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AT THE MORNING SKATE
EDMONTON - "I've never been a healthy scratch. Never."
Veteran defenceman Ryan Whitney's streak will come to an end tonight as the Oilers take on the Vancouver Canucks at Rexall Place. Corey Potter will take his place and will be paired with Mark Fistric.
"(Head Coach) Ralph (Krueger) told me I'm not playing good enough," said the visibly disappointed 29-year-old defenceman. "I'm not happy with the decision but I respect it. He's the coach. I guess I have to play at a higher level.
"I can. I need to go out and do it."
Whitney has struggled mightily this season. The Boston, MA product no longer wears an ‘A' as an alternate captain, has seen his ice time scaled back and has posted a team-worst -5 rating in eight games.
"I'm sure there's some video that they can show me," Whitney said. "It's really frustrating, but I respect the decision. I'll work hard. I'll play better. I want to get back in (the lineup) as soon as possible."
"Ryan has some things to work on," Krueger added. "We've made some systematic changes, some principle changes in the way we want to play with the pressure of the puck, and there are things to work on. It's an opportunity for him to step back, work with the coaches to come back even stronger.
"It's not a popular decision (with Whitney). It's more about getting the message across and giving him an opportunity to answer."
In other lineup news, captain Shawn Horcoff will be back in tonight after missing the previous two games with a strained neck. He'll slot back into his regular post on the third line with Ryan Smyth and Lennart Petrell.
"It's frustrating when you have to sit back and watch," Horcoff said. "It's even more frustrating when I thought I'd be good to go for Colorado, but in the morning the doctors thought it would be best for me to sit one more game.
"I'm ready to go. There are no excuses for me tonight. I'm 100 percent."
THE NORDIC LINE
Oilers winger Magnus Paajarvi was sent down to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons last Thursday. In his quick stay, the smooth-skating Swede played one game with OKC and was recalled to Edmonton on Sunday.
"It's nothing new for me. I'm happy to be back up," he laughed.
"It's nice to be back together again," said Lander, who has recorded three goals and 10 points with the Barons this season. "We played a lot together this year in Oklahoma and now we have a chance to bring that chemistry here to Edmonton. We have to be strong on the cycle and create scoring chances that way.
"It's been a lot of fun to play for the Oilers again. It had been such a long time. I've had a couple good games, but right now it's all about the team's success. We need to bounce back tonight, cycle the puck deep and get it on net.
"Against a team like this, you can't get too caught up in making the pretty play. We need to be focused on getting pucks on net and keeping it simple. We'll do our best."
Particularly in the absence of Horcoff, Lander has been counted upon to be a strong defensive presence. So far he's averaged over 10 minutes per game and, on Saturday in Colorado, posted a 57.1-percent success rate in the faceoff circle.
That remains critical, as the club's premiere faceoff man, Eric Belanger, has been put on the IR. (Belanger won't return to action for at least a week as the Oilers wait for the swelling to go down on what Krueger described as an "open wound" after blocking a shot in Colorado.)
"We saw (that line) for almost 30 games in the American League," Krueger said. "We're expecting not only solid defence, but also a line that can create something. We'd like to see some scoring chances and we believe it has the potential to do that. With Eric down, this is an opportunity for those players to step up. They've been working so hard in Oklahoma City to show they can."
BATTLE FOR TOP SPOT
The Oilers come into tonight's game with a 4-3-1 record (nine points), one point behind the Northwest Division-leading Canucks (4-2-2).
"This is a good opportunity for us to come back and have a quick start," Krueger said. "We want to be consistent here at home and play well in our own building. We want to establish our identity here right through the game. It's going to be extremely important to play great team defence. As well as (Devan) Dubnyk has been playing, we need to play well as a group.
"Above all, we need to push the pace right through this game. With all the things I spoke about, let's keep this game going at high speed all the way through."
Dubnyk will make his ninth start of the season tonight. The 26-year-old was sensational over the span of the Oilers' three-game road trip last week and has now posted a 2.53 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Roberto Luongo will get the nod for the Canucks.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
CANUCKS (4-2-2) at OILERS (4-3-1)
TV: RDS2, SNET-P, SNET-W
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers won their only previous meeting with the Vancouver Canucks, a 3-2 shootout win at Rogers Arena on the second night of the 2012-13 season.
Big story: Has Roberto Luongo officially won back his job? It's starting to look like it, and with a win Monday night, not only could Luongo continue to distance himself from fellow goaltender Cory Schneider, but he could distance the first-place Canucks from the second-place Oilers.
Canucks: These days it's impossible to talk about the Canucks without talking about the apparent reclamation of the man in net. Before this season many assumed Luongo's time in Vancouver was at an end, with Schneider expected to assume No. 1 status and Luongo expected to leave the organization once GM Mike Gillis found a trade offer of reasonable valuable. But after a shaky start to the season by Schneider, Luongo has gotten the call for the last three three games and the numbers from that stretch speak for themselves: a 2-0-1 record, three total goals against, 77 saves on 80 shots against, one shutout and one shootout win over the previously undefeated Chicago Blackhawks Friday night.
Luongo isn't the only one reaping the benefits of his second chance. Vancouver has overcome two losses to start the season to return to the location the Canucks are most familiar with: first place. Still, despite the good feelings in British Columbia, the season is still young. Vancouver has played eight games and has 40 left to play. The top four teams in the Northwest Division are separated by a grand total of two points meaning the Canucks are about as far from safe as safe can be, but if Luongo continues to play like the Luongo of old, it's certainly a start.
Oilers: The young Oilers grabbed a lot of attention in the season's first two weeks after winning four of their first five gaems, but a 2-1 overtime win in Phoenix last Wednesday Edmonton has started to slump. The Oilers fell to the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night to give them consecutive losses for the first time this season a trend that could get worse with the suddenly hot Canucks coming into Rexall Place.
Edmonton might want to be wary that its early-season success was something of a mirage. Three of the Oilers' four wins came in either a shootout or overtime and the team, for all its offensive firepower, has scored more than three goals just once in its first eight games. Regardless, the Oilers sit just one point out of first place, meaning that despite any struggles they may have had to this point, they are poised to take over first place with a win Monday night.
Who's hot: Luongo isn't the only Canuck doing his part on the back end. Defenseman Alex Edler has a goal and three assists in his last five games. ... The learning curve hasn't been too steep for Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov, who has three goals and an assists in his last four games.
Injury report: Shawn Horcoff (strained neck) is questionable for the Oilers. The Canucks are still playing without David Booth (strained groin), who is expected to miss another 2-4 weeks. Vancouver is also still without Ryan Kesler, who is on IR following surgery on his wrist and shoulder.