The Edmonton Oilers have their final pre-season tune up tonight when they take on the Dallas Stars in Oklahoma City. As Head Coach Dallas Eakins attempts to finalize his depth chart for the upcoming season, he has taken to experimenting with the forward line combinations.
David Perron and Jordan Eberle, who have built some chemistry, will now be split up. The reasoning behind the move is to help neutralize the effects of the injuries to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner. Hopefully spreading the talent around will help equalize the lines. Splitting up that line was not an easy choice for Eakins.
"That was one where you kind of lay at sleep at night wondering if you shouldn't do that," said the Oilers bench boss. "They have had great chemistry together. I'm looking for them to maybe cover off a couple of other guys to have those three lines a little more equal. That's kind of the thought process of tonight. I'm going to see what's going. If it's not going the way I like, I'm just going to put them back together. That's the great thing about exhibition games. We can fool around with it now so that we don't have to fool around with it later."
The fine tuning will continue as the team tries to work on the smaller details that will help make them better in the long run.
"I think these games are pretty valuable for nailing the details down in our game and everyone getting on the same page," said centre Will Acton. "We went over a few things this morning that we'll execute tonight and that's what we're looking to do."
BELOV GETTING BETTER
Oilers new defenceman Anton Belov has steadily been adjusting to the NHL game after his career in Russia. Coach Eakins is excited with the progress of the blue liner.
"I think he's gotten better each and every night," said Eakins. "He's a quick study. The one thing we were a little worried about is our d-zone coverage with him, he was a little hesitant, but he fully gets it now. He's been strong, he moves the puck well, he's adjusting to the smaller rink very quickly. So far, so good on his progress."
Belov will be paired with Justin Schultz tonight against Dallas.
BRING THE NOISE
The Oklahoma City Barons fans who rock the Cox Convention Center on a nightly basis during the hockey season left an impression on the Oilers players who stayed there at the start of last season. Even on the days with a smaller crowd, the noise in the building was formidable.
The Oilers are excited to play in front of, what is expected to be, one of the larger crowds Oklahoma City has produced in that building.
"It should be a really good atmosphere with a lot of people in here," said defenceman Justin Schultz. "It will be loud. They're all excited for us to play. It's usually loud anyway when they don't have that many fans. So I am curious to see how loud it gets tonight."
Schultz was also excited to see familiar faces and sign autographs for some OKC followers today after practice.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
4 Taylor Hall 6 Jesse Joensuu 13 Mike Brown 14 Jordan Eberle 33 Steve MacIntyre 41 Will Acton 48 Ryan Hamilton 57 David Perron 62 Mark Arcobello 64 Nail Yakupov 83 Ales Hemsky 94 Ryan Smyth DEFENCE
2 Jeff Petry 5 Ladislav Smid 19 Justin Schultz 21 Andrew Ference 36 Philip Larsen 77 Anton Belov GOALTENDERS
1 Jason LaBarbera 40 Devan Dubnyk PROJECTED LINES
Smyth - Hall - Hemsky Joensuu - Arcobello - Eberle Perron - Gordon - Yakupov MacIntyre - Acton - Brown
Belov- J. Schultz Smid - Petry N. Schultz - Larsen
Dubnyk UP FRONT: Based on the lines the Oilers skated with on Thursday, the line of Ryan Smyth, Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky will be reunited. Jesse Joensuu will join the duo of Mark Arcobello and Jordan Eberle which was successful on Tuesday. David Perron and Nail Yakupov have had some success together this season and they will both be skating with Boyd Gordon down the middle. Steve MacIntyre makes his return to the Oilers with Will Acton in the middle and Mike Brown on the right side. ON THE BLUELINE: Russian puck mover Anton Belov plays on a pairing with former Dallas Stars blueliner Philip Larsen. Justin Schultz and Andrew Ference pair up and the familiar defence duo of Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry will likely play together. BETWEEN THE PIPES: Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins says that Devan Dubnyk will play the full 60 minutes tonight in goal for the Oilers. KEEP AN EYE ON: MacIntyre makes his return to the Oilers after spending his last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Over two seasons, MacIntyre played 13 games with the Penguins and had 18 penalty minutes. 12 of those minutes came in his only NHL game last season.This will be MacIntyre's third stint with the Oilers.
12 Alex Chiasson 16 Ryan Garbutt 18 Chris Mueller 20 Cody Eakin 21 Antoine Roussel 22 Colton Sceviour 25 Brett Ritchie 28 Lane MacDermid 38 Vernon Fiddler 39 Travis Morin 43 Valeri Nichushkin 52 Luke Gazdic DEFENCE
4 Brenden Dillon 5 Jamie Oleksiak 23 Kevin Connauton 37 Patrik Nemeth 45 Jyrki Jokipakka 55 Sergei Gonchar
30 Dan Ellis 32 Kari Lehtonen 41 Cristopher Nilstorp PROJECTED LINES
Connauton - Oleksiak Dillon - Fortunus Nemeth - Jokipakka UP FRONT: The Stars used what could be arguably close to their opening-night lineup at home on Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche That could mean that certain names intriguing to Oilers fans won't find their way to Oklahoma City tonight. Players like former Oilers captian Shawn Horcoff, Tyler Seguin, Erik Cole for starters. Healthy Stars forwards who did not play Thursday include Colton Sceviour, Brett Ritchie, Chris Mueller, Travis Morin and Luke Gazdic. All five will suit up tonight in OKC. ON THE BLUELINE: On defence, Kevin Connauton and 6'7" Jamie Oleksiak will be paired up. Brenden Dillon and Maxim Fortunus make up the second pairing and Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka are in pairing number three. BETWEEN THE PIPES: Kari Lehtonen went the distance for the Stars last night. Tonight, it could be Dan Ellis or perhaps Cristopher Nilstorp who starts for the Stars. KEEP AN EYE ON: While playing with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League last season, Antoine Roussel mixed it up with the Oilers affiliate Oklahoma City Barons often. Roussel had a knee-on-knee collision with Jordan Eberle in late October and then dropped the gloves with Taylor Hall in late December. It will be interesting to see if any of that bad blood creeps up tonight.