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Oilers, Avalanche try to get back on winning side

by Brian Hunter /
AVALANCHE (19-12-5) at OILERS (12-17-6)


Last 10:
Colorado 6-2-2; Edmonton 3-5-2

Season series: Second of six meetings between these Northwest Division rivals. The first matchup also took place in Edmonton, where the Oilers beat the Avalanche 3-2 on Nov. 25 on top draft pick Taylor Hall's goal with 29 seconds left in regulation. Gilbert Brule and Andrew Cogliano also scored. Colorado's tallies came from Kevin Shattenkirk and Matt Duchene.

Big story: The Avalanche finished off a five-game homestand in disappointing fashion with three straight losses and have fallen six points behind the Canucks for the lead in the Northwest. They finish off 2010 with a pair of games in western Canada, traveling after this one to face the Flames on New Year's Eve.

"We had some success the last time we were on the road," defenseman Matt Hunwick said. "It'll be good to get away. It's two in two nights, so we'll have to be ready, and it's against division opponents. With all those things coming together, we need to be prepared."

Team Scope:

Avalanche: Although the final result wasn't what Colorado had hoped for, a lot of good came from Monday night's 4-3 overtime loss to Detroit. It was a much better overall effort for the Avalanche after they were outscored by a combined 8-1 in previous defeats to the Kings and Wild. Duchene's power-play goal with 2:36 remaining forced the extra period and ensured they came away with a point. On the down side, all four scores by the Red Wings came when they had the extra man.

"I think 5-on-5 we played really well," Hunwick said. "It's pretty obvious that special teams is where we faltered, and that was the difference in the game. We had chances with our power play that we didn't capitalize on as well. We have to take the positives from it and move on."

Oilers: A young Edmonton squad continues to experience its ups and downs, as the Oilers carry a four-game losing streak into Thursday. In the opener of a five-game homestand, they got goals from Dustin Penner and Ryan Jones, but surrendered a pair to Mike Weber in a 4-2 defeat to the Sabres. Even bigger than losing the game may have been the ankle injury suffered by defenseman and leading scorer Ryan Whitney, who was to undergo an MRI on Wednesday.

"We're going to miss a lot of things out of him," fellow blueliner Tom Gilbert said. "He's a really patient guy, he slows the play down really well, and that first pass is great -- he's great on the power play."

Who's hot: Duchene had a pair of goals against the Red Wings and took the lead on the Avalanche with 15 this season. … Ales Hemsky picked right up where he left off after a long injury absence, recording an assist for the Oilers against the Sabres. He had 1 goal and 2 assists in the previous game he'd played, back on Dec. 1.

Injury report: Colorado defenseman Kyle Cumiskey is traveling with the team but not yet ready to return from a concussion. He remains on injured reserve along with defenseman Kyle Quincey, who's out for the season following shoulder surgery, and forwards Peter Mueller (concussion) and Chris Stewart (hand). Shattenkirk took a deflected puck to the face Monday and the blueliner is day-to-day, as is forward David Van Der Gulik (knee).

Whitney is day-to-day for Edmonton pending results of his MRI, while defenseman Jim Vandermeer (ankle) and forwards Brule (illness) and Shawn Horcoff (knee) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Special teams could play a huge factor in this one, as the Avalanche are 29th in the NHL at killing penalties (75.9 percent), while the Oilers are dead last (72.3 percent). Colorado's power play, however, has been much more potent at 23.2 percent, fourth in the League, while the Oilers rank 25th at 15.6 percent.

Puck drop:
Leaving the Mile High City behind until after the new year, the goal on this trip for the Avs will be keeping it simple.

"It's going to be good to get on the road, have all the guys together for a few days and bring the team back real tight," rookie forward Philippe Dupuis said. "Sometimes at home you try to do too much. We want to put on a good show for the crowd, but we have to play our system and have to play our game. That's the bottom line."

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