St. Louis, MO - One's out, but another's back in. Having missed the team's past four games with a sprained knee, Jordan Eberle returns to the lineup tonight against the NHL's hottest team, the St. Louis Blues.
It couldn't have come at a better time, too, with Taylor Hall's absence hampering the club's ability to ice a complete, 18-skater roster. They'll be able to now, and the 22-year-old sophomore is ready to roll.
Line combinations were not run at practice this morning, but you can count on Eberle returning to his post in a scoring role.
"I'm excited," he said, smiling. "I think when you get back with the team, you're excited to skate with them and maybe get a little adrenaline going. I skated this morning and yesterday, and I'm ready to go.
"I wanted to get in (as soon as possible). It seemed to work out that way."
Eberle has notched 17 goals and 43 points in 41 games this season, topping the Oilers' stat chart as the team's leading goal-scorer and point-getter. Having had the opportunity to sit up top and watch the group struggle in his absence (amassing a 1-2-1 record), he's seen where improvements can be made.
"We've been struggling in the third (period) to keep the momentum going," Eberle explained, noting the Oilers' blown lead in Columbus in the other night. "We have spurts where we play very good hockey, and then we slow down in certain areas and it seems to kill us.
"I want to play it simple. I haven't played in a while and obviously I've been practicing, but it's not even close to what game speed is, but I'm ready."
TAYLOR'S WARM-UP SCARE
The unusual circumstances that led to Taylor Hall's nightmarish head laceration on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena allowed No. 14 to have a close-up, backstage view of the event; a scary one, too, as a close buddy and teammate.
"I walked into dressing room as they were running him into the place where he got stitched up," he said. "In the end, he's pretty lucky, because it could have been a lot worse. He's looking good and he's feeling good.
"He's old enough and I think he likes the scar right now, too," Eberle laughed. "He's talking about how the chicks are going to like it. He's excited to get back in the lineup. If he could have, he probably would have come back last game and tonight. He's lucky."
"It doesn't look good, that's for sure, and I looked a lot better before," Hall added. "What can you do? I said to someone this morning that it's lucky and it's unlucky at the same time. You can say I'm lucky that I didn't get my eye taken out or I didn't get my throat sliced, and I'm unlucky that something like this has never happened in the history of the sport, with how many guys don't wear a helmet in warm-up."
It's certainly true. Hall, 20, addressed the media this morning at Scottrade Center. With BlackBerrys and cameras snapping photos amid his morning skate scrum, the winger's scar and blackened eye provided a lasting visual of the winger's pre-game scare.
The ‘S' shaped cut, stitched as cleanly as can be, stopped an inch short of his eye, grazing his brow and emphasizing an eerie reminder of the game's dangers when hardened rubber pucks, sharpened steel blades and composite sticks are swinging abound during the pre-game warm-up.
"I feel pretty good, except I can't really see too well with my eye right now," Hall said. "I'm feeling better every day and I'm not feeling too much pain now. I got some exercise in this morning and it held up, my face didn't swell up too much.
In addition to teammates' quick thinking and utmost professionalism shown by the orange and blue's training team (Head Athletic Therapist T.D. Forss and Assistant Medical Trainer Chris Davie, in particular), the Columbus Blue Jackets and the group at Nationwide Arena were with him the whole way.
"I was lucky enough to have had a plastic surgeon on site at the arena," Hall explained. "The Columbus medical team was great, too, and they did a really good job on me. If that wasn't the case, I'd have had to go to the hospital to get all that done.
"I tried to get back into the lineup that night; I tried to get back on the bike and do a little exercise and get warmed up again, but it started bleeding and swelled up and I couldn't get back. [The Oilers] had to hold me back a little bit."
He'll have to wait a little while longer, but Hall believes he could get back into the lineup as soon as Saturday when the Oilers host the Flames at Rexall Place.
Prior to that, however, the Oilers have a date with the Blues in St. Louis. Nikolai Khabibulin will get the start in goal. The 39-year-old has posted an 11-13-4 record, along with a 2.41 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 28 games this season.
Season Series: This will be the third of four meetings between the two Western Conference combatants. Edmonton prevailed, 4-2, in the first go-around, but St. Louis responded with a recent 4-3 win to split the series.
Big Story: When the clubs collide, it will be a tale of two teams, as the Oilers are riding a lengthy losing streak, while the Blues continue their climb up the standings in a tight Western Conference. Something will have to give when the Oilers visit the Blues.
Oilers -- The New Year hasn't greeted the Oilers with open arms just yet, as the club has just two victories to speak of all month (8 games). Both, interestingly enough, came against quality opponents, as the Oilers prevailed over Chicago on the road and Los Angeles at home. Unfortunately, the Oilers can't follow up a win with another win, a trend that's followed the club since consecutive wins over Nashville and Minnesota in late November. More recently, the club is coming off a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game in which the Oilers saw a 2-0 lead slip away. In addition to losing the game, the team lost its franchise player, Taylor Hall, during warm-ups, when he inadvertently took a skate to the forehead, which required 30 stitches.
"This is one of those fluky things," coach Tom Renney said. "It just happens. Not much we can do about it."
Blues -- Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues have essentially done nothing but win of late, as the club has skated away with two points in six of their past seven games. They earned a point in defeat in their other outing. Now, in the midst of a stretch of six of seven games at home, the Blues have a golden opportunity to gain some ground in a competitive Central Division. The Blues and Chicago Blackhawks each have 60 points, one behind division-leading Detroit Red Wings. Most recently, the Blues won a tight, 1-0, contest against the Dallas Stars, a game in which goalie Jaroslav Halak stopped all 22 shots en route to his third shutout of the season.
"Guys are scoring big goals for me," Halak said. "It's all timing. Sometimes I need to take the key saves for them to keep the score tied and sometimes they come up big for me. It's a combination right now."
Who's Hot:Ales Hemsky has led the charge for the Oilers, as he has compiled points in three of his past four games. Meanwhile, Blues captain David Backes has four points in his past five games, including two goals.
Stat Pack: The Blues are second in the NHL in goals against per game, while the Oilers own the League's second highest power play percentage.
Puck Drop: "I wasn't really expecting it because I haven't been approached like that before. It's always been in the offseason. I was happy that they wanted me to stay. Whenever you get that, you know that they're impressed with you and your work ethic. I was happy that they did and we came to an agreement that we both felt was a good deal." -- Blues goalie Brian Elliott on his new two-year deal.