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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Oilers

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Although most in Carolina seem to agree that the 2006 Stanley Cup Final match-up with the Edmonton Oilers is a thing of the past, certain similarities still exist between the two distant franchises.

Paul Branecky
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Most notably, it’s the meeting of two of the top prospects in this past June’s NHL Entry Draft – Edmonton’s Taylor Hall (1st overall) and Carolina’s Jeff Skinner (7th overall). They are two of just five players from the class of 2010 who stuck with the team that selected them in Los Angeles.

Skinner currently leads the league’s rookie scoring race with 12 points, while Hall is tied for sixth place with 6. Despite their status as 18-year-olds, each already plays a significant role on their team with average ice times just four seconds apart (16:44 for Skinner, 16:40 for Hall). 

Skinner has been the more consistent of the two, as Hall as recently started to come on with 5 points over his last 5 games after starting with just 1 in his first 7. He’s also stabilized his plus/minus rating of late, but still sports a team-low -4.

Even though Skinner may currently lead the scoring battle, he said that wouldn’t enter his mind during the game tonight.

“I’m just going to go and do what I can to help the team,” he said. “Maybe later you can go and look back, but you during the game you can’t.”

Along with Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, Hall is one of three rookie skaters currently on the Edmonton roster. The trio represents the Oilers’ most recent first-round draft choices, beginning with Eberle (22nd overall, 2008) and Paajarvi (10th overall, 2009) and continuing with Hall in 2010.

Eberle, the eldest of the three at 20, is off to the fastest start to the tune of 8 points in 12 games, which ranks fourth on the team. Paajarvi is tied with Hall at 6 points

“They, like our team, rely on their goaltender to do some good things for them, but they have some offense and some exciting players up front,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “Similar teams, in a lot of ways.”

Carolina gets some good news on the injury front, as defenseman Joni Pitkanen will play after missing the last two games, and most of a third, with an upper-body injury. Brett Carson will be reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers to make room.

The Oilers might not be so lucky. Team captain Shawn Horcoff left Sunday’s 2-1 win at Chicago with a lower-body contusion and is questionable for tonight. Buzz among the Edmonton media at the morning skate suggested that Horcoff would not play, although the Oilers have yet to make a transaction that would serve to confirm it.

If another forward is needed from Oklahoma City of the AHL, 23-year-old Linus Omark could end up making his NHL debut, according to the Edmonton Journal.  The YouTube legend netted an astounding 5 goals in regulation and one more in the shootout on Sunday.

Edmonton’s win in Chicago was just their second over the last 10 games, as the Oilers currently find themselves in Western Conference cellar. That doesn’t seem to be the fault of 37-year-old goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who by all accounts has performed better than his 3.10 goals-against average and .905 save percentage might suggest. He has played in all but one game for the Oilers thus far, and should play again tonight.

Regardless of what the Oilers do, Maurice said he was looking for his team to establish some consistency now that they’ve passed their schedule challenges and will play consecutive home games for the first time all season tonight.

“We’re playing an opponent we don’t really know, and we’ve had three different games in our last three with big offensive games for and against and then a pretty good grinding game in the third,” he said. “We’re at that process of our season in trying to establish a certain game and play a certain style of hockey every night.”

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