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GAME DAY: at Edmonton

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

  Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Edmonton Oilers
RECORDS - CBJ: 7-15-3 (Road: 2-8-2), EDM: 12-10-3 (Home: 7-3-2)
WHEN: Dec. 2, 2011 - 9:30 p.m.   |   WHERE: Rexall Place
FOX Sports Ohio (HD)  |  LISTEN: 97.1 The Fan &


Oilers GM Steve Tambellini has had the bittersweet feeling of picking first overall in the NHL Entry Draft in each of the past two seasons. Though when he looks at what winning the draft lottery has done for teams like the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s hard not to smile at the future of his club and the potential that lies ahead.

Edmonton boasts one of the league’s intriguing up-and-coming rosters, featuring a nice blend of high-end skill and veteran presence. The Oilers have surprised many around the NHL with their fast start, opening 12-10-3 (six points out of their division lead) and at one point last month, they were the top team in the Western Conference. A comeback-player-of-the-year effort from goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has certainly steered the young Oilers in the right direction, as the 38-year-old has posted a 9-5-3 record, 1.88 goals-against average (top-five in the league) and .935 save percentage. His play has allowed head coach Tom Renney to ease the workload of Devan Dubnyk, who they consider to be their goaltender of the future.

This is a well-rounded team that plays a mature game, but their firepower starts up front. Even without former No. 1 pick Taylor Hall currently out of the lineup, the Oilers are led in scoring by 18-year-old rookie (and 2011 first overall pick) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has 27 points in the first 25 games of his career. Right behind him is second-year winger Jordan Eberle, who already has a handful of highlight-reel goals to his credit and has 26 points on the year. Former Oilers captain Ryan Smyth returned to Edmonton this summer in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, and the gritty forward leads the team in goals with 12. The newfound depth at forward has pushed the always-dangerous Ales Hemsky to the second line.

Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger are two-way centers that give Renney consistency in the middle, and also flexibility in slotting the young wingers. Miami (Ohio) product Ryan Jones looks to have found a home in Edmonton after bouncing from Minnesota then to Nashville via waivers two years ago. Jones extended his contract with the Oilers over the summer and has six goals so far this season.

The Oiler defense is anchored by Ryan Whitney, who recently returned after a bout with injury. He’s joined on the blue line by Theo Peckham, Tom Gilbert, former Michigan State Spartan Jeff Petry and shot-blocking machine Ladislav Smid.

Nash (8) Smyth (12)
Prospal (14) Eberle (17)
Prospal (20) Nugent-Hopkins (27)
Dorsett (64) Peckham (50)
MacKenzie (+4) Peckham (+6)
Sanford (4-2-2)
Khabibulin (9-5-3)
Sanford (1.76) Khabibulin (1.88)
Sanford (.937) Khabibulin (.935)
• After opening the season 2-12-1 the first 15 games overall, the Blue Jackets are now 5-3-2 in their last 10 games, including last night’s come from behind 4-3 shootout win at Calgary.

Nikita Nikitin snapped a 40-game goalless skid with his first of the season last night at Calgary. He had last scored Feb. 6 at Tampa Bay (with St. Louis). He also had two assists on the night to give him assists in seven of 10 games since being acquired by from the Blues in exchange for Kris Russell on Nov. 11. The three-point game was the first of his NHL career.

James Wisniewski has points in eight of his last 16 games, including two assists Nov. 25 vs. Buffalo and an assist last night at Calgary. He has played 25-plus minutes in all but two games this season and ranks second in the NHL in time on ice average (26:59).

Derek MacKenzie picked up his first assist in 21 games with a helper last night at Calgary. He last had an assist Oct. 10 vs.Vancouver. He was +1 on the night and has been plus or even in 23 of 25 games this season.

• Nugent-Hopkins is first in scoring for NHL rookies with 27 points, and he is also first in goals, assists, PPG and shooting percentage. He is also T-2nd in the NHL in PP points (12) as only Daniel Sedin and Brian Campbell have more (13). The 18-year-old Burnaby, BC native has 11 points in his last 6 games.


LW  -  #94
  12 Goals
  12 Assists
  24 Points

• Ever since Smyth left Edmonton in a much-publicized trade to the New York Islanders in 2008, it was no secret he wanted to make a return to the Oilers. After signing a big free-agent contract with Colorado, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings then back home to Edmonton this past offseason.

• There’s nothing flashy about Smyth’s game, but he gets the job done around the net. He goes to the “dirty areas” as coaches talk about, and isn’t shy about sacrificing his body to block a shot or score a goal.

LW Kristian Huselius (upper body); indefinitely
D Radek Martinek (concussion); indefinitely

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