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Opportunity knocks for Sanderson

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers' Geoff Sanderson, left, and Allan Rourke, right, celebrate teammate, Kyle Brodziak's (not shown) goal on Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Pascal Leclaire during the first period of NHL hockey action, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Monday, Nov. 26, 2007. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Ulan)
With a battered and bruised set of forwards, the Edmonton Oilers could see an injection of some new blood in the lineup tonight.“We’ve got some guys who are banged up and probably questionable for tonight. It’s unfortunate that guys go down but I’m going to keep myself ready,” said Oilers LW Geoff Sanderson following the morning skate.

His last game was nearly a month ago back on January 3 in Nashville against the Predators. In that game, Sanderson picked up an assist and was +1 despite the Oilers losing by a score of 5-2. He had 12:50 of ice time which was his highest total since November 24.

Following that game on January 3, Sanderson came down with the flu and was not available for Edmonton’s games on January 5 and 7 against the New York Rangers and Islanders respectively. Subsequently, the team got hot with four consecutive wins and suddenly number 8 found himself on the outside looking in.

“He was actually playing pretty well when he got hurt. We got him back in the lineup and he played what I thought was a real good game. He didn’t play all that much in St. Louis but that was his first game back. He created a lot, I think he played six minutes in the end that was a very productive six minutes,” said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.
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“The next night he played pretty well in Nashville, one of the few of our guys that did. He was doing what he wanted to do and that made it difficult for us to take him out.”

Just when it looked like Sanderson might get an opportunity to get in, he hurt his back during off-ice conditioning. That put him on the shelf for about a week. Just when he looked to be ready to come back, once again there was no room.

“We know the situation here, we want to develop the younger guys so you’re always going to defer to the youth in those lineup decisions,” noted MacTavish.

However, after a game on Tuesday in San Jose where the team just didn’t look like it had the legs, Sanderson’s presence will be very much appreciated.

“Speed,” MacTavish said in a one-word answer when asked what the veteran could help bring to the lineup tonight. “If he could step in where he left off we’ll be happy with that performance.”

Sanderson agreed with the coach.

Phoenix Coyotes right winger Shane Doan, left, attempts to sweep the puck away from Edmonton Oilers left winger Geoff Sanderson (8) after Doan was checked to the ice by Oilers defenseman Joni Pitkanen, right, of Finland, in the first period of a hockey game Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)
“Before I got sick I played a couple pretty decent games and then hurt my back again and lost my spot. Guys were playing well and that happens. I wasn’t happy about it but I knew Mac was going to give me another chance, I just had to be patient.”

He has been very patient, having suited up for only two games in the past six weeks and tonight is a real chance for him to not only help the team get back on the winning side of things but also get back in as a regular.

“It’s a great opportunity. I really have to prove something out there. I just have to go out, play my game and try to get my legs into it early,” he said.  “There’s nothing I can really do about it. All I can do is keep myself ready – the conditioning has been kept up.”

Despite his recent status as a healthy scratch, Sanderson has continued to remain positive in the dressing room.

“I really didn’t have a huge issue with it. We were winning games and I knew I just had to be patient and wait for an opportunity.”

The one benefit of the hiatus is that his back is now completely recovered from the injury which was initially suffered in late November and then flared up again several weeks ago.

“I feel good. The back’s feeling strong. I’ve been rehabbing and working with it for the past couple of weeks. It’s not an issue right now.”

The injury really came at the worst possible time for Sanderson. He was playing his best hockey of the season with four points in five games from November 17 through 26. On November 30 against Anaheim, his back flared up and it’s been a rough road since then.

“It’s been a real letdown for me this season so far. Tonight is another huge chance to turn my season around and hopefully contribute to the team,” Sanderson remarked. “I definitely have to re-prove myself and get myself back in the good books with the coach.”

The ultimate team player, the big picture is not lost on number 8 for tonight.

“I definitely have to make an impression. It’s a critical time for our team right now. We might be losing Horc tonight so everyone has to step up.”
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