Edmonton, AB - Intentions can be misconstrued, and things can change as game time approaches. The Oilers didn't want to get into a track meet last week in Toronto, but it happened in a high-speed 6-3 loss at Air Canada Centre.
As the orange and blue prepare to engage in a rematch with the Centre of the Universe's beloved club, the Oilers insist they're better prepared this time around.
"We don't want to get into a track meet," argued Jeff Petry, who collected a goal and an assist in last week's encounter. "[Toronto is] quick up front, but I think we can counter their attack with some better preparation on our end. We need to get the puck up to our forwards equally as quick, chip it in and work their D down low.
"We showed it last time that when we do that, we can get a cycle going and hem them in their own end. Otherwise, and we saw this last week, too, as soon as their D get the puck, their forwards are bursting up ice and are looking to catch us sleeping. We've got to be cautious of that, too."
Corey Potter, who's missed the last two practices and was absent again today at the team's 10:30am morning skate, will miss tonight's game with a groin injury. As such, Petry will be paired with the club's leading shot-blocker, Ladislav Smid.
"He's (Potter) been playing well 5-on-5 and on the power-play," Petry explained. "It's something that I think we have the depth where we can get some guys in there and fill a spot, but he's certainly a player that's going to be missed."
"It's the way the backend has gone this year," added Tom Gilbert, noting the Oilers' 192 man-games lost and more on the way with the elimination of Potter. No. 77 will be paired with Ryan Whitney tonight.
"Guys have been stepping up all season," he added. "For me, I've played with Whitney before and a couple years ago we had a really good string of about 20 or so games together. We're really comfortable with each other, so it's not like it's going to be something new. We want to provide a little more offence than we've been giving, so that's something we're going to be working toward, too."
Gilbert, who's notched three assists in seven career games vs. Toronto, was a -2 in Monday's game. Even so, he collected a team-high seven hits and is eagerly anticipating tonight's rematch.
"Regardless of what they bring, we need to be good," he said. "We know they're quick, they're a good transition team. They played last night (5-1 loss to Calgary) and had a tough game, so our start is going to be really important for us. It's got to be hard. It's got to be pucks deep. We've got to make sure that we're doing everything right, right away."
Head Coach Tom Renney was absent again today. Still feeling the effects of post-concussion syndrome after being struck in the head with an errant puck during last Monday's morning skate, Associate Coach Ralph Krueger ran practice and addressed the media this morning.
It's expected that Renney will be available to coach tonight, but it's quite literally a game-time decision.
"It's important to understand the game [Toronto] wants to play and respect that game," Krueger explained. "With (Phil) Kessel, (Mikhail) Grabovski, (Matthew) Lombardi and (John-Michael) Liles, there's so much speed coming at you that you need to be well-positioned and you have to understand their transition speed and also their puck-movement in that north-south direction.
"We need to give them less space and time than we did in Toronto," he added. "That will be critical for us to win tonight."
The loss last week was the opener to the club's three-game road trip, in which they collected a pair of losses before ended it on a high with a 4-3 overtime win in Ottawa on Hockey Day in Canada.
Buying back into the system has been an important point to consider.
"That's always the biggest thing," Gilbert said. "When you've got one guy going off in their own direction and doing their own thing, it hurts the team. There are always tough patches throughout a game, but when you work as a team and stick to your game plan as a group, we should be alright. That's what we hope to continue tonight."
"We went through that stretch where we proved that we couldn't do it on our own," Petry added. "We've bought into the system a little more lately, we're keeping things simple and it's certainly had a good impact on our game."
Following a 39-save outing in which he snapped a personal eight-game winless skid, Nikolai Khabibulin will return to the pipes to make his third straight start and help the Oilers improve on their four-game home winning streak.
Season Series: This is the second and final of two meetings this season. Nine days ago, Toronto doubled up the Oilers 6-3 at Air Canada Centre to cap a three-game winning streak.
Big Story: After playing spoiler to one Eastern playoff team by winning Saturday in Ottawa, Edmonton is home for a three-game swing looking to do it again against tottering Toronto. The Maple Leafs are clinging to the eighth seed following four straight losses, the latest a 5-1 defeat Tuesday night in Calgary.
Maple Leafs: Matters have gone from bad to worse of late for Toronto. One-goal losses last week to Philadelphia and Winnipeg have given way to blowout defeats to Montreal and Calgary. The Canadiens embarrassed Toronto on Saturday, dealing a 5-0 defeat on the night the Leafs honored franchise points leader Mats Sundin. Things weren't much better in Calgary on Tuesday, where Toronto's top line of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak combined for just one goal while the team fired 42 shots. Toronto pressed near the end, a strategy that resulted in goalie Jonas Gustavsson conceding two late goals.
"That's how the game's going to be when we have to gamble a bit," Gustavsson said. "It doesn't really matter in the end if you lose 3-1 or 5-1. At least we gave it a chance to come back."
Oilers: The Sam Gagner party ended - and with it Edmonton's playoff chances - when Edmonton lost two in a row to start a three-game road trip last week. But the Oilers' potent attack is still capable of stealing wins from contenders, as witnessed on Saturday, when Edmonton finished its trip with a 4-3 overtime win in Ottawa. After Erik Karlsson tied it for Ottawa midway through the third period, Taylor Hall ended it with a backhand just 17 seconds into the extra period.
"We had some time to think about the mistakes we made on the first few games of this road trip," Hall said. "Tonight was a good night for us. We knew Ottawa was going to come out strong and we kind of weathered the storm, got our bearings and just went from there."
Who's Hot: While his line is struggling, Kessel continues to rack up points -- he has four goals and six assists over his last six games.
Injury Report: Toronto defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (ankle) is on injured reserve. … For Edmonton, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will miss at least another week with a sprained shoulder. Corey Potter is doubtful for the game with a groin injury, while fellow blueliner Theo Peckham (facial injury) is expected to be activated from injured reserve on Wednesday.
Stat Pack: While the Oilers have won just seven games on the road, their 15-8-3 record at Rexall Place is nothing to scoff at. To improve that mark, Nikolai Khabibulin must be more dependable. He has conceded 11 goals in his last three games, and his 2.52 goals-against average for the season ranks just 23 rd in the League.
Puck Drop: After Tuesday's loss at Scotiabank Saddledome - where there were large pockets of blue in the usual sea of red -- Toronto coach Ron Wilson expressed his regret.
"I'm kind of disappointed we let them down," he said. "There's a huge Leaf contingent."