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DENVER - The Northwest Division-leading Edmonton Oilers wrap up a three-game road trip Saturday afternoon against the Colorado Avalanche.
In what would otherwise have been a late departure pushing the boundaries of Norman Y. Mineta International Airport's noise-based curfew (planes can't fly over San Jose between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.), the Oilers opted to spend another night in the Silicon Valley and travel to Denver Friday morning instead.
It was also part of Head Coach Ralph Krueger's master plan. Back on the ground and in preparation for Saturday's tilt, the club held an hour-long practice at the University of Denver.
"It's a season of rest and regeneration at the right time," Krueger said. "For us to have this opportunity to get a really good sleep last night is a good thing. Most players said they were able to put eight hours in, which is something we wouldn't have had otherwise."
Lennart Petrell was absent, but Krueger said it was simply a maintenance day to help heal some minor bumps and bruises. The 28-year-old winger should be good to go for tomorrow's game.
After missing Thursday's game in San Jose, Shawn Horcoff (strained neck) was back on the ice and could be ready to play.
"He went through the protocol and was given the green light to skate," Krueger said. "That's a positive sign for tomorrow."
In other lineup news, it appears (at least for the time-being, anyway) the in-and-out rotation on defence has come to an end. Edmonton-born veteran Mark Fistric will play a second straight game tomorrow when he lines up alongside Ryan Whitney. Corey Potter will continue to be a healthy scratch.
It also appears at this point that Devan Dubnyk will get the start in goal. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound netminder made 36 saves Thursday and now boasts a 2.60 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
"We like the heaviness (Fistric) brings," Krueger said. "You can see against the biggest players in the NHL, he has no problem handling them. More often than not, they end up on the ice and not Mark. He brings a presence and a uniqueness in his role that others don't have, so that's what we're all about -- specialists. We'll make that decision tomorrow, but we like what Mark brings on and off the ice."
Fistric, 26, picked up his first point as an Oiler Thursday with an assist on Sam Gagner's goal.
Unassisted goals by Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski 39 seconds apart put the Oilers in a deep 2-0 hole against the League's best team Thursday. But, like they did on opening night against the Vancouver Canucks, the Oilers battled back and made a game of it.
Gagner extended his point streak to seven games with a goal late in the second period. Then, only 51 seconds into the third, Taylor Hall -- who's also assembled a seven-game point streak (a career-high, collecting nine points in the process) -- brought the Oilers back on even terms. The end result wasn't what the club wanted, losing 3-2 in a shootout, but the point gained was a valuable one. As a result of it, the Oilers vaulted past the Minnesota Wild and into the division lead with nine points (4-2-1 record).
Hall leads the Oilers with two goals and nine points in seven games. Gagner is next with three goals and eight points in the same span, and Jordan Eberle sits third with three goals and a point-per-game pace.
"I liked our compete level," said Eberle, who assisted on the tic-tac-toe game-tying goal. "We came back against them and it was great. The characteristic of our team this year is we've been able to come from behind, but at the same time, we have to play with the lead. We have a tough team coming up."
The Oilers and Avalanche have already played once this season -- earlier this week, Jan. 28 at Rexall Place when the home side emerged with a 4-1 victory. And on the same night the Oilers were toiling with the Sharks in in NoCal, the Avalanche were off thumping the Calgary Flames 6-3 at the Saddledome.
They're riding (mile) high.
"They played really strong in Calgary," said Krueger, who's already dissected the video. "We respect them for what they did in the last period against us, outshooting us 24-6 in the third period after we had the 3-0 lead. They also out-chanced us 15-5. We have a lot of respect for what they can do when they're on, when they're playing well and when we allow it. A good start will be critical with the early start (1:00pm MT). The team that gets it will have a head start for the whole game, so we want to get that.
"We also want to continue to put our identity out there so our opponent is feeling the Oiler hockey we want to play. They need to feel the pace and the speed, and it's up to us to create that."
The Oilers put together a 3-3-1 record in seven afternoon games last season.
BACK AT THE U. OF DENVER
Former University of Wisconsin Badger Justin Schultz was back on campus Friday. The 22-year-old had played at DU's Magness Arena several times, including last year's Western Collegiate Hockey Association post-season -- conveniently at a time when the Oilers were in town, meaning your columnist got a chance to go out and watch Schultz play.
The Badgers won 1-0 that night (Mar. 9, 2012) but lost the next two, dropping the Best-of-3 playoff series to the heavily favoured DU Pioneers.
"It's nice to be back. It brings back some good memories, for sure," said Schultz who, along with his teammates, watched DU's women's basketball team practice before hitting the ice. "College days were some of my favourite years and I played at this rink a couple times, so it was nice to come back.
"All of our games (at the Magness Arena) were close and the fans are right into it. We went to the third game of a Best of 3, so it was intense and a good series."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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