EDMONTON - The Oilers will be going with Nikolai Khabibulin in goal tonight in the final instalment of the 2012-13 Battle of Alberta.
"I expect a good effort tonight, especially to start. We lost four in a row so it's no secret that we need a win," said the goaltender, adding that he would prefer to be playing more regularly but feels it's his duty to be ready whenever called upon.
"It's not the perfect scenario but it is what it is and I have to do the best I can under the circumstances. I have to do my best, make the picture really small. Take it shot to shot and commercial to commercial," Khabibulin laughed.
His last start was a week from Thursday in Vancouver. He played very well in a losing cause in Vancouver.
"I actually feel better this year than in the last couple of years. Mentally I think it's better for myself," he said. "Mentally you feel so much better when you don't have those aches and pains and that's how I feel right now."
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger simply felt it was time to but the Russian netminder in between the pipes.
"(Dubnyk) played three games in a row after the Vancouver game and it's a good time for a change," Krueger began.
"We've felt good with both goaltenders this season and when you look at the way Khabi's working we want to keep both in the mix," the coach continued. "We want to give Dubey a chance to regroup again. We need them both and I think Khabi has played well this season for us and is ready to step up for a good one today."
Nail Yakupov has been playing his best hockey of the season in recent games, both offensively and defensively and it's prompted Krueger to give him more ice time.
"I think he's got something like seven points in his last six games and also (he's gotten points) in the last few games that we've been struggling. He's really finding his way. He had games earlier in the season where sometimes he'd be in and out of the game. He'd be sometimes caught on the outside of the game. Not only offensively, but defensively."
Krueger added that he feels that the surge in offensive production for Yakupov is directly related to his improved play on the defensive side of the puck.
"It just seems like he's participating in both directions right now. You can see him with his check, you can see him comfortable covering the point man and understanding the dangers of NHL point coverage. That's brought some confidence into his offensive game. He's playing a little bit more with instinct and less mechanical than he was when we he was spending all that time thinking of his defence."
Yakupov stated that he feels as good now as he has all season.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "I feel way better now. My teammates and linemates help me out all the time. It's way easier when we can talk to each other. Guys like Horc and Smytty, it's a good experience for me."
With the absence of Hemsky, the team will be counting on Yakupov offensively a lot more than they have been with more ice time and that was a point that Krueger made clear Saturday morning also.
"Early in the season you'd see 15 (minutes) as a barrier on him as far as the energy he needed to play. Now he's taking a big ball in this game today. With Ales out, he needs to step up. We've been able to put him sometimes into lines that didn't have the same offensive responsibility so he could just play there without that pressure of being on a line where you expect production and scoring chances on a regular basis.
"Together with Magnus and Gags, that's going to be a strong line tonight."
The Oilers will also be going with Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Hall as has been the case for the better part of a month now. The third line will be Ryan Jones, Shawn Horcoff and Lennart Petrell. It's a line that Krueger feels needs to create some offensive pressure as Ryan Jones come backs in.
"For Ryan, one of the things that grew his game was also being part of our penalty kill," said Krueger. "He fell out of that mix during the winning streak so that was a bit of an issue as the numbers came in when Jerred Smithson joined us -- and Jerred's penalty killing ability and face-off ability, too, just pushed Jonesy out of that role."
Krueger added that he feels that Jones being used on the PK will help involve him in the game a lot more.
"I find it difficult for players if they're playing strictly five-on-five. We need to eventually evolve to a team where players are involved in the speciality teams -- power play or penalty kill. He lost that. On the five-on-five game, he needs to be part of a line that creates offensive pressure on the other team's D. It's not necessarily the goal production we're looking for from our depth lines. We're looking for time in the offensive zone and we need to create more of that."
Fourth line tonight is Ryan Smyth with Mike Brown and Smithson. Defence pairings are Nick and Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry with Ladislav Smid and Corey Potter and Ryan Whitney.
Joey MacDonald gets the start in goal for Calgary.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
Last 10: Calgary 3-7-0; Edmonton 5-5-0
Season series: It's the fourth and final edition of the Battle of Alberta this season. The Calgary Flames won 4-3 on Jan. 26, but the Edmonton Oilers swept a home-and-home set last week.
Big story: The Flames know their season will end in a couple of weeks, and they'd like nothing more than to make sure their biggest rival also misses the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Flames: It won't mean much in the standings, but the Flames showed a lot of pride on Friday night by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in overtime. The Coyotes, desperate for points as they scramble to stay in the playoff race, forced overtime on a late goal by Keith Yandle and had numerous chances to get the game-winner, only to be denied by Joey MacDonald. Mark Giordano scored with 23.1 seconds left in OT for the victory.
It feels great," Giordano said. "It always feel great to score no matter what, but obviously an OT winner, you don't get those too often, so it feels great."
Oilers: The Oilers routed the Flames 8-2 in Calgary on April 3, moving into the top eight in the Western Conference while embarrassing their biggest rival. But not much has gone right since then -- the Oilers haven't won a game and are barely hanging on in the playoff race.
They need to get that winning feeling back -- and quickly -- but coach Ralph Krueger expects to face a team that will be looking for some payback.
"The importance of that game is there," Krueger said Friday. "It's more about getting that winning feeling back. We don't have to work for it. They're going to react to how we played in Calgary. They're going to come into our building very very angry. We're not expecting an easy night.
Who's hot: Lee Stempniak, Calgary's leading scorer, had a goal Friday night to extend his points streak to four games. … Edmonton rookie Nail Yakupov, the first player chosen in last June's NHL Draft, has three goals and five points in his past five games.
Injury report: The Flames are without forwards Brian McGrattan (shoulder) and Matt Stajan (upper body). … Edmonton will be without forward Ales Hemsky, who's taking a week off to see if his broken foot will heal. Eric Belanger (groin) has started skating again but isn't ready to return; defenseman Andy Sutton (knee) is gone for the season.