COLUMBUS, OH - The Edmonton Oilers took part in an optional morning skate at the Nationwide Arena in advance of tonight's contest against the Blue Jackets. Most of the healthy players did end up skating, with the exception of defencemen Ladislav Smid and Nick Schultz.
But the big news from the morning was that both Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are back in tonight after being questionable prior to the skate.
"I'm going to play," declared Hall. "I was happy with how I felt out there on the ice and hopefully it holds up."
The winger said that at the end of the day, it was his decision and he felt that he was good enough to go.
"The medical staff, they leave it up to my hands. There was the option of missing this game and coming back in the next but I felt good enough out there that I felt I'd be cheating myself if I didn't play."
Jordan Eberle, who missed yesterday's practice with a hand injury, also said he will play tonight.
"I skated today, felt great so ready to go," he said, noting that his injury was just bad luck. "It was early in the second, I got a shot off the hand and it bruised a bit. But I felt good today so I'm ready to go."
Head coach Ralph Krueger was glad to have them both in the lineup and announced some interesting changes to the forward units.
"I feel good that we have a clear lineup tonight. We have Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle coming back in," he began.
"We'll put Ryan Smyth as a centreman between Ben Eager and (Mike) Brown so we'll get that line going. The other three lines: we'll keep the Gagner line together from the last game (Paajarvi/Gagner/Eberle) and we're looking at Hemsky going with Hall and Nuge. We've got Belanger with Yak and Jonesy."
Krueger added that there are no changes on defence but Corey Potter is getting close.
"We're going to keep Corey Potter out. He's very good today but for me not 100%. So we'll stay with the same D pairs and of course Dubey kicking us off in net."
Krueger talked more about the decision to sit Chris VandeVelde and Lennart Petrell and moving Smyth to the middle.
"Under the circumstances, we decided to take VandeVelde out of the lineup tonight and Petrell. Smitty's done a lot of good things lately and we felt with the support now of a player like Mike Brown in that situation, there's a responsible support and for Smitty he's that kind of a player. He does a lot of penalty killing for us, power play," said Krueger. "We think that those games at centre have strengthened him for the challenge today. We feel that we need experience in the lineup tonight, too. It's an important game for us where we need to come together as a team to really play a compact, smart game and we feel Smitty can help us do that."
As mentioned, Mike Brown will skate on the right side with Ben Eager on left and Smyth down the middle. He stated that he was looking forward to his Oilers debut.
"I feel pretty good right now," said Brown. "I've been talking with the staff and the coach, getting used to the system. We went over a lot of stuff this morning. It's like every other game for me. Different players, different style, system and everything but I've gotta go out and play that hard game and focus on what I can do to contribute to the team."
Brown added that he was a big fan of the welcoming environment when it came to his Oilers teammates.
"We're on the road, there's definitely not a lot of time but I've met pretty much everyone and I feel good here. It's definitely a young team and a highly-skilled group. Hopefully it goes well."
Brown also added that he didn't think there was much difference between joining the team on the road in the middle of a long trip versus joining them at home.
"Either way, doesn't matter. Maybe there's more distractions at home but either way it doesn't matter for myself. I got to meet the guys and go out to dinner and all that stuff. I'm pretty sure it would have been the same at home but the only difference is the packing wise. Coming from Toronto and having all the luggage and carrying it around with me on the road trip."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
OILERS (8-9-4) at BLUE JACKETS (6-12-4)
TV: SNET-W, FS-O
Last 10: Edmonton 4-5-1; Columbus 3-5-2
Season series: Second of three meetings. The Oilers were outshot 40-14, but Sam Gagner had a goal and an assist, and Devan Dubnyk turned aside 39 shots to lead them to a 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets on Feb. 10 in Columbus.
Big story: Mike Brown makes his debut as an Oiler. ... While the Blue Jackets have just two wins over their past nine games, their overall body of work suggests improvement. They've won in Detroit and their losses include a pair of one-goal decisions to a Chicago team that still hasn't lost in regulation all season and one-goal setbacks to high-caliber competition in Anaheim and St. Louis. Those were all road games as well, indicating this Columbus team isn't getting pushed around by anyone.
Oilers: This is the middle game during a run of nine in a row on the road for Edmonton, which started with an overtime loss in Chicago and a big win in Dallas before taking a step back with consecutive 4-2 losses to St. Louis and Minnesota. The Oilers sit in a three-way tie for third in the Northwest Division, only six points behind the first-place Canucks, but they'll need to start pulling out some of these games that have gotten away late if they want to remain in the thick of the Western Conference pack.
"We've got to play in their end. It's tough to get shots when you're playing in your own end and you're coughing up pucks in the neutral zone and you're not playing hard enough in the 'D' zone," said Gagner, who along with Magnus Paajarvi scored for the Oilers on Sunday.
Blue Jackets: In the Feb. 21 win over Detroit, a scary incident saw Columbus lose forward Artem Anisimov to an upper-body injury after he was involved in a collision that caused him to hit his head on the ice. Anismiov left the game on a stretcher, but returned to the lineup last Friday and scored in an OT loss to Chicago. He left Sunday's game for a stretch after blocking a shot, but returned to convert on a power play 2:26 into the extra period as the Blue Jackets prevailed 2-1 over the Avalanche. PA Parenteau also scored and Semyon Varlamov stopped 32 shots.
"We need to start winning," Anisimov told the Columbus Dispatch. "This is just the first step. If we can continue to play like this, we're going to be a dangerous club."
Who's hot: Jordan Eberle has assisted on four goals in the Oilers' past three games. Gagner has a pair of goals in the past three games. … Anisimov is joined by Vinny Prospal as Blue Jackets with goals in consecutive games. Nick Foligno and Mark Letestu have four assists in the past three games.
Injury report: Edmonton forward Taylor Hall (leg) and defensemen Corey Potter (head) and Mark Fistric (elbow) are day-to-day. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (groin), defenseman Andy Sutton (knee) and forwards Shawn Horcoff (hand), Anton Lander (foot) and Teemu Hartikainen (shoulder) are on injured reserve. … Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Defenseman John Moore and forwards Derick Brassard are also sidelined with upper-body injuries. Defensemen Ryan Murray (shoulder), Jack Johnson (upper body) and James Wisniewski (foot) and forward Brandon Dubinsky (knee) are on injured reserve.