Last season, the Colorado Avalanche were dead last in the Western Conference, finishing with just 39 points in the standings. A year later, Colorado sits at sixth in the West, with a record of 19-6-0.
"Obviously, they've had some changes," said Oilers forward Ryan Smyth. "But they've got some good depth out there, that helps. They're just sticking with the system that they have and obviously, they're being successful with it."
Tonight, each team boasts their own young talent and Smyth sees this as an opportunity to see how the two measure up.
"It's going to be a great matchup. You see some young kids who have been in the league for three or four years, same with our guys. It's a head-to-head situation that as a player, you enjoy the challenge. As a player myself, you thrive on these types of emotional, energetic games."
The Avalanche have had four days of rest heading into tonight's game and have won five of their last six.
PETRY AND BELOV WILL SIT
Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins confirmed that defencemen Anton Belov and Jeff Petry will sit out tonight's game against Colorado. The two blue liners have been struggling as of late and Eakins says it was a chance to reset the players.
When asked specifically of Petry, Eakins had this to say:
"It's a few things. We've preached about earning ice, accountability, all of those things. That's always first and foremost. The next part of it is, with him, I think it's important that he takes a step back now. I just think that he's to a point in the game where he suffered a little bit as of late. It's time to come out, watch a game from up top, take a breath and reset. I had a long conversation with him this morning. It was a productive one. I listened to his side and he took in what I was saying. It was all good and I commended him on how he handled yesterday… I'm not mad at (Petry). We're not upset with him. We expect more, he knows what more means. He understands the scratching."
Petry understands and respects the opportunity to take a step back and watch the game from a different angle.
"The toughest part is not being able to be out there and help the team work towards trying to get a victory," the defenceman said. "I've been in this position before, when I first came up. It's a matter of going up and watching the game. I did it early on, watched a few games, just to see how much more time you do have or see how the play develops. Like I said yesterday, I'm just going to try to make a positive out of this situation."
As for Belov, the Oilers head coach said, he is still learning the NHL game.
"(He's) struggling," Eakins said, as he described his conversation with Belov. "He understood it. It was a little bit shorter of a conversation. The conversation started before the last game with him and it could be a number of things with Anton. We can't forget, this guy is a rookie in the league, he's been thrust into maybe a bigger role than he should have been… That's the game. If you're asked to take on more minutes, you've got to battle for it. I think he has battled, but there's a lot going on when you have a rookie European in the league for the first time.
"Same thing (as Petry). I just thought that, that's enough, get upstairs and watch the game from where it's really slow and really easy to play and it's really easy to see mistakes develop. I told them both to get up there. I expect them to watch the whole game from up top."
LARSEN'S RETURN PROBABLE
The Oilers will most likely look to Philip Larsen and freshly recalled Martin Marincin to substitute in for Belov and Petry tonight. Larsen has missed the last seven games, dating back to November 16, against Calgary. Fully recovered from his back injury, Larsen says he is ready to go if called upon.
"It will be a great feeling to be back," said Larsen. "It feels good right now. It's been feeling good on the ice, the last couple of days. It's kind of a relief that when you go on the ice, you don't have to think about anything you just play hockey and have fun. It's been a nice couple of days. Of course I want to be on the ice when the game starts."
Larsen says there are no lingering issues or any pain associated with his injury.
"I feel good. I'm honest. If there's something, I would let the coach know. I feel good. I've felt good the last couple of days and I hope that I can keep feeling good."
THE NEW GUY
The Oilers made a few roster moves yesterday afternoon, recalling forward Anton Lander and defencemen Corey Potter and Martin Marincin from the American Hockey League's Oklahoma City Barons. They also assigned centre Will Acton and defenceman Denis Grebeshkov to OKC.
Marincin is an intriguing prospect, drafted in the second round (46th overall) in 2010. The 21-year-old defenceman scored 30 points in 69 games last season with the Barons and recorded a plus-minus of 20.
Marincin was paired with Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz for much of the start of the 2012-13 season, during the NHL work stoppage, and the two produced solid offensive numbers for a defensive pairing.
The 6-4, 188 pound blue liner could make his debut tonight, despite missing today's morning skate due to travel delays.
"There will be no hesitation," said Eakins when asked if he would worry about playing the recalled trio tonight. "Last word I got was they got delayed or something, last night coming in. They're, I believe, in the air or have landed already. They'll be available tonight."
Philip Larsen has played in seven games this season with the Oklahoma City Barons, and his first impressions of Marincin were good.
"He's a pretty tall guy," said Marincin's former teammate in OKC. "He's still young, but he's good with the puck. I think he moves well for a big guy. Calm. I think he's playing with confidence, he did when I was in Oklahoma. He's just a good guy. He's plain and simple, moving the puck, he doesn't seem like he's in a hurry all the time. I hope he gets a chance and I hope he can play the same way, with his confidence and the way he handles the puck. I hope he can bring that to the locker room here, because he is a good player."
Marincin has played 20 games, recording two goals and four assists, for OKC this season. This is the Slovakia native's first NHL call up.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
AVALANCHE (19-6-0) at OILERS (9-18-2)
TV: ALT, SNET-EDM
Last 10: Colorado 6-4-0, Edmonton 5-5-0
Season Series: The Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers play the first of three games. Last season, the Oilers took four of five games with the lone Avalanche win coming on Feb. 3, a 3-1 home victory.
Big Story: The Avalanche have been healing up and making the most of a four-day break in the schedule. They begin a trip through Western Canada before returning home next Tuesday, part of an 11-game marathon (seven on the road) leading up to the Christmas break. Colorado is 5-1-0 since dropping three in a row midway through November. The Oilers have been hot and cold, alternating wins and losses since the Chicago Blackhawks stopped a three-game winning streak this past Monday, but a 6-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday raised concern with the coaching staff.
Avalanche: Coach Patrick Roy spent the past couple of days lamenting the potential loss of momentum in the four-day break, but his players welcomed it. Paul Stastny, who returned to the lineup Saturday after sitting out two games with back spasms, wasn't complaining.
"For me, I think, for other guys who have nagging injuries, I think it's good to have the four days and get healthy again because now we start traveling a lot and your body doesn't heal up as quickly, you're not in the comfort of your own bed," Stastny said after practice Wednesday. "I think it was a good, needed rest, but now it's time to put it in overdrive."
Oilers: In the aftermath of the one-sided game Tuesday, coach Dallas Eakins decided to go back to basics, stressing communication during a pre-practice video session Wednesday.
"My words can hit you faster than my feet can or a puck can," Eakins said. "Let's say you have the puck and I'm wide open and you're looking me in the eyes. If I yell out your name, it helps focus you. I believe in that.
"It's another habit our team doesn't have. So we went out there in practice, I get out there, and they fall back into it. They forget about it that fast.
"My message at the end of practice was, 'Guys, we just spoke about this and all I heard was skates, skating, pucks and shots. Yell the guy's name. Communicate on the ice.' That's your first line of offense, it's your first line of defense, it's communication. That's the simplest part of it and it's the most effective part of the game."