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PREVIEW: Oilers (18-26-4) at Canucks (29-15-4)

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 2:49 AM
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PREVIEW: Oilers (18-26-4) at Canucks (29-15-4)
Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks

 OILERS at CANUCKS - GET THE SCOOP

AT THE OILERS' HOTEL Vancouver, BC - Following a spirited, emotional and hard-fought 2-1 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks last night, the Oilers boarded the team charter and air-bussed their way to sea level where an interdivisional matchup with the Vancouver Canucks awaits tonight at Rogers Arena.

The win one night ago snapped a three-game losing skid for an Oilers club that still sits in 14th spot in the NHL's Western Conference. Having now secured 40 points on the season, the Oilers are only three points back of the 13th-place Anaheim Ducks and are eager to inch closer with another win tonight.

The opponent doesn't get any easier; not even close, when you consider the discrepancy in points and relative position to one another. The Canucks, who haven't played since Saturday's 4-3 triumph over the same Sharks, have amassed a 5-2-2 record in January, propelling Vancouver to the West's second spot.

Sporting a 9-3-0 record against Northwest Division competition (countering the Oilers' 5-8-3 mark), the orange and blue know they're in tough tonight.

DUBNYK BACK IN

Although the Oilers did come out with a one-goal victory last night, it wouldn't have happened without brilliant goaltending. Devan Dubnyk stopped 44 shots through 65 minutes, and another three in the shootout when he thwarted Michal Handzus, Dan Boyle and Logan Couture's attempts.

Now having improved to 7-11-0 on the season, along with a 2.93 goals-against average and .908 save percentage, Head Coach Tom Renney will be going back to the hot hand as the Oilers look to procure consecutive victories for the first time since Nov. 22 and 25 (wins over Nashville and Minnesota).

It's only the third time all season that Dubnyk has started consecutive games (Dec. 10-15 and Jan. 15-17) and the first in which he's had the opportunity to tend the pipes in both contests of a back-to-back situation.

"Sometimes 25 feels old, but it's really not," Dubnyk said with a laugh, noting the back-to-back set. "I'll be okay. It wasn't too long ago that I was doing three-in-threes (in the AHL), and all these guys do it when we have back-to-backs. It's something you've got to deal with; whether the legs are tired at the start or whatever, that happens sometimes and you've got to battle through it."

"Obviously, and he should, hope to be a No. 1 goaltender in this league," Head Coach Tom Renney added. "You have to be able to put back-to-back games together. In order for a young goaltender to develop into what he wants to be, and what this organizations expects from him in the long run, he's going to have to be able to do that."

It's also worth noting that Nikolai Khabibulin has lost eight in a row, with his last win coming on Dec. 22 vs. Minnesota (4-1).

The sophomore netminder was understandably thrilled with last night's win; so, too, were his teammates, as the Oilers were able to get back in the win column amid a disappointing January stretch.

"We needed a win," No. 40 explained. "It's been tough, but everybody wants it. It wouldn't have been quite as nice last night without the two points. Everyone's excited about last night and we get a chance to do it again against a pretty good hockey team tonight.

"That's not surprising," he added, looking at the Canucks' hot mid-season run. "[Vancouver is] a great hockey team. They move the puck well; they shoot lots and run a lot of plays and high tips. We're going to have our hands full tonight, but we seem to step up to challenges when we're playing tough teams."

WHITNEY RETURNS

Tonight also marks the return of Ryan Whitney. The Oilers' No. 1 rearguard has been sidelined since Dec. 26, missing an additional 14 games due his surgically repaired ankle that's hampered the 28-year-old since his acquisition and throughout his eight-year NHL career.

While Whitney argued that he could play at "80-percent in [in the NHL]," over the weekend, it's become a sign of hardened commitment and desperation on the blueliner's part as his body struggles to heal.

He insists that he needs to give it one last chance this season.

"I'm feeling okay," he said with some clear disappointment. "It's obviously not where I'd hoped it would be, but at some point you've got to give it a go. I'm excited about getting back to playing, no matter what.

"The ankle's weak, so it falls in and causes a little pain. 'You've got to wait until you're 100-percent,' people keep telling me. Well, I don't really know if it'll ever be 100-percent, so you've got to deal with what you have. I can still be an NHL defenceman at 80-percent or whatever I am, so that's a positive.

"Just happy to be playing again with my teammates."

Whitney has been limited to 17 games this season, posting three assists in his abbreviated 2011-12 campaign. While the casual observer may not notice the hindrances in the rearguard's mobility, the 28-year-old is prohibited, somewhat, and is unable to make some plays that he's used to.

"There are some things that I go to do that don't necessarily happen as well as I'd like anymore, like some explosiveness in my right foot," he said. "But you can work around it and be better positionally. I've tried to work on [those things] in watching the games and even in the couple days I've skated here."

Renney agreed and commented further on Whitney's struggle and ultimate reinvention.

"I'm not sure his 100-percent will ever exist again, in terms of what he was three-four years ago," he said. "There's maybe a new normal for him. And I think he's coming to grips with that. I think that's the biggest issue of all: understand that he might have to reinvent himself as a player, and that's not easy to do; especially when he came into Edmonton as he did, as he was lights-out to start here."

LINEUP NOTES

Ben Eager, who was a scratch in last night's 2-1 win, will sit out again tonight. No. 55 was thought to be healthy, but Renney revealed that he's dealing with a lingering back issue.

Under the circumstances in which Whitney's return comes, it's possible the Oilers will dress seven defencemen. Lennart Petrell took the optional morning skate, along with the team's other scratches (and Khabibulin). Either Darcy Hordichuk will be slotted back in, or Taylor Chorney wil remain on D.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW Last 10: Edmonton 2-7-1, Vancouver 5-3-2.

Season Series: This is the fourth meeting of six between these Northwest Division rivals. Vancouver has prevailed twice so far in the first three meetings, including a 5-3 decision in the last meeting on Dec. 26.

Big Story: This is the final game for both of these teams before the week-long All-Star break, and both teams will be looking to enter it on a positive note. Interestingly, both teams are coming off of wins against the San Jose Sharks as they enter Tuesday's match.

Team Scope:

Oilers: Edmonton snapped a three-game skid with a 2-1 shootout victory against the Sharks on Monday night. The shootout-winning goal came off the stick of Taylor Hall in the form of a backhand move that was just enough to push the puck past San Jose's Thomas Greiss.

"The message that was sent, it's really good to get a win," Hall told the Oilers' web site. "If we can get another one going into tomorrow going to the All Star break feeling good about ourselves, we can kind of start a new season after the break."

Devan Dubnyk was the real story of the game, however, stopping 44 shots through overtime -- plus an additional three saves in the shootout.

"You have to give some credit to Duby … he played unbelievable, he kept us in there, he's the reason why we won tonight, so I think a lot of the credit has to go to him," Oilers winger Jordan Eberle said.

Eberle, who will represent the Oilers in the 2012 Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition this weekend, scored the club's lone regulation goal in the first period.

The victory was just the sixth victory in 26 outings for the Oilers.

Canucks: Vancouver continues to dominate the Northwest Division with 62 points – an eight-point advantage over second-place Colorado. Despite the lead, the Canucks lost two in a row last week before edging the Sharks, 4-3, on Saturday.

The Canucks' success has not been due to any one or two players, but has been a combination of everyone chipping in – including rookie Cody Hodgson, who notched his first ever two-goal game on Saturday. Hodgson has seven goals and seven helpers in 16 games. He is fourth in rookie scoring with 29 points.

"Everybody wants to contribute and do well," Hodgson said. "It doesn't matter who gets the goals on the team, we just want to play well and come out with a win."

There has been some pressure on center Ryan Kesler to produce more offensively and use his linemates more effectively. Kesler answered the criticism with a goal on Saturday.

"It looks like the coach really sparked him there with those comments," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "Vintage Kes is back … a great goal by Kesler."

With the victory against the Sharks, the Canucks are 1-1-1 so far in a six-game homestand.

Who's Hot: Eberle continues to lead the Oilers in points (45) and has three points in his last five games (2 goals, 1 assist). … David Booth has two goals in two games since returning from a knee injury on Jan 15.

Injury Report: The Oilers are without injured rookie forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenders Tom Gilbert, Cam Barker and Ryan Whitney. … Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo (concussion) is out indefinitely. Ebbett (collarbone) is on injured reserve.

Stat Pack: Historically, the Oilers have outscored the Canucks 826-710; however, in the last two seasons, the Canucks have outscored the Oilers, 27-22.

Puck Drop: "When you play good games, you just use that good feeling and you try to feed off of that last game and use that -- and that's what momentum is." -- Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk.

-- Deborah Francisco, NHL.com

2011-2012 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Apr 07 '12EDM 0 at VAN 3H. Sedin
Feb 19 '12VAN 5 at EDM 2K. Bieksa
Jan 24 '12EDM 2 at VAN 3 - SOC. Hodgson
Dec 26 '11EDM 3 at VAN 5A. Burrows
Oct 25 '11VAN 2 at EDM 3T. Hall
Oct 15 '11VAN 4 at EDM 3S. Salo
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
J. Eberle45182745-1683
R. Nugent-Hopkins38132235+0831
R. Smyth49161834+04544
T. Hall39161733-520103
S. Horcoff4991524-161240
R. Jones4912921-32511
S. Gagner4251621-42820
A. Hemsky3641519-102310
C. Potter3531316-121210
T. Gilbert3831215-21221
J. Petry4211011-111610
E. Belanger461910-132400
L. Smid49358-63000
B. Eager36527-36802
A. Sutton29347+05601
L. Petrell31336-33800
A. Lander45235-31000
M. Paajarvi33044-7200
T. Peckham45123-17400
R. Whitney18033-6400
J. Green7112-6710
C. Barker12101+31410
D. Hordichuk23011-42800
C. Teubert20011-41800
R. O'Marra7011+0400
A. Plante3011+0200
T. Chorney5000-1000
L. Omark5000-2200
T. Hartikainen5000-4000
M. Kytnar1000+0000
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
N. Khabibulin3011-15-4698402.45.918
D. Dubnyk237-11-1606632.87.910
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
H. Sedin49114152+133874
D. Sedin48213051+153684
A. Edler4972734+11630
R. Kesler44132033+123461
A. Burrows47181432+204835
C. Hodgson49131629+7452
C. Higgins44101626+61012
K. Bieksa4942226+65720
J. Hansen49131225+102400
D. Hamhuis4932023+123010
D. Booth298917-61711
S. Salo3961016+6843
M. Malhotra494913-71001
M. Raymond245712+41001
M. Lapierre49549-69100
A. Rome20347-23011
K. Ballard43167+15700
D. Weise49336-27400
A. Ebbett14415+1411
M. Samuelsson6123-1610
A. Alberts32112+42501
A. Volpatti23101-23700
A. Sulzer12011+6200
M. Duco3011+0000
M. Mancari6000+0000
M. Sturm6000-5200
C. Tanev4000+0000
B. Sweatt2000+0000
V. Oreskovich1000+0700
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
R. Luongo3420-10-4789462.39.918
C. Schneider1910-5-0395342.30.927