Thursday, December 15, 2011

Game Day: Oilers vs Coyotes **UPDATE**

Edmonton (14-13-3) vs Phoenix (15-12-3)

Time:     7:30pm
Where: Arena
Watch:   Sportsnet

Listen:    630 CHED

Projected Line Combinations 

Eberle - Nugent-Hopkins - Gagner
Hemsky - Horcoff - Hall
Jones - Belanger - Smyth
Eager - Lander -Paajarvi

With Taylor Hall returning to the lineup, the top nine will have a new look. Ales Hemsky has been at his best and most consistent, when he has played with Hall. Hopefully, reuniting him with the second year Oiler will give the veteran wingers game a shot of energy which is something that has been lacking for much of the season.

By placing Hall on Shawn Horcoff's line, that means Ryan Smyth will be bumped down to the third line alongside Eric Belanger and Ryan Jones. Outside of the trio not being overly physical, they have the makings of what could be a very effective third line. Belanger has played his best five-on-five hockey when Jones has been on his line and adding Smyth into the mix, could make the former Coyote centre that much better. Like Jones, Smyth keeps his game very simple, which will simplify things for that line and allow them to focus on cycling the puck down low and making life unpleasant for the opposition. Belanger has put far too much pressure on himself to produce and it has hindered his effectiveness out on the ice.

Edmonton has had four days off which has given them the opportunity to allow their "go to guys" some time to recover and re-energize themselves. As good as Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle have been, look for them to be even better after getting some time to recoup from what has been a very hectic stretch for the Oilers. The addition of Hall will make it much more difficult for teams to place all their focus on Nugent-Hopkins line. Having a second line that can consistently create chances should keep RNH from having to contend with the oppositions "shutdown lines" on every shift.

The power play has been one of the clubs biggest weapons this season but ever since Hall was sidelined, it has been erratic at best. Some nights they look like world beaters while on others they look like one of the worst units in the league. Adding the sophomore back onto the top unit will make a huge impact and create a much more well rounded second unit.

Defence Pairings 

Gilbert - Smid
Whitney - Petry  

Potter - Peckham

Defenceman Corey Potter passed all of coach Tom Renney's tests and appears ready to go against Phoenix. Potter has missed the last twelve games with an ankle injury and the club has gone 5-5-2 with him out of the sideline. The big defenceman had been one of Edmonton's best blueliners before being knocked out of the lineup and the team sorely missed his puck moving abilities. Much like Taylor Hall, adding Potter back into the mix on the Oilers power play should bare instant results. The 27 year-old has easily been the teams best option on the man advantage and one would think, he will be inserted back on to the top power play unit.

It looks like they partner Potter up with Theo Peckham to start but do not be surprised to see him with Ryan Whitney, in the not to distant future. While Whitney continues to try and find his form, having him play with a veteran instead of a youngster like Jeff Petry, should allow him to simplify things on the ice. It will also allow the coaching staff to shelter both Peckham and Petry from having to play too many minutes and in some cases, situations they are not suited for.


Looks like Devan Dubnyk will be getting the call for the second straight game. No word on what the issue with Khabibulin is but unless there is a last minute change, Dubnyk will be in between the pipes against the Coyotes.

Nikolai Khabibulin 

Much had been made of Khabibulin not practicing with the club on either Monday or Tuesday but he was back in the fold on Wednesday. The club had said they were nothing more then "maintenance days" for their star netminder but everyone was fearing the worst. I don't doubt for a minute that Khabby is a little tired and possibly  has some small nagging him but it's obviously nothing serious. 

When you actually sit and look at the Oiler schedule the past ten days, you realize that Khabibulin has started only one game in the last eleven days. He had five days off between his last two starts and has been given another five off before tonight's game. This coaching staff has been questioned all season about playing the Russian shot stopper "too much" because of his injury history. That being said, they should be given full credit for recognizing the opportunity and allowing their number one guy time to rest up and re-focus, for a very important stretch of upcoming games. They have seven games remaining this month and do not play back-to-back games until early January. This is their chance to make up some ground and having a well rested Khabibulin, will go a long way in helping them achieve that.

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