DENVER - After 17 days and eight games, the Oilers' longest road trip in franchise history finally comes to a conclusion tonight against the Colorado Avalanche with the ninth and final game.
"Long," chuckled Oilers captain Horcoff when asked if he had a word to describe the trip. "We've never had anything like this before and obviously in a shortened season when you have the Brier in town you're going to be going on the road for a little bit but it's almost to an end now and we're looking forward to a good challenge against a team that's starting to get healthy. We need to get another win tonight to keep this rolling."
Horcoff added that he knows tonight's game will be a challenge against an Avalanche team that is 8-2-1 on home ice and is coming off an impressive 6-2 win that ended the Blackhawks' 24-game points streak.
"They have players who are playing real well right now," he said. "Duchene's feeling good and Parenteau, that line's been real good as of late. Like I said, they're healthy. They have some good depth out there and they're getting good goaltending. For us it's pretty much the same game plan we had going into Chicago. We just want to play better and front of their net and our net and simplify the game."
Taylor Hall agreed with his captain.
"It's been long. I think everyone's itching to get home a little bit but we have one more job to do. We get the two points tonight and we end up with eight points on our nine-game trip and that's okay for us. It puts us in a decent spot for the rest of the year so that's pretty much our focus."
The Oilers have two wins and a loss this season against the Avalanche but this is the first time the Oilers have faced them with an almost-healthy lineup.
"They work hard, especially at home. They have a great home record and getting those guys back, along with Landeskog, is huge for them," Hall continued. "We know it's going to be a tough test. They always play well at home like I said and for us we're a little bit worn down so we're going to have to keep it simple right off the bat and hope for a close game."
RETURN OF JONES?
During line rushes today, the Oilers had Ryan Jones skating with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. The other three lines were the same as Chicago: Hall-Horcoff-Hemsky, Paajarvi-Gagner-Yakupov and Petrell-Smyth-Brown. Teemu Hartikainen and Ben Eager were the extra skaters.
However, Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger said that the line combinations aren't set in stone for tonight just yet.
"We're still looking at confirming things. There's a good chance that that change is going to happen," said Krueger. "We have a little bit of a minor - very minor - flu bug in the room which is not holding anybody back but we want to make sure everyone is healthy tonight so I can't confirm that."
Jones was a healthy extra on Sunday against Chicago.
"Ryan Jones coming in is something we'd like to see tonight. A good spot for him to play his game and show us the game we need to see from Ryan Jones would be with Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle."
Jones said he was looking forward to the challenge of being on arguably the team's number-one scoring line.
"It's a big opportunity," said Jones. "I need to get back to playing a simple hockey game and allowing those guys to play the game that makes them as successful as they have been in the past. We played together a little bit at the end of last year and played fairly well together."
The winger said he knew what he had to do in order to remain in the team's lineup.
"Just be a matter of getting in and playing hard. I got away the last couple of games from the physical aspect I need to bring in order to be effective and it's important that I bring that tonight."
Krueger added yesterday that the defence pairings will be the same tonight so Mark Fistric (IR) and Theo Peckham are out. He also pronounced Dubnyk ready to go.
TAMBELLINI SPEAKS TO THE MEDIA
During the morning skate, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini spoke to the local media, giving his thoughts on the team's performance through the midpoint of the season.
"Sometimes you've seen us play to potential as far as energy throughout 60 minutes and other times with extended games -- three games in four nights -- you've seen some fatigue. I think everyone's dealing with the same issues. You've seen teams lose 5-1 and hit the right cycle of the team they're playing against that's had three in four and they blow a team out," Tambellini began.
"It's a season where you have to hang in there. We're five points out of a playoff spot prior to tonight and we're in March and we've only got 20-something games left. You have to be excited about that. That's the way you have to approach this season. Everyone's banged up, everyone's fatigued throughout the league but I love the fact that our guys rebounded after the Nashville game and that showed me something. It showed that they can play with some desperation to play against a top club and at times it looked great and sometimes we were hanging on but they came out with two points so that shows me that they've got that desperation factor that they can play."
Tambellini also addressed the possibility of acquiring a player -- or not -- as the trade deadline nears.
"Only if he makes our team better," Tambellini said of a potential trade. "If it makes our team better you'll consider things but you're not going to give up on youth just to help you for a few weeks. It would have to be movement that makes sense for our hockey club. I'm always looking -- as every manager is -- to make sure that they explore everything that can improve the team but we're not going to give up youth just for a quick fix here, that's for sure."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
OILERS (9-11-5) at AVALANCHE (10-10-4)
TV: SNET-W, ALT Last 10: Edmonton 3-5-2, Colorado 4-3-3 Season series: Edmonton leads the five-game series 2-1 so far with two more games still to be played between these Northwest Division rivals. In their last meeting on Feb. 16, Edmonton prevailed by a score of 6-4. Big story: With the two points up for grabs, the Oilers could leapfrog past the Avalanche in the Northwest Division standings to overtake third place behind the Vancouver Canucks (28) and the Minnesota Wild (28). Colorado currently has 24 points and one game at hand on the Oilers.
Oilers: The Oilers will wrap up a nine-game road trip on Tuesday in Denver. They are 1-5-1in their last six games, with their lone win coming in the form of a 6-5 victory over the National Hockey League leading Chicago Blackhawks. The Oilers were shut out twice in their last three games, but bounced back with six goals to edge the Blackhawks on Sunday.
"I thought it was just a great effort," captain Shawn Horcoff told the Oilers’ website. "I thought guys won battles. They really peppered us for a bit there, but they're a good team. It's not so much that we sat back. They just made plays."
The Oilers had five different players put up two points or more in the game, including Sam Gagner, who boasted a pair of goals. Avalanche: Colorado has strung together back-to-back wins for the fourth time this season and is looking for its first three-game win streak of the season. Colorado defeated the Sharks in dramatic fashion on Sunday, with Matt Duchene banking home an overtime goal with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. The goal came so late that the play actually had to be reviewed first to make it definitive.
“It feels awesome,” Duchene told the Avs’ website. “I didn’t think it was going to count. I know the buzzer here sometimes is a little late. Obviously, you’re really excited at first, but [you’re] holding back a bit in case it doesn’t count.” Who's hot: Matt Duchene has notched seven points (four goals, three assists) in just three games, including a pair of goals on Sunday. He leads the Avalanche in points so far this season with a total of 26. PA Parenteau, meanwhile, has 25 points on the season (10 goals, 15 assists) and a six-game point streak. Injury report: Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk left Sunday’s game midway through the second period after a collision left him shaken up. While he didn’t suffer a serious injury on the play, his status for Tuesday is unknown. … Avalanche forward Milan Hejduk (torso) has missed the past four games and is listed as day-to-day. Forward Steve Downie (knee surgery) is out for the season.