Edmonton, AB - Following a hectic period in which the Oilers acquired veteran rearguard Nick Schultz prior to Monday's 1pm MT deadline, in addition to a solid, come-from-behind 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets later that night, the orange and blue have returned home.
Tonight, the opponent will be the St. Louis Blues, who are ranked fourth in the NHL's Western Conference standings with a 39-17-7 record (85 points). Schultz, 29, will make his Oilers debut and will be paired alongside a mobile puck-mover in Ryan Whitney.
"It was good," Schultz said as he addressed the media horde, immediately after taking his first twirl on the Oilers' home sheet. "It was nice to get out there and get going. It's an exciting time for me, being on a new team and getting a fresh start.
"There are going to be nerves. It's new for me, something I haven't been through since I played my first game in the NHL with Minnesota. It's been a while, but I'm looking forward to it. It's a new opportunity here in Edmonton."
Head Coach Tom Renney, who has praised the move in acquiring the Strasbourg, SK native since the start, is excited to see a new dynamic added to the club's unbalanced blueline.
"Consistency," he noted with utmost importance. "Doesn't get rattled, plays with poise, (is) strong; he's had the benefit and experience of playing in a defensive structure that was tailor-made for him."
"He's a really nice guy," added Ladislav Smid, who will be paired with Jeff Petry this evening. "He's a great addition to our D core and he's really good defensive player. This is his ninth or 10th year in the NHL, 700+ games and that's what he did, closed games for Minnesota when they were up. Hopefully he can do the same for us."
"I thought we played pretty well in Winnipeg," said No. 13 who, as a local product, was thrilled to have gotten the chance to play at home. "We've got to keep the ball rolling in that direction, keep things simple."
Highlighting Barker's homecoming was having the opportunity to see his 90-year-old grandparents, who don't often get to see him play, or watch any NHL game for that matter; so much so, in fact, that his grandmother had never seen a live game prior to Monday's victory.
"It was awesome," he said. "I was pretty happy for her to be able to watch me play. To have a good game and come out with the win, it was even better."
A FORMIDABLE OPPONENT
"St. Louis is having a great season," Barker said. "They're a big, tough team and they play very simple, but very disciplined in their system. We've got the get the puck deep, play solid defensively and get the puck up to our skilled forwards and we'll be alright."
While the Blues are the among the league's top teams at this point, they've done so through a solid own-zone structure. St. Louis is ranked 22nd in the league with an average of 2.49 goals per game. The Oilers hope to counter the Blues' wall with a sound attack game.
"We're one of those teams where if we get into that high-wire act, we can be dangerous, but it's also living dangerously," Renney explained. "I think the big thing for us is to certainly take our game to this team and use our speed, our puck speed and attack them, naturally, but also have real good balance within that look so we don't give up those odd-man rushes.
"In a strange way, it's fun playing these teams because you do learn," he added. "They're not going to take us lightly and think that they're going to cruise through a win; they're going to come out and play hard. And we've got to match all of that."
Smid, who's the league's second-best shot-blocker with a 149 on the season, agreed and expanded on St. Louis' defensive role. It's vital, considering both teams are expected a 5-on-5 game with little special teams action.
"They play a great system," he said. "They come hard, they have a great structure and they forecheck hard. For us, we've got to play a strong team-game, be good defensively, be smart with the puck and be on the forecheck. Hopefully we can score some goals and win the game."
"It might one of those games where we might not see specialty teams too much, so I think we have to be ready to play 5-on-5 hockey as good as we have all year long," Renney said. "Again, we have to attack this team. I think we have to force their D men to turn and go get pucks and defend us in their own end, we've got to make sure we don't give up the odd-man rushes. And in our own zone, you better have the cookies or we'll be in trouble."
Devan Dubnyk will make his seventh consecutive start, looking to improve on his 13-15-1 record, 2.88 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting of the season, with the home team winning each. St. Louis leads the series 2-1 on the strength of two Scottrade Center victories in January, but Edmonton fared well against the Central Division leaders, falling by a single goal in each.
Big Story: St. Louis will try for its first four-game road winning streak in nearly three seasons when it faces Edmonton on Wednesday. The Blues have used the first three games to pull into the Central Division lead, and trail Vancouver by just two points for the League's best record. Edmonton won't be an easy mark, however, as the Oilers have won three of four against playoff-quality opposition.
Blues: Lately, St. Louis has been just as lethal on the road as they have been all season under the Gateway Arch. The Blues started this six-game road swing with two shootout wins – over Nashville and Winnipeg, both by 3-2 scores – and most recently downed Calgary, 3-1, on Monday night. It was the third straight game in which the Blues led heading into the first intermission, and Jason Arnott scored twice on the power play for St. Louis to seal the win. Jaroslav Halak made 20 saves – including all 13 over the final two periods – for his third straight victory.
"We've got great chemistry in here ... and we've got some key guys out for us right now that are going to help us down the stretch and in the playoffs," Arnott said.
Oilers: For a team all but mathematically eliminated from the postseason, Edmonton is playing some impressive hockey. The Oilers won two of three heading into a hostile MTS Centre to face the surprising Jets. The Oilers entered the third period down 2-1, but Edmonton exploded for four straight goals – from four different Oilers – as Winnipeg couldn't contain the Oilers' attack.
"I like the way we handled the game in general," coach Tom Renney said. "It was a bit of a track meet at times, naturally. Certainly being able to come out and really go to work in the third period was important to us."
Who's Hot: Arnott has 2 goals and 2 assists over his last four games. … Taylor Hall has 3 goals and 3 assists over the same span.
Injury Report: St. Louis will be without four key components. Kris Russell (concussion-like symptoms), Jamie Langenbrunner (broken left foot), Matt D'Agostini (concussion) and Alexander Steen (concussion-like symptoms) are all on injured reserve. … Edmonton goalie Nikolai Khabibulin missed Monday's game with a strained groin. Theo Peckham is on injured reserve with a facial injury.
Stat Pack: The difference Tuesday could reside in the blue paint. Edmonton's Devan Dubnyk is 0-5-0 with a 4.67 goals-against average in five career stars. Halak and Brian Elliott – by far the NHL's most dependable goalie tandem this season – enter Tuesday in the NHL's top five for GAA, and Elliott is 3-0-0 with a 1.95 GAA lifetime at Rexall Place.
Puck Drop: Ryan Smyth's assist on Jordan Eberle's team-high 28th goal in the third gave him his 800th career point.
"Good for Ryan," Renney said. "He's certainly been a heart and soul guy in this organization, and his second go-around makes you feel like he'd never left. And I know he's very much appreciated by the whole organization."