Nashville, TN - A four-game road trip begins tonight for the Edmonton Oilers when they take on the Nashville Predators, a team they've had some success against of late with a 4-2-1 record over the past few seasons.
"For whatever reasons, we seem to get to Pekka Rinne," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "I think they respect us enough to know you've got to play the game hard and they do but for whatever reason we seem light on our feet, we seem to have more of an attack mode to our game and we've had good goaltending."
Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal, while Ben Eager draws back into the lineup after missing a pair of games due to back spasms. As a result, Linus Omark becomes the odd-man out.
"For us to have success, we need Benny to do the heavy lifting," said Renney. "We've got to go hard to the net, we've got to develop some type of physical reputation through guys like Ben. He's got to play the same way he did prior to being hurt."
One encouraging sign for the team was the fact that Taylor Hall skated for the first time since suffering a concussion on Friday against Calgary at the hands of Cory Sarich.
Renney cautioned that him skating today doesn't necessarily mean he'll be able to play at some point during the road trip but it's a good sign nonetheless.
"I won't be surprised to see him play on this trip, but at the same time but at the same time I wouldn't if he didn't," he said.
"We'll follow the protocol and make sure we do the right thing with him," Renney reiterated. "As mentioned, even the night he hurt himself he was doing pretty good. That being said, there's a procedure that we'll follow here."
The Oilers bench boss added that Hall passed his tests yesterday with flying colours. The sophomore winger rode the bike during the game, getting in some heavy physical activity and took the baseline test as per NHL concussion protocol.
"He had a good bike ride yesterday, his baseline test also went well," he said. "He skated a little bit this morning, that went well. We'll take it a day at a time."
RETURN OF RADULOV
The talk of the town in Nashville was the imminent return of Alexander Radulov to the Predators.
"The great thing is, there's seven or eight guys who know him. When Gaustad and Gill got here, they didn't know anybody so I think it's going to be an easier transition," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. "Can he help us? Yes he can. He's a dynamic player."
Trotz didn't offer much in the way of information on Radulov's immediate status.
"He's probably on a plane, hopefully coming here," he chuckled.
While he won't be playing the Oilers tonight, Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff weighed in on the situation.
"It'll be interesting," said Horcoff of Radulov coming here directly from the KHL so late in the season. "We're going to have to wait and see how he adapts to it and see how he plays. I think the thing he has going for him is that he's been here and he's comfortable here."
Horcoff added that there are some parallels between this and the Oilers getting Sergei Samsonov and Dwayne Roloson late in the 2005-06 season prior to their Cup run.
"It was huge," he said. "There were a few more guys, too -- Spacek and Tarnstrom. All four of those guys played key roles in our run. They just fit in right off the bat. They were great in the locker room and they filed holes perfectly in our lineup."
The Oilers arrived in Nashville mid-afternoon to weather of 28 degrees celsius. Having not practiced earlier in the day, the team opted to play some football in an open field adjacent to the hotel.
"We've had a tough schedule the last little while," said Horcoff. "We had a long flight (four hours). It was nice to be able to come in and have a little team bonding."
In the match-up, the veteran players took on the younger ones and it was the savvy vets who ultimately prevailed.
"Like anything else, it starts out relaxed and once it gets a little tight it gets competitive. The veterans proved their worth and pulled it out in the end," Horcoff laughed.
Oilers head coach Tom Renney said the ability for the team to have some fun like that is very important.
"You know what's interesting about that is some might be critical of a team that's in our position having fun," he remarked. "But you have to. If I have a regret this year it's that we didn't get enough time to do those types of things because it does galvanize your group. It's great to have fun and enjoy each others' company in something like that.
"I think it had a residual effect this morning," the coach continued. "Our skate this morning was good. Guys were energized. Obviously, we hope we come out tonight the same way. That's what little things like that should do. Pump some air into your tires and allow you to play well, play hard for each other. That's what team building is all about."
Media and Oilers staff had a football game of their own after the players left the field. It was a tightly-contested battle with edmontonoilers.com's own Tom Gazzola getting the winning touchdown in overtime for Team Colours over Team Black.
Team Black captain Bob Stauffer was unavailable for comment afterward.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com\
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Last 10: Edmonton 3-5-2; Nashville 6-3-1.
Season Series: This is the fourth and final game between these clubs. Edmonton holds the 2-1-0 advantage this season and has won three of the last five meetings at Bridgestone Arena.
Big Story: The Preds have eight points separating them and the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues, but if Nashville can close out the season on a hot streak then it's possible to capture the first division crown in franchise history, along with the Presidents' Trophy as the team with the most points in the NHL. However, with just 10 games left on the Predators' schedule, the more realistic goal is to maintain fourth place in the Western Conference and open the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs at home.
Oilers: Edmonton has been mired towards the bottom of the Western Conference standings for most of the season, but it still shows a lot of promise for the future. Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (45 points) has a shot at catching fellow rookies Gabriel Landeskog (47) and Adam Henrique (46) for the League lead in rookie points this season, which would also make him a strong candidate for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year.
Tuesday's game agsinst Nashville will see the Oilers attempting to gain redemption for blowing a 2-0 third-period lead in their last game against the Phoenix Coyotes Sunday and eventually losing 3-2 in the shootout. The Coyotes' Raffi Torres tied the game on an odd-man rush with just over two minutes left in regulation. Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky both tallied in the second period to stake the Oilers to the two-goal lead.
"It's very frustrating," Eberle told NHL.com after the game. "It seems to be the story of our season. A couple of mistakes and it costs us the game."
Predators: Nashville looks for its third straight win at home as it hosts an Oilers team that really has nothing to lose. While the Central Division title is not quite out of reach, head coach Barry Trotz and company will do their best to fend off the cluster of Western Conference clubs aiming for fourth place.
The Preds will seek to duplicate last game's effort in which they reeled off three unanswered third-period goals to defeat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 on the road this past Sunday. Patric Hornqvist and Mike Fisher both tallied their 23rd goals of the season in the third to remain tied for the team lead in that category.
"It was a big, big two points for us," Hornqvist said after the game. "We had to climb in the standings and try to catch Detroit and St. Louis. You never know what can happen, and we want to win every game."
Who's Hot: Fisher is in the midst of a four-game point streak for Nashville with 3 goals and 1 assist over that span. ... Edmonton's Eberle is riding a three-game point streak and has totaled 2 goals and 5 assists over his last five games played.
Injury Report: Nashville defenseman Roman Josi (upper body) and forward Paul Gaustad (upper body) were both out of the lineup Saturday and their status for Tuesday has not yet been determined. ... Oilers winger Ben Eager remains listed as day-to-day with back issues.
Stat Pack: Trotz needs just three more wins to make it 500 total NHL victories. The veteran bench boss has been the Predators' head coach for their entire 13-season existence in the League.
Puck Drop: Although the Predators haven't receieved an outpouring of accolades when compared to other top teams in the NHL, they are at least getting compliments from those that matter most: their opponents.
"They're a team that's built for the playoffs," said Ducks' forward Bobby Ryan of the Predators' play this season. "They play a full 60 minutes, they've got a great back end, and they've got three lines that can hurt you."