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Penguins visit Oilers for first time since 2011

by Tal Pinchevsky

PENGUINS (32-12-1) at OILERS (14-27-5)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 8-2-0; Edmonton 3-5-2

Season series: This is the second and final game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers. Pittsburgh beat Edmonton 3-2 on Oct. 15 at Consol Energy Center, with Sidney Crosby assisting on all three Penguins' goals. Pittsburgh dropped its last game in Edmonton 2-1 on Oct. 9, 2011, as Ales Hemsky scored in the second round of the shootout to give the Oilers the win.

Big story: These teams enter this game heading in very different directions. Despite a slew of injuries, the Penguins have won 12 of their past 14 games. The Oilers have managed to avoid injuries to any of their top players but have lost 11 of their past 14.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Pascal Dupuis' recent knee injury notwithstanding, Pittsburgh appears to be getting healthy. In the past two weeks, the Penguins have seen the return of center Evgeni Malkin and defensemen Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik from injuries. Having those players back has done wonders for Pittsburgh's offense, which has scored 15 goals in the past three games. The defense is another story.

After allowing five goals in a 6-5 home win against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, Pittsburgh came into Rogers Arena on Tuesday night and had trouble stopping the Vancouver Canucks. The Penguins jumped to a 2-0 lead before allowing four unanswered goals. But Letang and Sidney Crosby scored in the final 71 seconds of regulation before Crosby scored the lone goal in the shootout to give the Penguins a 5-4 win.

"They did it to us, so it was nice we did it back," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "When your team does something like that, you just want to help out, and I got my chance in the shootout."

Backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff was the first player out for practice Thursday, which could mean he'll start against the Oilers.

Oilers: Three wins in four games at the end of December gave a glimmer of hope to Edmonton. But the Oilers have gone 1-3-2 since then, including a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

Coach Dallas Eakins did some experimenting at practice on Thursday, moving center Sam Gagner to the wing on a line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Eakins told the media after practice that the move is intended to "jumpstart" Gagner, who has 17 points in 33 games. Gagner said he already feels like it’s working.

“I feel jumpstarted. I feel like I’m playing well," he said. "I just want to keep going. I think when you’re playing with Nuge and Hallsy, they’re great players and I’m just excited to get a chance to play with them so I could have a good night tomorrow.”

Defenseman Brad Hunt was assigned to Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League on Thursday, potentially opening the door for Corey Potter to return from injury.

Who's hot: Crosby has 11 points during a six-game point streak. Malkin has four points in two games since returning from injury. … Edmonton's Nail Yakupov has three goals in his past four games and Gagner has three assists in his past two games.

Injury report: Pittsburgh is without goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) and forwards Beau Bennett (wrist), Chuck Kobasew (lower body), Chris Connor (hand), Dupuis (knee), Jayson Megna (lower body), Andrew Ebbett (ankle) and Paul Martin (broken bone). … Edmonton has been without defensemen Philip Larsen (illness) and Potter (groin).

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