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At the Rink: Predators at Oilers

by Derek Van Diest / NHL.com

EDMONTON -- Nashville Predators center Matt Cullen will make his season debut Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.

Cullen missed the first eight games of the season with an upper-body injury. He will play left wing on a line with center Derek Roy and right wing Craig Smith.

"It's nice to be back in the lineup; it's never fun being hurt, especially coming out of the gate," Cullen said. "It's always fun to be a part of everything right from the drop of the puck at the beginning of the season. But it is what it is, and I'm happy to be healthy again and hopefully I can help with that scoring depth."

Cullen, 37, is in his second season with the Predators, signed as a free agent in July 2013. He scored 10 goals and 29 assists last season.

"I think Matt brings a little bit of everything," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's a guy that can play up in the lineup a little bit, he's also a smart defensive player. He brings a lot of experience. I think adding him to the lineup adds some speed and some offense.

"We'll put him on a line with Roy and Smith and we'll see how that line does. We're looking to get a little more production out of the middle group of our forwards, and I think Matt can help that."

The Predators (5-1-2) lost their first game in regulation Saturday, 3-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With a number of new players in the lineup this season, Nashville leads the Central Division standings.

"They've come to work every day from the start of training camp, they've been a good group to work with, they've worked hard," Laviolette said. "Even after a tough loss to Pittsburgh where we didn't play the way we wanted to, they showed up the next day and worked hard again. They're a good group of guys, which helps. They seem to get along well in the room and they work hard on the ice. I think that helps bring things together."

The Oilers (4-4-1) won all three games against the Predators last season and are on a four-game winning streak for the first time since winning five straight March 26-April 3, 2013.

All four wins this season have come against Eastern Conference opponents. They are winless against teams from the Western Conference.

"I think for sure the Eastern Conference teams play a style that helps us a little bit more," Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle said. "They play a skilled game that maybe we match up a little better against. But we have to find a way to beat the Western Conference teams if we want to make the playoffs, because this is our division. Obviously these guys [Predators] are not in our division, but it starts with them and then moving on to Vancouver [Canucks] who have already beaten us twice."

Goaltender Ben Scrivens will make his sixth consecutive start for the Oilers. Goalie Pekka Rinne will start for Nashville.

Here are the projected lineups:

PREDATORS

Filip ForsbergMike RibeiroJames Neal

Matt CullenDerek RoyCraig Smith

Gabriel BourquePaul GaustadEric Nystrom

Olli JokinenPaul GaustadTaylor Beck

Roman JosiShea Weber

Anton VolchenkovSeth Jones

Mattias EkholmRyan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Calle Jarnkrok, Victor Bartley

Injured: Mike Fisher (Achilles tendon)

OILERS

Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle

David Perron - Leon DraisaitlTeddy Purcell

Benoit Pouliot - Mark Arcobello - Nail Yakupov

Matt Hendricks - Boyd Gordon - Jesse Joensuu

Andrew Ference - Jeff Petry

Martin MarincinMark Fayne

Brad HuntJustin Schultz

Ben Scrivens

Richard Bachman

Scratched: Will Acton

Injured: Viktor Fasth (groin), Luke Gazdic (shoulder), Nikita Nikitin (back).

Status report: With Cullen activated by Nashville, left wings Rich Clune and Viktor Stalberg were assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. … Gazdic and Fasth will be evaluated by Oilers team doctors Wednesday night and could be activated Thursday.

Who's hot: Forsberg has a goal and six assists in eight games for the Predators. … Neal has five goals. Hall leads the Oilers with five goals and three assists this season.

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