EDMONTON - With newly-recalled Anton Lander and Teemu Hartikainen skating with the team, the Oilers will go with a drastically different lineup tonight against the Minnesota Wild.
The team had Taylor Hall skating with Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov on the top line.
"Taylor Hall and Yakupov haven't really played at all this year together. It's just freshening up the mix. Our skilled players, we really feel they can all work well with each other and it's something fresh which we need at the moment," said Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger. "With Gagner, who's been a very consistent force for us and Nail comfortable on the off-side that should be an interesting look for us today."
Yakupov said he was looking forward to some extended ice time with Hall.
"I think I played with him a couple times, in overtime in Vancouver in the first game," stated Yakupov. "We're both fast and try to go to the net and make some chances. I think we have to do something, for sure. Seven games and we have to finish hard and see what happens."
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Jones made up the second unit. Jordan Eberle did not skate this morning as he was attending his grandfather's funeral but he will be back in Edmonton to play in the game tonight. It's expected he will slide into Jones' spot with RNH and Paajarvi.
Lander centred Shawn Horcoff and Teemu Hartikainen on line three. Krueger said he was looking forward to seeing Lander in action.
"It was good to have him here earlier in the season and then his broken foot kind of threw the season out of whack," he said. "He has come on strong in Oklahoma City -- now that's the American League and we have to see how that'll transpire over here while he takes on our role."
Lander has picked up nine of his 20 points in the AHL this season over his past five games.
"He's an ultimate professional. He understands the game very well. Even last year, when he was here, we liked his language and competitive spirit and leadership that he naturally brings with him. There's a lot of intangibles with an Anton Lander that are not measurable. The measurable thing is the way he can play. His confidence level is high right now and I really think he can bring in some fresh energy today."
Krueger also addressed the fact that it will be Lander, and not Horcoff, centring the line.
"We'd like to have (Lander) start as a centre with Horcoff and Hartikainen as the wingers. Shawn is excellent on puck retrievals -- he's a big body with Haritkainen together -- and get our forechecking going at a higher level here."
Lander said that he was excited for the opportunity to show what he can bring to the team with seven games left in the season.
"I think I've been trying to work on my offence," said Lander. "I've tried to challenge the D more and find those small passes. I think it's been a good year. I've been playing a lot."
The final seven games are also an opportunity for Hartikainen. It's one that Krueger expects the big winger to seize.
"With Teemu, it's very clear what the needs of our group is: to increase our physicality down low, to sustain some cycles and also increase the net pressure. Hartikainen has that physical side to him that we like. I think it's been his inconsistency that's hurt him in these last two years. We're expecting that he raises that bar and we've had some good conversations.
Hartikainen has played big minutes in OKC since being sent down and put up some good numbers with 10 points in his last eight games.
"When he was sent down, we asked him to do certain things in Oklahoma City. He did them religiously in these last few weeks and we're hoping he can bring that into the NHL today. He knows that size and grit and intensity is definitely a necessity for us moving forward. There's a lot of opportunity for him now to show that."
Hartikainen feels that the minutes he played helped prepare him for this opportunity.
"Play hard and play physical, bring the same elements I did when I was in OKC. I played pretty well, got some ice time down there and scored some goals and made some plays. It was good confidence building for me when I went down and played 20 minutes a night," said the Finnish winger. "(I need to) bring the high energy in the locker room and on the ice and be physical."
Ryan Smyth was in between Lennart Petrell and Mike Brown on line four.
On defence, Ryan Whitney and Theo Peckham will be the extras tonight as Mark Fistric draws back in. Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
TV: FS-WI, FS-N+, SNET-W
Last 10: Minnesota 3-6-1, Edmonton 5-5-0
Season series: This is the third of four meetings. Minnesota won the first two, starting with a 3-1 victory in Edmonton Feb. 21 and a 4-2 home win March 3.
Big story: The Wild snapped a dangerous slide with a crucial 4-3 win against the Calgary Flames, but things could be a lot tougher against an Oilers’ team that just fired general manager Steve Tambellini and replaced him with Craig MacTavish. The former Edmonton player and coach wasted little time talking about bold moves to “add competitiveness” to a team he said lacks “a true understanding of just how difficult it is to have success at this level.”
Wild: Struggling to score and fading in the Western Conference playoff race, Minnesota got some much-needed offense from captain Mikko Koivu and trade deadline addition Jason Pominville to beat the Flames 4-3 on Monday and stay two points ahead of the ninth-place Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Wild had been shut out twice in the previous three games, and scored just eight goals while winning one of their past seven contests before Koivu snapped a nine-game goal and seven-game point drought early. Pominville added two goals, giving him four and six points since being acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres. It also helped to have veteran Matt Cullen back after six games, as he had an assist and was plus-2 while buoying their depth at center.
They’ll need to do it again less than 24 hours later against the Oilers.
"I think we'd be lying to say we don't look at the standings basically every day, try to figure out what's going on throughout the League and teams that are playing and not playing, but I think right now we control our destiny," Pominville said. "We've just got to go out there and execute, and tonight was a start."
Oilers: Booed off the ice by the home crowd after a loss to the Flames and all but done in the playoff race after losing five straight to fall out of eighth place, the Oilers should be ornery after Tambellini was fired and replaced by MacTavish.
With MacTavish promising swift change and bold moves, this young, gifted Oilers’ team should have something to prove to the man who will decide who among them gets to stay on and be part of what still looks like a promising future.
"I'm an impatient guy and I bring that impatience to this situation," MacTavish said. "I think that we're at the stage in terms of the cycle with our hockey club right now that we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk to try and move the club forward in a rapid fashion."
Who’s hot: Pominville has four goals and two assists in his past five games for Minnesota. Despite reportedly playing through injury, top Wild defenseman Ryan Suter had an assist and was plus-3 against the Flames on Monday. Suter, who is being mentioned as a Norris Trophy candidate, trails only P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens with 31 points this season. He has more than double the point total of Minnesota’s next defenseman, Jared Spurgeon, and is already eight points clear of their leader last season – and that was a full 82-game campaign. … Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov, the first player chosen the 2012 NHL Draft, has four goals and seven points in the past seven games.
Injury report: Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky is off for a week with a broken foot, Eric Belanger is skating but not ready to return from a groin injury, and defenseman Andy Sutton is out for the season. … For Minnesota, Dany Heatley is out after shoulder surgery, as is center Zenon Konopka with a foot injury. Backup goalie Josh Harding has started a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League as he tries to come back after being sidelined because of side effects from the drugs to treat multiple sclerosis, so veteran Niklas Backstrom is likely to be back in goal against Edmonton instead of promising, but inexperienced backup Darcy Kuemper.