Edmonton, AB - Success against the Northwest Division hasn't come easy this season, as the Oilers sport a 6-8-4 record overall. But when the Colorado Avalanche roll into town, there's an extra boost in the club's outlook.
Having established a 3-1-0 mark against them in 2011-12, the orange and blue will be looking to continue their winning ways and clinch the teams' head-to-head season series tonight at Rexall Place. Devan Dubnyk will be assigned to do it, pitting his 10-12-1 record, 3.01 goals-against average and .908 save percentage up against the West's 11th-best team.
It's a good time, too, considering No. 40 is a career 4-1-1 vs. Colorado.
"Devan had a really good stretch before [Nikolai Khabibulin] took us through these last three games," said Associate Coach Ralph Krueger, who will continue to man the Oilers' bench through the weekend. "We've gotten a lot of points in the last nine games as a team, and he needs to give us that solid, wall game where the opposition doesn't see a lot of holes."
Dubnyk, who collected a 3-1-1 record in consecutive starts before handing the reigns back to the team's 39-year-old veteran, is excited about his newest opportunity, but is eager to (re)establish consistency in his game.
"Exactly," he agreed, noting the value in earning his spot. "You're not going to get the, 'Oh, we like you as a person, so here's some ice time!' -- it certainly doesn't work that way. You've got to work and earn it. If you get a start, it's because you earned it and you'll feel better about it.
"The biggest thing is giving the guys an opportunity to win every night," Dubnyk added. "Whether it's 7-6 or 1-0, however the game goes, I need to make sure I'm doing everything I can to give the Oilers a chance to win."
LOOKING OUT FOR NO. 1
The 25-year-old sophomore is already on pace to exceed his career-high in games played (35, appearing in 27 to this point), and is looking to continue his strong clip and work his way up to the No. 1 role on a full-time basis.
"It was a big boost," he said of his recent string. "I want to be a starting goalie here soon, whenever that can be. It would be great (playing up to 80-percent of the games down the stretch). It would add to [my development]. I've played that amount of games before at this level, but with this group of guys that we're building here, to grow with them in that last stretch and have them get used to having me back there, it would be a nice feeling.
"Until you're a Khabby or Henrik Lundqvist, you're always going to be battling for a job. At no point in time can you take nights off and continue to get starts. You're always auditioning, but you can't look at it that way. I'm able to play at this level and play well at this level, so I'm waiting for an opportunity to go with it."
As Dubnyk explains, it's all about preparation. It's only his second full year in the league, but he's already learned what works well and what's required to maintain a high level, consistently. Having given way to Khabibulin in the club's last three games (amassing a 1-1-1 record in the process), he's ready to get back in.
"It's nice to get into that rhythm and play those back-to-back games, but it hasn't been too long," he said. "It's what I've been doing all three years here. That's the job of a backup goalie; it's your job to be ready to play, whether it's one or two weeks in between. You practice hard, get ready and come in. It might be as smooth as coming in the night after you play, but it's not anything crazy.
"No, absolutely not, and that's the biggest thing," he added about not changing his preparation. "You're never going to prepare the exact same way for a game that you're not playing. Besides skating more in the morning, you're still going through the same routine. When you get here, what you do, what you do when you're on the ice, when you show up, what you do prior to the game -- if you can keep everything the same, all of a sudden when it's time to play, it's not a big production to go out and start it.
"Instead, you roll into it and it's not a big deal. That's what I've been doing and I can see how it's impacted my game in a positive way."
Head Coach Tom Renney is still dealing with a concussion he endured last week in Toronto. As such, the bench boss will sit out once again tonight (and on Sunday) to help in his recovery.
"It's feeling pretty good and progressing pretty fast," Nugent-Hopkins explained. "I don't really know when I'll be back, but I'll see over the next few days how my body feels and what the training staff say."
"I want to make sure that I'm 100 percent."
Also in clearing up some post-practice confusion, Theo Peckham is still on the IR with a sinus issue but, according to Krueger, could be available to play on Sunday or Tuesday in Calgary.
Season Series: It's the fifth of six meetings this season. Edmonton has won three of the first four, including 3-2 in the last game on Taylor Hall's third-period tally.
Big Story: Ten points separate these two division rivals from each other in the conference standings and two points separate the Avalanche (60) from the 8 th and final playoff spot in the West. However, anything can happen in the Western Conference standings and the Oilers are warming up with three wins in their last five games.
Avalanche : If the Avs miss the playoffs, they can blame their play against their own division. Colorado fell to 2-13-1 in Northwest Division games this season with a tough 3-1 loss at Vancouver on Wednesday. It was a 1-1 game until Jannik Hansen's goal late in the third period put the Canucks ahead to stay. The Avs played well and played hard but came away empty.
"It's disappointing, because we were in the game," coach Joe Sacco told the Denver Post. "We played well, we played hard, but just couldn't come away with a point."
The Avs lost goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere to a groin injury late in the first period. TJ Galiardi also left in the first period with a torso ailment. Varlamov stepped in for Giguere, stopping 20 of 21 shots.
Edmonton: The Oilers' last two games were resolved in overtime with a 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday and a 4-3 win over the Senators last Saturday.
The Oilers came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits against the Leafs, with Jordan Eberle's 25th of the season earning them a point. But the Leafs got two when Edmonton misplayed a 3-on-1 chance and Toronto's Tim Connolly scored on the return rush.
"We battled back and tied it up, and then they get that power play goal and again we battled back and tied it up, and anything can happen in overtime," Eberle told EdmontonOilers.com.
Who's Hot: Milan Hejduk continues to produce for the Avalanche with three points in his last four games … Eberle leads the Oilers in points (55) and has five in as many games including his game-tying goal on Wednesday.
Injury Report: Colorado's Peter Mueller missed Wednesday's game with a torso injury. T.J. Galiardi and Giguere both left Wednesday's game with injuries, Matt Duchene is practicing with the team, but sat out his 19th game with a right knee injury. … For Edmonton, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will miss at least another week with a sprained shoulder. Corey Potter is day to day with a groin injury, while fellow blueliner Theo Peckham (facial injury) missed Wednesday's game.
Stat Pack: Edmonton's Sam Gagner has seven points against Colorado this season. … Varlamov has just four career starts against the Oilers, all this season; he is 1-3-0 with a 3.05 goals against average.
Puck Drop: Eberle sometimes gets lost on a team that has No. 1 overall picks Taylor Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, but he's earning the nickname "Captain Clutch" for goals like the one he scored on Wednesday to tie the game late in the third period -- as well as for his performance with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2009 and 2010.
"I've always wanted the puck on my stick at the end of the game," the 21-year-old told the Oilers' website. "I try to find that extra drive to put it in. Whether it's the first goal or the last goal, you always want to be the guy to score. I just try to always give our team a chance to win. Goal-scoring has everything to do with confidence, and right now I'm feeling confident. When you have that, you feel dangerous from anywhere."