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Reeling Oilers start homestand by hosting Canucks

by John Kreiser

CANUCKS (28-18-2) at OILERS (16-27-5)

Last 10 -- Vancouver 6-2-2; Edmonton 1-8-1

Season series -- It's the fifth of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals, but Vancouver is coming to Rexall Place for the first time since Oct. 19. The Oilers' 2-1 win that night was Edmonton's lone victory against the Canucks this season; Vancouver won 2-0, 7-3 and 4-1 at GM Place.

Big story -- Talk about two teams coming off completely opposite performances. The Canucks had three days to savor one of their best showings of the season, a 6-2 home win over the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They're solidly ensconced in the top eight in the Western Conference. The Oilers continue to fade -- they were destroyed by the Colorado Avalanche, losing 6-0 in Denver on Monday. Edmonton has settled into last place in the West and is ahead of only the Carolina Hurricanes in the overall standings. The Oil has lost eight in a row since beating Toronto 3-1 on Dec. 30. and is 1-14-1 in its last 16.

Team Scope

Canucks -- The Canucks are about to start running into the good kind of roster problem -- too many healthy bodies and not enough space. Forward Pavol Demitra made his season debut on Saturday, center Ryan Johnson (foot) could be back tonight, and Steve Bernier (groin) should be back soon. Both made the trip to Edmonton. Depending on coach Alain Vigneault's preference, any of Jannik Hansen, Rick Rypien, Tanner Glass, Darcy Hordichuk and Kyle Wellwood could find themselves as healthy scratches on a given night.

The upside of the Canucks' numbers game is that it creates internal competition, which is always a bonus -- as forward Mikael Samuelsson told the VancouverProvince.

"That's what it's about," Samuelsson said. "Guys are going to feel a little pressure and it's great, I think. You get pissed off if you're not in the lineup and that's how it should be."

Oilers -- After a dreadful performance in Monday's 6-0 loss at Colorado, it was time for a "bag skate" at Tuesday's practice -- the worst one in recent memory.

"Call it what you want, but we had to purge a tough performance in Colorado by doing something that maybe pushed the envelope from a fitness perspective and just cleaned the pipes," associate coach Tom Renney said after the practice.
But coach Pat Quinn denied that the tactic was punishment for the poor showing in Denver.

"That's not what you try to accomplish," he told the media. "The message needs to be that, first of all, it's not acceptable what happened last night from us as a team, and that includes coaches. And that's a message that you give verbally anyway. I don't know that slapping them on the wrist or giving them the strap, like they used to when I was a kid at school, does anything for you."

Who's hot -- Vancouver's Henrik Sedin has taken over the NHL scoring lead with 9 points in his last five games, including a goal and a pair of assists against Pittsburgh. Linemate Alex Burrows has 11 goals in his last seven games after scoring on a shorthanded breakaway against the Penguins. … Oilers forward Patrick O'Sullivan has 4 points in his last four games.

Injury report -- Defenseman Willie Mitchell (upper body) was the only player missing from Vancouver's practice on Tuesday. Another defenseman, Kevin Bieksa, met with the media for the first time since undergoing surgery on a lacerated leg. He has missed eight games and hasn't been cleared to skate. … Injuries haven't helped the Oilers, who've lost forward Ales Hemsky for the season with a shoulder problem and Nikolai Khabibulin for the foreseeable future with a back injury that needs surgery. Center Mike Comrie has missed two months with mononucleosis. Forward Gilbert Brule has missed three games and Ryan Stone sat out Monday night due to illness, while defenseman Steve Staios didn't play Monday due to a concussion.

Stat pack
-- Vancouver's Daniel Sedin passed the 500-point mark with a pair of assists against Pittsburgh. … Among the Oilers' numerous problems is an inability to win faceoffs. They are 28th in the 30-team NHL at 47.1 percent.

Puck drop -- With his team 20 points out of the last playoff spot, Quinn realizes that making the playoffs is all but impossible. But he doesn't want to see any more performances like the one he watched in Denver.

"We might not win a game the rest of the year," he said prior to the start of his team's four-game homestand. "I don't know that, but we can't expect to be proud of who we are and our jobs and that sort of thing. You can lose and still take some pride in your work, but not that way. That's not acceptable."

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