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At the Rink: Oilers at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Benoit Pouliot will return to the Edmonton Oilers' lineup Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center after missing eight games with a hip injury.

Pouliot, who was injured Nov. 30 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, will replace Jujhar Khaira at left wing on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

"We want to see Bennie get back in and have an impact on the lineup," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "He's a veteran player that understands injuries, rehab and that type of stuff. He's played in this building before and I feel comfortable with those veterans going back into that situation. If he can come and contribute with his forecheck and his size and his ability to get pucks to the net, I think he can help [Nugent-Hopkins] and Jordan."

Pouliot took part in a full team practice for the first time Friday and was on the ice again at the morning skate Saturday.

"I feel good," he said. "I felt good yesterday and today I felt great."

Pouliot is tied with injured Connor McDavid for fifth on the Oilers in scoring with five goals and seven assists in 24 games, and he's looking forward to playing a top six role.

"It's nice," he said. "These guys have been playing very good hockey and I'm going to jump in there and try to help them keep it going. I think they'll be there for me, too. It's going to be fun. I like playing with those guys."

The Oilers (14-17-2) have lost two games in a row following a six-game winning streak. They've gone 1-2-0 in the first three games of a road trip that ends Saturday and will face a hot Avalanche goalie in Semyon Varlamov, who has allowed five goals in a five-game winning streak.

"Their team has played well and he's been a big part of it," McLellan said. "They haven't given up much 5-on-5 to any team over the last few games. We've looked at a lot of the goals that have gone in against him and they've been in tight and around the net, secondary chances. We've got to preach that, get our guys there.

"It goes back to the first shot; you don't get a rebound or secondary chances if the first one isn't laying in that area. So we have to do a better job of getting the first one there to muck around on the second shot."

The Avalanche (16-16-1) have won a season-high four games in a row to climb back into the Stanley Cup Playoff picture in the Western Conference.

"It seems like we have a lot of good starts and we want to continue that," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "But we don't focus too much on that. We just make sure to play a solid game and the way Varly's been playing, taking the lead is a good plus for our team. He's been solid and we just want to focus on playing our game even if we give up a goal. We want to make sure that we maintain that energy and that intensity level."

Here are the projected lineups:


Taylor Hall - Leon Draisaitl - Teddy Purcell

Benoit Pouliot - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle

Matt Hendricks - Mark Letestu - Lauri Korpikoski

Luke Gazdic - Anton Lander - Iiro Pakarinen

Darnell Nurse - Andrej Sekera

Nikita Nikitin - Justin Schultz

Brandon Davidson - Eric Gryba

Anders Nilsson

Cam Talbot

Injured: Oscar Klefbom (undisclosed), Rob Klinkhammer (foot), Connor McDavid (fractured clavicle), Nail Yakupov (ankle)

Scratched: Andrew Ference, Jujhar Khaira


Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Matt Duchene

Andreas Martinsen - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod - Mikhail Grigorenko - Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin - Erik Johnson

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Zach Redmond - Nate Guenin

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Injured: Ben Street (chest), Brad Stuart (back), Jesse Winchester (head)

Scratched: Brandon Gormley, Chris Wagner

Status report: McDavid will miss his 21st game since being injured Nov. 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers. He has resumed skating but no date has been set for his return.

Who's hot: Hall has six goals and four assists in the past seven games ... Eberle has five goals and three assists in seven games ... Nugent-Hopkins has two goals and four assists in six games ... Beauchemin has two goals and one assist in a two-game scoring streak ... Comeau has an assist in each of the past two games.

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