EDMONTON - The Oilers had their final morning skate at Rexall Place of the 2012-13 season today in preparation for tonight's game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
In terms of line combinations, the team is once again going with the line of Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle as their number-one unit. The trio also skated together last season against the Blackhawks when Gagner had his eight-point night.
"We've just to to try and create chances as a line and continue to try and lead the team and hopefully we can do that tonight," said Gagner, who then talked more about that eight-point night.
"I had a tough year up to that point. On Cam Barker's goal, when I won the face-off and we scored 15 seconds later and I was still the second guy to touch it, that's when I figured it was going to be a special night and to just keep going. Regardless of the situation, you want to try and create chances and that's what I was trying to do that night and it worked out for me."
For the second line, Magnus Paajarvi draws back in after missing Monday's game with an injury. He will skate with Shawn Horcoff and Nail Yakupov. Line three has Teemu Hartikainen with Anton Lander and Ryan Jones.
"We felt early in the season when (Hartikainen) was pushed up the lineup, he seemed to be less productive as when he was in a simple role," said Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger. "He needs to play the game that he needs to play here which is to be an aggressive leader and create net pressure, which is at the same time being responsible and simple with the puck."
Line four is Ryan Smyth with Jerred Smithson and Mike Brown.
On defence, the injured Ryan Whitney is out and Mark Fistric draws back in. Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal.
SUCCESS AGAINST THE 'HAWKS
The last few seasons, the Oilers have had a lot of success against the Blackhawks. That has extended to this year despite the 'Hawks' league-leading record. The Oilers are 1-0-1 against Chicago with a win and overtime loss both at the United Center.
"With Chicago, they do play a skilled game. They play a very aggressive gapping game that they're not possibly as physical as some other teams in the Western Conference. It's more of a controlled defence that they have and it's possible that we're better dealing with that," Coach Krueger began.
"The games in Chicago the last few years have been outstanding. It's here at home that we haven't really played as well as in their building so I think playing a 'United Center' game today is what we're looking for in our heads."
Krueger added that simplicity and special teams is going to be a big key when it comes to a positive result for tonight's contest.
"You need to be simple when you play a team that's as confident as the Chicago Blackhawks. We need to be a very simple team and that's eluded us at times at home," Krueger began. "And speciality teams. Our power play has deserted us here in this stretch of losing games and it's our offensive motor. We're really focusing on that today, to be an effective power play against them tonight."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
BLACKHAWKS (34-6-5) at OILERS (17-21-7)
TV: TSN, CSN-CH
Last 10: Chicago 7-1-2; Edmonton (2-8-0)
Season series: The Edmonton Oilers are actually 1-0-1 against the Chicago Blackhawks this season, losing 3-2 in overtime on Feb. 25 and winning 6-5 in regulation on March 10.
Big story: The Blackhawks can move two points closer to clinching the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in 22 years with a victory against the slumping Oilers.
Blackhawks: When these two teams last met, Chicago allowed six goals for the second time in as many games, and after an incredible 24-game streak to start the season without a loss in regulation, there was the slightest bit of slippage for the Blackhawks. The loss was the second during a stretch of nine games where Chicago went 4-5-0 -- hardly a disastrous run but it would qualify as the 2012-13 Blackhawks' "dip in form."
Chicago started a new point streak the next game with a 7-1 beating of the rival Detroit Red WIngs, and the Blackhawks went 11 games without losing in regulation (9-0-2) before a 3-1 road loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. The Blackhawks could finish this season with 79 points (37-6-5) with three more victories. That would equate to a 134-point pace over an 82-game NHL season.
Oilers: April 3 will be remembered as the high-water mark of the 2012-13 season in Edmonton. The Oilers crushed the rival Calgary Flames 8-2 that day. It was the fifth straight victory, and the suddenly high-flying Oilers had 25 goals during the streak.
At that point, Edmonton had climbed to eighth place in the Western Conference, and a playoff berth after years of losing appeared plausible. All of that momentum is gone now, and with the team's hopes for this season. Edmonton has lost eight of nine since that huge win to plummet back towards the bottom of the NHL standings. They are now four points from the bottom of the West and 10 shy of eighth.
Who's hot: After going without a point for three straight games -- the first time that has happened this season -- Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane has five points in his past four contests. … Edmonton's Jordan Eberle had gone six straight games without a point, but has rebounded with four in his past three contests.
Injury report: Patrick Sharp (shoulder) and Dave Bolland (groin) are both questionable for the Blackhawks. … Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder) and Ales Hemsky (foot) are out for the Oilers. Magnus Paajarvi (foot) and Theo Peckham (illness) are questionable.