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Struggling Oilers set to face Penguins

by Brian Hunter /

OILERS (1-4-1) at PENGUINS (4-1-0)


Season series: First of two meetings this season between the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins. They last faced each other more than two years ago, on Oct. 9, 2011, a game that featured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scoring in his NHL debut for Edmonton. Ales Hemsky had the shootout winner as the Oilers prevailed 2-1 at Rexall Place.

Big story: This game figures to be a critical test for the Edmonton defense and goaltending. Through six games the Oilers have allowed 29 goals, the most in the League. The Penguins, meanwhile, are averaging four goals per game. Their offensive capabilities are no secret.

Team Scope:

Oilers: As much young talent as Edmonton possesses, the team needs more on the back end and in goal before any real turnaround is going to happen. Veteran Jason LaBarbera got the start in goal against the Washington Capitals on Monday and stopped only 16 of 20 shots in a 4-2 defeat. Devan Dubnyk is likely to be back in net on Tuesday.

Another area that bears watching is whether Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, gets back in the lineup. Yakupov has been a healthy scratch the past two games after failing to record a point in his first four.

"You can't carry baggage around," captain Andrew Ference said about the team's current mental state. "It's a lot of adversity. It's easy to be a good teammate and do the right things when you're winning and have a good attitude, but it's a real test when things aren't going your way."

Penguins: His first three starts of the season were brilliant. Marc-Andre Fleury was anything but Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning; however, this time Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh offense were there to pick him up.

Crosby recorded his eighth career hat trick and an unlikely source, defenseman Matt Niskanen, came through with the tiebreaking goal with 18.6 seconds left in regulation as the Penguins eked out a 5-4 win over the Lightning. Fleury only stopped 14 of 18 shots but improved to 4-0 with a still impressive 1.75 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

"It wasn't our best," Niskanen told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We had to battle through some sloppy play. … But we did a good job of battling back all night."

Who's hot: Veteran Boyd Gordon, who had 39 goals in 486 NHL games coming into this season has four goals in his first six games with the Oilers. … Crosby has five goals and four assists during a five-game point streak for the Penguins and led the League in scoring entering Monday's action. Niskanen added an assist Saturday and has five points in as many games.

Injury report: Edmonton has defenseman Corey Potter (back) and forwards Sam Gagner (jaw), Steve MacIntyre (knee) and Ryan Hamilton (knee) on injured reserve. Defenseman Denis Grebeshkov (groin) is also sidelined. … Pittsburgh is hoping to have defenseman Kris Letang (leg) and forwards James Neal (upper body) and Matt D'Agostini (lower body) back soon.

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