EDMONTON - The Oilers held an optional skate this morning prior to the completion of a back-to-back set against the Anaheim Ducks. Absent from the skate was Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Nick Schultz, Corey Potter, Magnus Paajarvi and Nail Yakupov.
Because it was an optional skate, tonight's line combinations aren't known but what is known is that the Oilers will be making a few lineup changes, starting with Eric Belanger drawing back in.
"I haven't played in awhile but from watching the games from above you're always anxious and always want to come back," said Belanger. "I felt I'm ready to go. Ralph came up to me this morning and wanted me to play. I'm going to go tonight."
Belanger has missed 17 games with a groin injury and felt that he may not get another chance to play before the end of the season.
"With four or five games left when we talked about it, it was like do we push it? We just went day-by-day and when Ralph came up to me this morning, as a player you're never going to say no. I'm ready to go and I'm excited to play tonight."
The centre added that there is always the risk of getting re-injured.
"I'm not going to lie, there's a little bit of worry about it but I'm feeling pretty good. I've been skating for over a week and it's been feeling okay. I'm crossing my fingers but if I can go through a game, hopefully I can finish the year strong."
Ralph Krueger added that with Belanger returning to the lineup, Magnus Paajarvi draws out.
"Eric's really feeling 100% or very close to it -- 99 let's say -- and we'd like to bring him back in tonight. I think it's wise that on a bruised foot for Magnus Paajarvi to sit out today. He took a shot in Colorado, worked through it in the game yesterday, but on this back-to-back we find that there's a risk that it could get worse to the point that he didn't play the last three games."
If Paajarvi needed to play, he could have but Krueger said he felt it was better for him to finish the season on a healthier note which he could with some rest here.
"He could have played today under extreme pressure of forcing him in but we see a chance of him playing three games at a much healthier level with some extra rest for two days so Eric is coming in."
OTHER LINEUP CHANGES
Krueger didn't tip his hand on what the lines might be tonight.
"We're going to go over the possible lineup right now with the coaches," he stated.
He did add that the team will be making a chance on the back end as well.
"Whitney comes back in. Mark Fistric will be sitting out tonight. With the losses of now Paajarvi, Hemsky, Nugent-Hopkins it's good to bring Whit in to add some offence to our lineup.
Whitney said that he was looking forward to the opportunity to draw back in.
"I'm just excited to play again," said Whitney. "It's no fun sitting out so I'm looking forward to it."
Nikolai Khabibulin gets the start in goal.
Krueger was asked about adjustments the team might need to make as they face the same opponent for a second-straight night and try and earn a split of the series.
"Anaheim is really fighting here to keep that second spot. I talked to Bruce Boudreau yesterday, they have been struggling to find their game of late so they are going to come to play hard again tonight, we know that.
"They play a very patient game. They did the same thing in their building, they did it here. We just need to be patient with our game plan. Stay patient, stay in the game. Let's not think about the result. Let's wait for them. They turn over the puck, too. They make mistakes. Let's wait for those opportunities."
The head coach added that the team's power play needs to get back on track after a stretch with only one goal in their last six games (1-for-18 in that span).
"The second thing would be, we're extremely disappointed with our power play production as of late. It's still top-five in the NHL but it's been unacceptable in this last stretch. The power play needs to step up, it needs to find simplicity again and it needs to find shots again. It needs to do the things that drive our offensive motor. When the power play is clicking it seems that everything else is clicking."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
TV: PRIME, SNET-W
Last 10: Anaheim 5-4-1; Edmonton 3-7-0
Season series: This is the third of three meetings and the second of back-to-back contests at Rexall Place. The Anaheim Ducks improved to 2-0-0 against the Edmonton Oilers with Sunday’s 3-1 victory. Anaheim has won 10 straight games in Edmonton.
Big story: The Ducks can clinch the Pacific Division title with a win Monday. They fell just short of accomplishing the feat Sunday due to the Dallas Stars earning a point against the Los Angeles Kings. It would be Anaheim’s first division crown since 2007, when they went on to win the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup championship.
Ducks: Anaheim put an end to a four-game skid with Sunday’s victory against the Oilers. Jonas Hiller helped stop the bleeding in a 27-save performance and Nick Bonino had two assists in his return from a lower-body injury.
"It's great to have a win again after what has been happening for the last little while," Hiller told the Canadian Press. "We knew that we needed to play better, but sometimes it is not that easy. Tonight I think that everybody worked a little harder and that made the difference."
Oilers: Edmonton’s playoff drought officially reached seven years with Sunday’s loss to the Ducks. The Oilers haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2006, when they made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final before falling in Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Oilers have dropped seven of their past eight games.
"To have another season where we're out of the playoffs, another season where we're playing meaningless games at the end of the year, is very frustrating," winger Taylor Hall said. "It's something we're not proud of."
Who's hot: Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf has two goals and four assists over the past six games. … Hall has four points (two goals, two assists) in the past three for Edmonton.