OILERS vs. SABRES:
AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Oilers iced a full crew for morning skate Tuesday, including recently sidelined defencemen Tom Gilbert and Jim Vandermeer, as well as forwards Ales Hemsky and Gilbert Brule. Call-up Jeff Petry, who arrived in Edmonton yesterday, was also present.
Brule continues to suffer from a touch of the flu and was placed on injured reserve, allowing the club to activate Hemsky without reassigning rookies Linus Omark or Ryan O'Marra to Oklahoma City.
As such, the forward lines were as follows:
Hall - Gagner - Eberle
Penner - Cogliano - Hemsky
Paajarvi - O'Marra - Omark
Jacques - Fraser - Jones
Players and coaches are looking forward to Hemsky's return tonight.
"That's huge for us," Sam Gagner said. "We feel like we've done our best and played well without him, but obviously he's a key part of our line-up and has a lot of skill and he injects a lot of offence into your line-up right away."
Head coach Tom Renney hopes the talented forward "keeps it simple" in his first game back.
"I don't think he can afford to go out there and try to reinvent the wheel here or be the extraordinary player that he can be in game one of 10 away," the coach said. "He's been a very good player for us and as good as we've had from the get-go. I don't anticipate that will be too difficult for him, but he might want to try to do too much."
GILBERT GOOD TO GO
After leaving Sunday's game vs. Vancouver late in the second period due to a tweaked knee, Tom Gilbert was questionable for tonight's game vs. Buffalo. But after resting and recovering for a full day, the defenceman says he's good to go.
"Nice day off obviously was definitely good for my knee and the skate felt good this morning too," he stated.
If the injury had stuck, Gilbert's impressive iron-man streak of 292 straight games would have come to an end. Though it may make an interesting stat, the streak doesn't factor into his decision to play tonight, he said.
"Streak's okay, but that's not the important part. The important part is making sure that it's okay to go out there and skate with."
PETRY TO MAKE DEBUT
While Hemsky will take to the ice for his 465th career NHL game and Gilbert his 293rd, on the blue line, Petry will skate in his first. The 23-year-old college-trained defenceman replaces Vandermeer, who is not yet game-ready, and will skate with vet Ryan Whitney.
"He's been very, very good in Oklahoma City and all reports from the coaching staff suggest this is the guy to bring up," Renney said. "My first glimpse of him was at the development camp last summer and there's just something about him you liked, and so to see the evolution of him moving into his first NHL game is really cool.
"That said, he's got to be good -- he's got to move the puck well, he's got to get his shots through, he's got to defend with good gaps, he's got to be strong and firm in his own end."
Petry admitted he will feel some nerves but hopes to keep them in check tonight.
"I'm really excited but I want to kind of control the emotions, get them all out in warmup, and just play the same game I was playing down in Oklahoma," he said. "Over the last three or four weeks I thought I've been playing a lot better, plus-minus is going up, just feeling more comfortable each game."
Petry is the third rookie call-up the Oilers have made this season. According to Gagner, Omark and O'Marra have performed well and Petry is expected to do the same.
"When guys come up, you want to have them help add to the depth, and Linus and Ryan have done that really well," he said. "With Petry coming up, he's obviously a guy with a lot of skill off the back end and he can move the puck really well ... I think it's just a matter of us getting open for him and supporting him, and he's got a lot of skill so he should have a good night."
With the addition of Petry, Omark, and O'Marra, the Oilers now have six rookies on their current roster, including Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle.
It's a unique situation but not one that surprises Renney.
"We're in that stage of our development as an organization, and this is not the last guy that will get called up and get exposure to their first NHL experience," the coach explained. "We have to make sure that it's got value to it, and there has to be a certain demand on the player too. You want it to be seamless as much as possible, but we have to see what they can do."
STICKING IT TO THE SABRES
The rookies will face the Sabres for the first-time ever tonight and are likely unfamiliar with what happened the last time the two clubs met at Rexall Place. On January 27, 2009, the Sabres skewered the Oilers 10-2, a loss fans and players were eager to forget.
Gagner remembers the game but said it doesn't have a big impact on tonight's contest.
"We have a lot different team now and there's a lot of guys that weren't here for that, so obviously if you were a part of it, it's something that maybe you want to avenge," he said. "We have a lot of pride in here, but at the same time, it's a new year and we both have new teams.
"It's a matter of making sure that we're keeping things simple here at home and not trying to do too much but having that intensity where we're getting in on pucks."
Renney's philosophy is simple: "Before you start winning you've got to quit losing, and we've got to work on that."
SABRES 4 - OILERS 2
Despite scoring the first goal of the game and out-shooting their opponents 31-21, the Oilers were unable to secure two points and dropped a 4-2 decision to the Sabres Tuesday night. Dustin Penner and Ryan Jones scored for Edmonton, Jeff Petry recorded his first NHL point in his NHL debut, and Nikolai Khabibulin made 17 saves in the loss.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola & Bob Stauffer