The big surprise coming out of the Edmonton Oilers' morning skate is that forward Ryan Smyth will be a healthy scratch for Tuesday's game against the Dallas Stars.
Smyth, second all-time on the Oilers' list of games played (864) and fifth in goals (285), has two points in 12 games, and has 22 penalty minutes in his past four, including three minor penalties Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. His ice time also has gone down; he's played fewer than 15 minutes in three of the past four, including 11:25 on Sunday.
The 36-year-old, who has spent 14 of his 18 NHL seasons with the Oilers, chose not to talk to reporters after the team's morning skate.
Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said sitting Smyth out was an "extremely difficult" decision, but one he feels is best for the team ahead of Tuesday's game.
"The decisions I need to make, that are my responsibility, are the ones I believe are best for the team on a given day," he said. "Whether people are going to like it or not, or whether I'm popular or not is not the driving force."
Krueger said he and Smyth had met to discuss the lineup. Smyth refused to speak with the media, but Krueger said the conversation was a very honest one, both ways.
"Circumstances are changing or have changed with the role or place that he's in," Krueger said. "I thought we had an honest, open conversation with everything on the table. I don't expect players to be happy with the decision. I want to tell them, I want to hear what they're saying. I was honest with him, he was honest with me, and we'll move forward with this situation."
Krueger said he expected a positive response from Smyth.
"He's a winner," Krueger said. "He's a champion from his character and I always have found in my experience that the character comes out in difficult situations. … We're expecting a very gritty and aggressive reaction which brings out the best in Ryan Smyth on the ice."
In Smyth's absence, Chris VandeVelde, who was recalled from Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League, will play his second game of the season.
Here are the lineups the Oilers and Stars likely will use when they meet Tuesday at Rexall Place:
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Nail Yakupov - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
Magnus Paajarvi - Eric Belanger - Teemu Hartikainen
Ben Eager - Chris VandeVelde - Lennart Petrell
Nick Schultz - Justin Schultz
Ladislav Smid - Corey Potter
Mark Fistric - Jeff Petry
Scratched: Ryan Whitney, Ryan Smyth
Injured: Ryan Jones, Shawn Horcoff, Anton Lander, Theo Peckham, Andy Sutton
Brenden Morrow - Jamie Benn - Jaromir Jagr
Loui Eriksson - Derek Roy - Michael Ryder
Reilly Smith - Cody Eakin - Tomas Vincour
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Ryan Garbutt
Brenden Dillon - Stephane Robidas
Aaron Rome - Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen
Scratched: Tom Wandell, Antoine Roussel, Jamie Oleksiak
Injured: Ray Whitney