Edmonton, AB - "I know that our record's not great," remarked Head Coach Tom Renney. "As much as it is a cliche, it's a game at a time. We're going to continue to develop our team. At the very least, we have to continue to do that."
That's exactly what the Oilers hope to do tonight, reengaging in the season's remaining 33 games following a six-day break for the NHL All-Star weekend.
In shootout decisions with the San Jose Sharks (2-1 win) and Vancouver Canucks (3-2 loss), the orange and blue headed into the break with a boost and are looking to continue their hot play with a strong outing tonight against the Colorado Avalanche; a team in which the Oilers have played well this season, notching a 2-1 record in three meetings to this point.
"Anytime you get a break, it's good on the body," said 35-year-old Ryan Smyth, who's collected 16 goals and 34 points this season. "Hopefully we can come out like we did when we closed it out before the break. We played some great games and I thought we performed well. We didn't get the result we wanted in Vancouver, but I thought we competed hard."
"They were strong performances by us," Renney added. "In one case, we had to be real patient and try to keep a big, strong team to the outside and try not to give up too much in terms of second and third chances. In the second game, I thought we were more competitive, 200x85, in very aspect of the game. I will say again, outside of a game here and there, I think we've been playing as hard as we can most nights."
For Smyth, he's been doing his best and working hard as his coach explained, but the points (both as a team and individually) haven't come as easily.
"I want to get it back to the level that it was at the start of the season," he said, noting that he needs to step up in a time when his club is struggling to keep its head above water. "I need to get more pucks on net, create a little more havoc in front and I'll get rewarded. I've been around long enough to know that you shouldn't panic when you go through a tough time like this."
From 2007 to 2009, No. 94 donned the Avalanche's green and burgundy colours, recording 40 goals and 96 points in his 132-game Colorado career. Having seen what the Mile High City is building, Smyth always looks forward to games against his former club.
"Young talent against young talent," he said, describing the teams' matchup. "It's high energy, for sure. We need to minimize our mistakes, and both teams are going to try and do that, especially early on. It's always a battle, but we've had some success against them this season, so we're hoping to continue it."
"You look at the team right above you in the standings and our goal is to pick off each one until the season is done," added Ryan Jones, who's going through an equally as challenging time, points-wise. He's been unable to record one in four straight games, and is without a goal since Dec. 26, 2011 (14 games). "Wherever that leaves us, that leaves us. There are a lot of points out there and there have been teams who have done crazy things. We're not giving up in this room, but we realize it's going to be a hard task."
LINEUP NOTES, ADDITIONS & UPDATES
Devan Dubnyk will get this third straight start tonight. The 25-year-old has stopped 77 shots in his last two games and is looking to improve on his 7-11-1 record, 2.87 goals-against average and .910 save percentage; perhaps most importantly, he's looking to nail down the team's No. 1 role.
"He's a goaltender that's starting to move into the prime of his career," Renney explained. "This has got opportunity written all over it. It does for all of us. It does for [Nikolai Khabibulin], too. Every single guy has an opportunity in the next 33 games to show how badly they want to be here."
Recalled bright and early this morning, Philippe Cornet was unable to make it in time for the Oilers' morning skate, but will suit up tonight to make his NHL debut. The 21-year-old has recorded 20 goals and 27 points in 38 games with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons this season.
"It's been a name that's come up in the last few conversations that we've had with (Oklahoma City Barons Head Coach) Todd (Nelson)," said the bench boss. "He's had a very good year. He's one of those guys who can't come up and play in a third or fourth line role, as far as I'm concerned.
"He shoots the puck well, he's got a great release," he added. "He knows where the net is, he knows where to put himself in order to get those opportunities. The bottom is line is we're in a position now where he gets the chance to evaluate a player in a National Hockey League game for two points. It's not an exhibition game, it's not training camp. It's the real deal."
Ben Eager, who's missed a pair with a nagging back problem, will make his return to the lineup tonight.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who's been out since Jan. 3 when he slipped and collided into the boards at the United Center in Chicago, skated this morning but will be unavailable to play. It's possible he could return on Thursday against those same Blackhawks, but it's still undecided.
"I want to get some strength back into it, but for the most part, it's feeling good," he said as he addressed dozens of reporters inside the team's locker room. "I'm not too sure right now [when I'll return]. The sooner, the better."
Season Series: Edmonton leads the six-game season series 2-1 heading into Tuesday night's faceoff between these two Northwest Division. The Oilers prevailed 4-1 over the Avalanche in their last meeting on December 9 in Edmonton. Sam Gagner scored a pair of goals and an assist in the victory.
Big Story: Both teams look to finish the month of January on a positive note as they faceoff in Edmonton on Tuesday night. So far in the new calendar year, Colorado has a record of 5-5-1 while Edmonton has a record of 3-7-2.
Avalanche: Colorado is fighting tooth and nail to stay in the playoff picture but dropped back-to-back games before the All-Star break – including a 3-2 loss to division rival Minnesota – which could have given the Avs a hypothetical four points in the standings. With the loss, Colorado fell to the 9th spot in the West (54 points), just one point behind the Wild (55).
"It's disappointing because it was the biggest game of this year," Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "We just didn't bother giving it our best effort. It's just unacceptable."
Colorado will need to rediscover the success it had in late December when it won nine of ten from Dec. 17-Jan. 6.
Giguere started the last four games, but the Denver Post reports that Varlamov will start against the Oilers on Tuesday.
Oilers: The Oilers are hovering at the bottom of the Western Conference standings – in 14th with 41 points – but they did manage to pick up three of a possible four points in their last two games. The dropped point came in a 3-2 shootout loss to division rival Vancouver 3-2 in the final game before the break.
Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky each had two points in the loss and Dubnyk made 33 saves. Despite the shootout loss, the Oilers were happy with their overall effort and hope to pick up where they left off going into the All-Star break.
"It was a really fun game to play, to be honest," Hall said. "After the first game of our three-in-four we wanted to regroup. That wasn't our best effort and I think our last two games have been very good and it's good to go into the (All-Star) break feeling good about your game, and even though we didn't win (Tuesday) we played a very solid game on the road.
"We're starting to get some guys back, which is great, but our compete level, our passion, our determination's gonna have to be on every night. That's something that has to be mandatory with our team and the last two games were a sign of that."
Who's Hot: Hall had two points (1 goal, 1 assist) in his last game and has three in four games … Ryan O'Reilly continues to lead the Avs in points and has four (2 goals, 2 assists) in his last five outings.
Injury Report: For the Oilers, Cam Barker (ankle) may make his return later this week. Tom Gilbert (ankle) is also day-to-day, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder) missed practice on Monday due to the flu, and the Oilers don't expect his return for a few games. For now, he is still practicing with no contact. … According to the Denver Post, the Avalanche reported on Monday that Matt Duchene (knee) is still several weeks away from returning to the lineup and remains out indefinitely.
Stat Pack: Edmonton is 6-3-1 in its last ten meetings with the Avalanche and is 12-8-3 at home this season, meaning Colorado will need to be at the top of its game in order to reclaim a playoff position.
Puck Drop: "There's 33 games, and every one of them can be used to send a message internally, to the rest of the league and to the fans." – Edmonton coach Tom Renney on his team's plan for the second half of the season -- Deb Francisco, NHL.com