we just needed to continue playing the way we were to be having success."
It set the stage for Hall to become a hero once more, scoring the winner 3:06 in to continue his torrid mid-season pace.
Since returning to the lineup back on Dec. 15 in Phoenix, Hall has been burning at an alarming rate. The sophomore has racked up eight goals and 13 points in 14 games since then and, in the team's past seven contests, he's posted goals in all but two.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle (who's getting closer and did practice with the team this morning at Nationwide Arena) among others still bedded in the Oilers' sick bay, No. 4's hot hand is a high note among a challenging 2-7-1 stretch.
"Absolutely," Hall said, proposing his continuous plan to step up. "We're not in a place in the standings that we'd like to be, but we can do something about it. We're taking it one game at a time. We're looking at tonight as a must-win.
"It's not like we played bad or deserved to lose every game; and certainly against LA, when we look at the chances against and the clips that we've watched, we deserved to win that game. It's nice to get something that we deserved. Even though it's one win, [it's good to get] that good feeling back our room and know that when we do play that way, eventually the results are going to happen."
Farmhand assistance has helped, too. Josh Green, who was recalled on Jan. 12, scored the game's opening goal vs. Los Angeles, snapping an NHL goal-scoring drought that dated back 1823 days.
It was a clever goal that highlighted the 34-year-old's veteran savvy, as he parked his 6'3", 218-pound build in Jonathan Quick's sight. With a heads-up redirection on Jeff Petry's point blast, it was 1-0 Oilers.
"It's all you can ask," Green said, looking at the opportunityhe's been given (in a scoring role, on the power-play) since his promotion. "I've been called up before on other teams, and you get put on a fourth line spot and play 3-4 minutes a game and it's tough to contribute, but I really appreciate that Tom (Renney) has put me in those situations where I can succeed.
"Absolutely," he added, chuckling at the '60-minute' cliché. "We played pretty much as close to a 60-minute game as you can and even a little bit more with the overtime (63:06, to be exact). The work ethic has been there most of the time. Obviously it wasn't against Anaheim, but I think we need that consistent work ethic so other teams know we're going to wear them down all night.
"That's how we're going to win games. The relentless work ethic needs to be there."
Joining the road trip as a last-minute surprise, Jordan Eberle skated with the team this morning. The 21-year-old is still a couple days and practices away, but should be available to be slotted back in soon.
"For sure, I'm ahead of schedule," he said. "I haven't really gotten into a contact situation yet, but once I do, I'll be most ready to play.
"Yeah," he added, noting that he could potentially be re-inserted on Thursday vs. St. Louis. "Anytime you come back and are on the road, there's always a chance. I feel good. I want to get some contact in and see how I react; I got a little bit at the end (of practice) and it felt great."
Season Series: Second of four meetings. The Oilers doubled up the Blue Jackets 6-3 on Dec. 2 in Edmonton, as Ryan Jones recorded his first career hat trick during a five-goal rally in the third period. Derek Dorsett scored twice for Columbus, including a shorthanded goal.
Big Story: Neither team has received the goaltending it's needed this season, which is why both are currently double-digit points out of the playoff race. As a result, changes may be coming. In Edmonton, Nikolai Khabibulin has cooled off significantly after a fast start and young Devan Dubnyk is poised to get a longer look down the stretch. Columbus, meanwhile, has the promising Mark Dekanich rehabbing from injury in the AHL and he could soon be up with the big club with Steve Mason still struggling and Curtis Sanford not the long-term answer.
Oilers: After starting a three-game homestand with a hard-fought overtime game against New Jersey that didn't go its way and then getting smoked by Anaheim to lose its fifth in a row, Edmonton was badly in need of two points Sunday against Los Angeles. The Oilers were forced to grit this one out, as Josh Green's power-play goal in the first period was answered by Justin Williams in the third. But on this occasion, extra time went in their favor as Taylor Hall capitalized on a Williams high-sticking penalty to score at 3:06 and give the Oilers a 2-1 win.
"If you look at the last few weeks, the one player that has answered the bell every night is Taylor," coach Tom Renney said. "If you want to know what passion looks like in a hockey player, watch Taylor Hall. I'm not sure you can teach it. It might be part of your DNA. But I am glad he's got it."
Blue Jackets: This will be Todd Richards' fourth game as interim coach, and he can be encouraged by the way Columbus has played halfway through a four-game homestand. After edging the Coyotes for Richards' first win with the team, the Blue Jackets took the Sharks down to the wire in a 2-1 loss on Saturday. Trailing by a goal entering the third period, they drew even just over six minutes in thanks to captain Rick Nash. But before they could get to overtime and earn at least a point, Patrick Marleau scored off a rebound for San Jose with 2:57 remaining.
"I'm disappointed with the result, losing a game, but happy with the way the guys played," Richards said. "We had to overcome a lot of obstacles in the game. Having played last night and coming off an emotional and physically draining win, when we needed the push in the third we got as much as we could. Unfortunately, they made one more play than we did."
Who's Hot: Hall has scored a goal in six of the Oilers' last nine games. … Nash has 4 goals in as many games for the Blue Jackets.
Injury Report: Edmonton is playing without its two leading scorers, Jordan Eberle (knee) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder), each of whom is expected to miss several weeks. Also out are defenseman Cam Barker (ankle), Ryan Whitney (ankle), Alex Plante (concussion) and Tom Gilbert (knee). Forward Eric Belanger (leg) is day-to-day. … Columbus forward RJ Umberger is out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms. Forwards Jeff Carter (shoulder), Mark Letestu (hand) and Kristian Huselius (groin) and defensemen Radek Martinek (concussion) and James Wisniewski (ankle) are on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: Green's goal was his first in more than five years. The 34-year-old, who has 36 goals in 339 career games for eight teams -- including a career-high 10 during an earlier stint with the Oilers in 2001-02 -- had last lit the lamp on Jan. 16, 2007 for the Canucks. … Sanford has a 2.36 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in his last three starts at Nationwide Arena.
Puck Drop: Edmonton defenseman Ladislav Smid tends to fly under the radar, but with 100 blocked shots this season he's one of only eight NHL players to have reached the century mark in that category.