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From success in 2006 to a new era in 2011, pre-season or not, the Oilers’ new line combos at this morning’s 20-minute pre-game skate were the story.
“It's going to be a lot of fun,” Smyth said. “We're going to re-hash some memories and hopefully we can get something going. We have a good read off each other pretty good.
“It's hard to read in practices, but [Hemsky] seems like himself,” he added. “He seems very comfortable with the puck, which is his specialty. He's a very creative player. Tonight is going to be a big test for him and hopefully we can give him some energy, too.”
Jordan Eberle, who was selected by Edmonton 22nd overall in 2008, is equally thrilled, having watched the trio’s success during the Oilers’ magical run to the Stanley Cup in 2006.
“Oh yeah, I watched them in 2006,” he smiled. “These three guys are veterans and they know how to play the game, and that's why they've had so much success in this league.
“It's great to see that they're going to get a chance tonight and be our leaders. I’m really looking forward to this one.”
The line certainly brings a sentimental touch, but Head Coach Tom Renney is keeping an open mind about long-term line assignments.
“It’s no audition,” he said. “I'm keeping everything wide open here. I know what I've got for a talent group and that includes many of those that you might think would be going to Oklahoma City.
“You've got to look at your entire team, the roster and who can deliver what. At some point in time, they need to know what's expected of them. I've got a plan for these guys. It doesn't necessarily include the trio together, but it's an option.”
Eberle, meanwhile, is excited about his line and the chance he has vs. Phoenix. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will center the 21-year-old, while 2010 No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall will play on his opposite wing.
“It should be good,” he said. “Me and Taylor played together last year and had some good chemistry. In the short couple games we've played together, I've had some chemistry with Hopkins as well.
“We've got a little bit of everything on the line. Hopkins can make plays, I’m the shooter and Hallsy's got a lot of speed; a lot of varying dynamics that should help us have success.”
Hall agreed, adding that he’s especially “pumped” to get this new opportunity.
“It's certainly pretty cool,” he said. “We're all under 21. We're all trying to make a name in this league. We've got a chance to do something tonight. I've played with Hopkins so far and he's a fun player to play with. I played with Ebs a lot last year, so I know what he's all about. I’m excited.”
Although it’s early in the pre-season, Eberle commented on his strive to build chemistry prior to the regular season's opening on Oct. 9.
“It's good to build chemistry,” he said. “I think that's a big reason for the pre-season. If you have chemistry with certain guys early, you can carry that into the regular season, work on it and build on it and you're that much further ahead when the season starts.”
Nikolai Khabibulin struggled in his pre-season opener, stopping only four shots on seven Wild attempts last Tuesday. He did, however, bounce back in emphatic fashion, turning aside 16 of 17 in a 2-1 Oilers victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.
The 38-year-old veteran was pleased with his show-stopping outing, but believes there’s still plenty of room to improve.
“I feel a little bit better,” he said. “It's still early in the pre-season and there are few things that I need to improve and work on. It was a good game [vs. Calgary] and hopefully I can build on it and try to get even better as the pre-season continues.”
Having not played a regular season game since Apr. 10 vs. Colorado, Khabibulin is getting some more exhibition action this year than in previous seasons. The former Stanley Cup winner is happy about his increased opportunity to reclaim his role as the team’s No. 1 netminder.
“Usually in year's past, I played in about three games or something like that,” he said. “I think that's good that I’m getting a few more, to help me get back into the swing. This is as close as you can get to a regular season game. It's part of practice, but at the same time, it's almost like a test before you go into the season.”
Renney added: “If we’re going to win anything, we’re going to need both our goalies playing really well.” 34 DANIS, Yann
LINE COMBOS: Wiley veterans, wide-eyed rookies and seasoned sophomores combine to make up the Oilers’ lineup. Up front and reunited, Shawn Horcoff will centre Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky, who will be making his pre-season debut vs. Phoenix.
This trio stepped up to score a combined 20 goals and 52 points during the Oilers’ 2006 post-season run, engineering Edmonton’s Western Conference title and dart to within three periods of a Stanley Cup Championship.
The supporting cast isn’t too bad, either. No. 1 overall picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will continue to share a line, but will be complemented by pre-season scoring leader (3G, 1A in 4GP) Jordan Eberle vs. the Coyotes.
ON THE BLUELINE: Coming off a two-assist outing vs. Calgary, Taylor Fedun will be paired with either Ladislav Smid or Corey Potter. 6’6”, 240-pound Andy Sutton will skate with Tom Gilbert, while Taylor Chorney and Jeff Petry will make up the team’s third pairing.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Nikolai Khabibulin will get the start in goal and is expected to play the full 60, but Head Coach Tom Renney said he wouldn’t mind seeing summer signee Yann Danis get some more action while he can:
"I'd like to the distance with [Khabibulin]," he said. "But I want Yann to have one more little peak and then I'll split Khabibulin and Dubnyk on the weekend. I'd like Yann to get some ice-time."
KEEP AN EYE ON: Taylor Fedun, who has done everything possible to earn a longer look in Edmonton. The 23-year-old blueliner recorded a pair of assists vs. Calgary, looking as poised and composed as he ever has. The smooth-skating, puck-moving rearguard has played well all through camp, but is heating up at the right time. With only 35 players remaining, Fedun will be looking to choreograph another strong evening vs. Phoenix.
Look for No. 81 to be hopping up in the rush and getting back into position with quickness. On the power-play, he’ll be dishing off and spotting lanes across the box, as well as putting pucks on net when he’s given the chance.
Phoenix's lineup, courtesy of phoenixcoyotes.com (updated at 2:00pm):
Paul Bissonnette, Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Chipchura, Shane Doan, Boyd Gordon, Lauri Korpikoski, Daymond Langkow, Brett MacLean, Andy Miele, Petteri Nokelainen, Patrick O'Sullivan, Viktor Tikhonov, Raffi Torres, Ray Whitney.
Adrian Aucoin, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Rostislav Klesla, Derek Morris, Nathan Oystrick, Michal Rozsival, Chris Summers, Keith Yandle.
Curtis McElhinney, Mike Smith
LINEUP NOTES: Edmonton native Daymond Langkow played in only four games in 2010-11 and is looking to bounce back in his return to the desert.
The 35-year-old centre played three seasons in Phoenix from 2001-2004, and will very likely be mentoring the Coyotes’ youngsters (such as Kyle Chipchura, Viktor Tikhonov, Andy Miele, Marc Pouliot and Patrick O’Sullivan) late in camp.
ON THE BLUELINE: Veterans Adrian Aucoin and Keith Yandle did not play on Saturday vs. the Sharks, so expect them to dress.
Yandle scored 11 goals and 59 points in 82 games with the ‘Yotes last season, and has recorded one goal and eight points in 15 career games vs. Edmonton.
Aucoin scored three goals and 22 points in 74 games with Phoenix in 2010-11, and has tallied 10 goals and 20 points in 56 career games vs. the Oilers.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Jason LaBarbera, Mike Smith and Curtis McElhinney remain in camp. LaBarbera played the full 60 minutes on Saturday vs. San Jose, so expect to see either Smith or McElhinney get the nod.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Marc Pouliot and Patrick O’Sullivan. Both players are vying for a spot in Phoenix’s lineup, and will need strong outings to impress the Coyotes brass in their returns to Rexall Place.
“I need to play my own game and that’s what I plan on doing,” O’Sullivan told phoenixcoyotes.com. “These are important games for me as I try to improve here and earn a spot in this lineup.”
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com