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Young Oilers set to host Predators

by Tal Pinchevsky
PREDATORS (2-1-1) at OILERS (1-1-1)


Season Series: This is the first of four meetings between the teams. Last season, the Oilers went 2-1-1 against the Predators, one of only three Western Conference teams they enjoyed a winning record against.

Big Story: While the 2010-11 Oilers won their first two games before losing six in a row on their way to a League low 25 wins, this season's team has already shown some fight against strong competition. They opened the season with a shootout victory against Pittsburgh and were narrowly edged 4-3 by the defending Western Conference champion Canucks on Saturday. That mettle will be tested against a strong Predators squad that started the season with two division wins on the road.

Team Scope:

Predators:  After starting the season with two strong road wins, Nashville returned home to lose their next two, including a surprising 5-2 loss on Thursday to a Phoenix Coyotes team that until then had gone winless in their first two games. Hosting the Devils on Saturday, Nashville enjoyed a 2-0 lead entering the third period only to allow two unanswered goals by New Jersey before losing 3-2 in the ensuing shootout.

Devils backup Johan Hedberg, starting in place of injured starter Martin Brodeur, stopped both Preds shooters while his counterpart in the crease, 2011 Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne, failed to stop either of New Jersey’s shooters, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

"We let it get away by a hair," said Predators coach Barry Trotz. "There are so many positives out of the whole deal. We saw a little bit more of Predator hockey, especially in the first period."

Oilers: While the Oilers were expected to go as far as their young stars could take them, few expected that it would be 18-year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leading the way so soon. Playing alongside two other first-round picks, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the top pick on June 24 has been a star in his first NHL campaign. After scoring the tying goal with less than five minutes remaining against Pittsburgh, Nugent-Hopkins had his coming-out part in Edmonton on Saturday with a three-goal performance.

The third of Nugent-Hopkins' three goals gave the young Oilers a 3-2 lead in the second period. But Alexandre Burrows tied the game with 16 seconds remaining in the period before Sami Salo’s third-period goal, his second of the contest, proved to be the winner.

"Everyone knows he's a good passer," said Hall, "but it was great to see him score tonight."

Who's Hot: With eight points to lead the team, including a four-point night against St. Louis, David Legwand has led the offensive charge for Nashville. Sergei Kostitsyn has also done his part, registering an assist in each of his four games this season. … While Nugent-Hopkins has four of Edmonton’s five goals this season, his linemates haven't gone unnoticed. Hall has three assists so far this season, all on Nugent-Hopkins goals, while Eberle has three assists of his own.

Injury Report: For the Predators, Francis Bouillon, Mike Fisher, and Martin Erat are all out with upper-body injuries while Patric Hornqvist returned from a lower-body injury on Saturday but played limited minutes and didn’t record a shot. … Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky (shoulder), Ryan Whitney (ankle), and Ben Eager (concussion) are all day-to-day while Sam Gagner is out week-to-week with an ankle injury.

Stat Pack: Hall and Nugent-Hopkins mark the first time in over 20 years that the two most recent top picks in the NHL Entry Draft have played on the same team together. The last time occurred when Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan, drafted first overall in 1989 and 1990 respectively, laced them up for the Quebec Nordiques. That team lost 50 games and finished last overall to earn the first pick in the Draft for a third straight year, which they used to select Eric Lindros.

Puck Drop: Enjoying the best start of his pro career, Legwand is reminding the hockey world how much he means to the Predators franchise. The first draft pick in team history, Legwand is the franchise's all-time leader in games, shots, goals, assists, and points and ranks in the top four in plus-minus and penalty minutes.

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