EDMONTON - The Oilers had an optional morning skate today in preparation for tonight's game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Ryan Jones and Mark Fistric both skated -- as did Eric Belanger -- but none of them will play tonight. Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger said Jones is still feeling the effects of a flu bug that flattened him following Tuesday's Avalanche game.
"Retrospectively, Ryan Jones played on reserve fuel in Colorado. He crashed the last couple of days so we're definitely keeping him out of the lineup today. Hartikainen will be playing again," said Krueger.
The head coach also added that even though Mark Fistric is off injured reserve, the team is giving him another couple of days to get ready.
"The D we have right now are deep and strong and good. This group had a good game in Colorado and for Mark to have a few more days is definitely helpful. He's very close to being 100% but he's not there yet so we're keeping him out of the lineup today also."
Hartikainen will be playing on the left side with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Taylor Hall will skate with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. That's a combination that Krueger says has helped give his team a different look.
"Horc is physically our strongest centreman. Especially when you're looking down low so that alleviated a lot of that pressure on Nuge. With Hallsy and Hemmer on his sides there's an offensive threat there all the time. The respect that line had, you can see it already since Horc came back that the way other teams matched up changed dramatically. There was more rolling of pairs and forward lines."
The addition as well of a line featuring the team's leading scorer Sam Gagner centring Magnus Paajarvi and Nail Yakupov has suddenly given the Oilers some scoring depth.
"That depth of having three scoring lines and then the character we see around the Smyth line (Smyth centring Petrell and Brown) has been good too. They've been bringing pucks to the net and pressure on forechecking. But it began with the depth of having Horcoff back."
Having four lines has enabled Coach Krueger to wear down the opposition, as was done in Denver.
"We're really big on the pace that we were able to have with the four lines. Colorado cut down pretty early to three lines and we could feel that as the game went on, the advantage of sticking with the Smyth line right through the game and not looking at any type of match-ups. So I think it's game-by-game how you feel the group is and how the energy is. Getting everybody involved -- and the confidence we have in all four lines being able to play against everybody -- is there."
BROWN MAKES HOME DEBUT
Mike Brown will be making his debut as an Oiler at Rexall Place tonight. Brown has made an impact with the Oilers with a goal and 10 penalty minutes in five games.
"I'm really excited," Brown said of making his debut in front of the home fans. "I've played a few times in this building as a visitor. Just to be able to step on the ice, coming from this angle and dressing in this locker room is totally different. I'm excited to play in front of the fans. I've had a couple games on the road to get used to the guys, the systems, the way things work around here and I'm pumped to step on the home ice here."
The greatest amount of ice time that Brown got as a Leaf was 7:43 for a game against Florida. In his five games as an Oiler, he's had 11:10, 11:14, 10:18, 9:58 and 12:26. Brown has also seen the team go from slumping when he first joined to now streaking with back-to-back wins.
"They say, especially with this schedule this year, you can't get too high and you can't get too low. We came off a few losses and we bounced back. Number one thing now is don't get too high. We don't think we're the greatest team in the NHL right now just because we've won a few games. We've got to stay even-keel and just focus on tonight."
Since trading Brown, the Leafs have only one win (1-3-1).
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
RED WINGS (12-10-5) at OILERS (10-11-5)
TV: RDS2, FS-D, SNET-EDM
Last 10: Detroit 5-3-2; Edmonton 4-4-2
Season series: Third and final meeting of the regular season. The Red Wings will be aiming for a sweep, having won the first two matchups in Detroit. Jimmy Howard has given up just one goal, while Pavel Datsyuk has a goal and two assists.
Big story: This is the start of a four-game homestand for Edmonton, which salvaged a difficult nine-game road trip that at one point threatened to derail its season with back-to-back victories at Chicago and Colorado. As a result, the Oilers finished the trek with a 3-4-2 mark and remain very much in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
Red Wings: There's every indication Detroit will be battling down to the final days of the regular season to secure a postseason berth, and if that's the case Red Wings coach Mike Babcock may have no choice but to run Howard out as his goalie night after night. Jonas Gustavsson has been underwhelming in each of his two previous starts, giving up five goals on just 22 shots Wednesday night in a 5-2 loss in Calgary to begin a three-game road trip that concludes Saturday in Vancouver.
"It was 2-2 after two, and we had a good chance to get a good win on the road," Gustavsson told the Detroit Free Press. "They get some good chances, and they score on them. For myself, you want to be able to help the team, but I guess it wasn't good enough.
"I felt confident going out in the third period that we'd have a chance to win it, and then, things don't go your way, and you get frustrated over that."
Oilers: Here's a chance for Edmonton to build off one of its most impressive wins of the season, against a Colorado team playing some of its own best hockey and which had been tough to beat on home ice. But the Oilers made it look fairly simple Tuesday, getting a goal and an assist each from Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi and 35 saves from Devan Dubnyk in a 4-0 victory. The Oilers had started their road trip 1-0-1, then hit an 0-4-1 skid, but finished up strong.
"We'll have to get used to being home again," said Dubnyk, who recorded his first shutout of the season and the fifth of his career. "I think everybody's real excited to get back to Edmonton. When you have a tough road trip like this, it just feels nice counting down (the time) and knowing you're going to get the win."
Who's hot: Valtteri Filppula scored a goal on four shots in his return to the Red Wings lineup on Wednesday. … Gagner has three goals in the Oilers' past two games. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be emerging from his sophomore slump, with a goal and two assists over the same span.
Injury report: Howard has been battling the flu, which led to Gustavsson starting in Calgary. Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) and forwards Darren Helm (back), Todd Bertuzzi (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (finger) are on injured reserve. … Edmonton forward Eric Belanger (groin) is on injured reserve.