The last time the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs squared off, it was one of the more exciting games of the season. It ended in a thrilling 6-5 overtime loss for the Oilers with centre Mark Arcobello finishing the game with a team-high three points and Ryan Smyth chipping in two goals.
The team was without one of their top centres in that game but Sam Gagner will return to action tonight after missing 13 games with a broken jaw suffered in the pre-season.
"It's obviously exciting to be back playing," said Gagner. "For me, the biggest thing is keeping those emotions in check and go out and play a simple, hard game and I'm just excited to get back."
"He has to be an important player for our team," said Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "Sam's been knawing at the bone to get back in. He had to wait for the doctor's clearance so we've got that. Right there is one of our top two centres. Obviously, we've really missed that through the start of the season. He's a guy who brings leadership, he brings character, a work ethic and he brings some veteran savvy as well. He's been around the league a little bit. We need this guy and we need him every night. I'm just hopeful that he's up to speed quickly."
The players are happy to get Gagner back in the lineup, particularly for his leadership ability.
"He's a big part of our team," said fellow centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. "Off the ice, he's a leader and on the ice we look up to him to. He's going to be a big part of our offensive game and also the leadership too. It's great to get a guy like that back."
The Oilers goaltending situation continues its state of flux as Devan Dubnyk remains out with an ankle injury and Richard Bachman has earned his second straight start since being recalled from the American Hockey League just a few days ago.
After a 47 save performance against the Los Angeles Kings, the Oilers went back to Bachman between the pipes. Coach Eakins says that Bachman has earned another look and has the opportunity to prove he belongs with Edmonton on a full-time basis. Bachman relishes that opportunity.
"Everyone's goal is to stay here and be a full-time NHL player, ever since you were a kid," said Bachman. "You just want to take the opportunity when it comes. Every game is an opportunity and you just want to prove that you can play at this level so that's what I'm kind of trying to do."
The Oilers netminder says that the situation in front of him of starting a second game in a row after a call up or by having a few days to dwell on it is nothing new.
"Luckily for me, I've played NHL games before. I've been in a situation where you get called up, you have to play, and they you have a few days to really think about what's going on before you start again. I've been through it before, which I think makes it a little bit easier to handle. I know this time around, the nerves aren't quite as high as they were before. I try to do the same thing I'd do no matter where I was playing, no matter what the situation is and try to keep my game plan the same thing and I think that really helps."
ARCOBELLO ON THE WING
With Gagner's return to the ice, Oilers forward Mark Arcobello will switch over to the wing. It is a task that Arcobello is ready to face head on.
"It's not so much different really," said the forward, who will play on the left wing for the first time this season. "Especially, if I am the first guy back, I'm going to be the low forward. We just have to communicate out there and I just think the battles are going to be a little higher on the wall in the (defensive zone). Same mentality, just play a simple game and do what I can offensively."
The switch was one that Eakins would rather not have to make, but having the flexibility to do so is a positive.
"I'd like to keep him there, except for Sam Gagner's coming back in the lineup," said Eakins. "He's earned that spot and that's going to be part of Arco's challenge going forward. He's going to have to be effective on the wing."
If the Oilers forwards are struggling to be effective offensively, Eakins will not hesitate to return Arcobello to centre.
"I'm very quick to re-shuffle lines if people aren't going. Sometimes I think I should be maybe more patient with it but I have an expectation. I have no problem moving Arco right back to the middle if we have to."
Big story: The Maple Leafs have a chance to pass the idle Tampa Bay Lightning into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division if they pick up a point. ... The Oilers open a two-game homestand after playing eight of their last nine away from Rexall Place.
Maple Leafs: Toronto is coming off of a 4-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night in which James Reimer made 37 saves. It was the ninth straight game the Maple Leafs were outshot and the 10th time in 12 games this season.
"[Reimer] was unbelievable. Anybody who's in net, when you can have confidence in both your goalies … we were getting outshot there and we still were battling hard and knew we were going to win this game. It's a credit to how both of these tenders have played throughout this season," David Clarkson told the Maple Leafs website after the game.
Reimer was making his first start since a head injury caused him to leave a game Oct. 17 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Oilers: The Oilers lost another tough game Sunday, 2-1 to the Kings in a shootout. Emergency call-up Richard Bachman got the start and stopped 47 shots. The Oilers are now 2-6 in one goal games.
"You're just trying to get the feel of it there quickly. The first period was pretty routine in terms of shots against, but it was nice. They had a couple of long shots and I was able to see almost all of them, which helped me get into a rhythm and helped me get into a groove out there," Bachman said after the game.
Bachman was making his first start of the season because Devan Dubnyk was out with an ankle injury and backup Jason LaBarbera was coming off of a rough outing on Saturday night. His teammates didn't help him much with only 18 shots on goal. Los Angeles had 23 in the third period.
Who's hot:Nail Yakupov is off to a slow start with three points this season, but they've all come in the past five games for the Oilers. … Phil Kessel has five goals in three games for the Maple Leafs.