VANCOUVER - The Edmonton Oilers got some great news yesterday with the announcement that their top centre, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, would return to the line-up from injury on Monday. But that still leaves the team without one of their top players when they take the ice tonight against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Oilers will try to rebound from their season opening 5-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets tonight against a team they are very familiar with. Edmonton went 3-1-1 against the Canucks last season and the tide has begun to turn in a series normally dominated by the Canucks. Last season's rivalry was the first time since 2006 in which the Oilers finished with a winning record against Vancouver.
DUBNYK LOOKS TO REBOUND
Oilers starting goaltender Devan Dubynk had a rough season opener against the Winnipeg Jets last week. He finished the game with 23 saves on 28 shots in a 5-4 loss. Dubnyk is looking to both forget that performance as well as learn from it as he looks forward to tonight.
"You have to forget about it," said Dubnyk. "Otherwise you're not going to be able to play well and just go out and play the next game. But you've got to understand that, for the most part, that's not going to be acceptable and you've got to make sure that it hurts enough that you don't want to let it happen again."
Dubnyk may be happy to be facing Vancouver in this situation as last season he was 3-0-1 against this opponent in four starts and finished the series with a 1.68 goals against average and .943 save percentage.
HALL EXPECTS THE HITS
Oilers centre Taylor Hall is looking forward to continuing what has been a physical rivalry for the team in years past. He expects tonight to be no different with two 0-1 teams hungry for their first taste of victory.
"Yeah, we play these guys a lot and have a history with them that just over the last three years that I've been here, it seems that every year it gets just a little bit more intense and we like that," said Hall. "We know that they're going to play us hard. They're in their own building, they're 0-1 just like we are so it's going to be a fun game."
Hall doesn't know whether or not the Canucks will head hunt the Oilers skilled players but anticipates the hits to keep on coming after a heated pre-season game against their rivals.
"I don't know. I have the puck a lot so there's going to be times when I'm going to get hit and you just got to be ready for those and make sure you have your head up. You just can't put yourself in vulnerable spots. That's what I'm trying to do. I know that guys are going to come and try and hit us and we've got to be ready for that. Playing against (Kevin) Bieska and those kinds of physical guys, they like to take the body. So you just have to be ready and make sure you move the puck before they get to you."
Last season the Oilers took a positive step forward against their Pacific Division rivals and they now feel they matchup better with them than in years past.
"Really well," said Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz. "I think every time we play them, we play them tough and they're always good games with high intensity so it's exciting for us and we're looking forward to tonight.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
OILERS (0-1-0) at CANUCKS (0-1-0)
Season series: The longtime Northwest Division rivals, both of whom now both reside in the Pacific Division, played five games last season. Each team won a game 4-0, with the Vancouver Canucks winning another one 3-2 in overtime and the Edmonton Oilers winning 3-2 in a shootout. The Oilers blitzed the Canucks 7-3 in the final game of the regular season for both clubs. Roberto Luongo had one win and a 3.16 goals-against average in three games for the Canucks; Taylor Hall had three goals and six points in five games for the Oilers with a +4 rating.
Big story: After speculation about where he would end up, Luongo not only remained with the Canucks in the offseason, but saw Cory Schneider get traded to the New Jersey Devils, cementing his status as the Canucks' No.1 netminder.
Oilers: After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh straight season, the Oilers hired Dallas Eakins as coach in hopes of ending that streak. In their opening game on Tuesday, the Oilers had a 4-2 lead late in the second period, but the Winnipeg Jets scored three unanswered goals and went on for a 5-4 win in Edmonton. Ten Oilers registered a point, but goalie Devan Dubnyk looked shaky, allowing five goals on 28 shots.
"We're not going to take lightly losing the game, but it's time to move on," Eakins told the Oilers' website on Thursday. "I'm not worried about Dubnyk or any of our other players. It's the nature of the beast whether we won that game or we lost that game, it's time to prepare for the next one. I expect a lot of our players to bounce back."
Canucks: Luongo had yielded playing time to Schneider the past two seasons, but now it's his team once again. He allowed four goals in a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, though he didn't get much help from his teammates.
"It felt good, but I gave up four goals on 35 shots," Luongo said after the game. "That's not going to do it. I thought the last two periods went OK. There were some breakdowns, and I would have liked to make one or two more saves."
The Canucks looked like a team searching for its identity while getting acclimated to a new coach. John Tortorella preaches shot-blocking; the Canucks had 22 blocked shots but scored only one goal, Jason Garrison's first-period blast that gave them a 1-0 lead.
"We had a really good start. The first 10 minutes we played the way we should. Then after we scored, we turned a couple over and they [capitalized] on them and we lost the momentum," Tortorella said.
Who's hot: Ales Hemsky, thought to be on the trading block in the offseason, had a goal and an assist in the Oilers' opener.
Injury report: The Oilers will be without centers Sam Gagner (broken jaw), and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder surgery), left wing Steve MacIntyre (knee) and defenseman Corey Potter (back), all of whom are on injured reserve. Defenseman Denis Grebeshkov (groin) is doubtful. … Canucks center Jordan Schroeder (broken foot) is on injured reserve and will miss three weeks. Winger Zack Kassian is is sitting out a five-game suspension.