OILERS 2 - RANGERS 0 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recorded a goal and an assist, while Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 19 shots as the Oilers blanked the Rangers 2-0 Saturday night at Rexall Place.
Khabibulin improves his record to 2-0-2 with the win, as well as establishing league-best numbers with a 0.72 goals-against average and .969 save percentage.
AT THE MORNING SKATE Who's in, who's out and who's starting in goal. Those vital game-day questions were answered at Saturday's morning skate.
Sam Gagner, who's missed all but one pre-season match in 2011-12, makes his return tonight vs. New York. 24-year-old Linus Omark, held pointless through six games with a -2 rating, will be relegated to the press box.
It's expected that Gagner will slot in alongside Magnus Paajarvi and Eric Belanger. No. 89 will play on the right wing, where he's had success in past seasons.
During the team's miraculous run in 2007-08 when the Oilers came within three points of a post-season berth, Gagner scored 16 points in the final 18 games on a line with Robert Nilsson and centre Andrew Cogliano.
"I have, as a matter of fact," Head Coach Tom Renney said when asked about putting Gagner on the wing. "I've had good visits with him and actually talked to a former coach of his. There's where we're going to put him tonight."
With the Oilers having scored a mere 10 goals this season, this morning's hot topic was the Oilers' sputtering attack.
"You can't forget about our defence," Paajarvi said when asked about what was needed to boost scoring. "Our defence has been good. We've been back-checking hard, and that's why we've been able to be in the games all the time.
"We've got to work on [scoring], but we can't forget about our defence, because that's one thing that's so much better than last year."
Ladislav Smid, who's been a big part of the Oilers' solid own-zone game, having accrued 20 blocked shots (ranked in the NHL's Top 5) on the season, also stands by the team's rock-solid play, but believes there needs to be a greater emphasis on generating an up-ice attack.
"I think we're balanced," he explained. "I don't think we're sitting too far back. I think we're aggressive and have created some chances; it's just not going in right now, so hopefully we can turn it around and start scoring more goals.
"For us as a team, I think it's more important that we don't allow as many goals and make it as easy as possible on our goalies. In previous seasons, they had to make 40 saves every game to give us a chance to help us win some games.
Smid, along with Ryan Whitney, Cam Barker, Andy Sutton, Tom Gilbert and Corey Potter, have promised a better return. The group has combined to record four points (a pair each from Gilbert and Potter), but wants to help out as much as possible.
"When we have meetings with the coaches, that's what they want us to do: move the puck quicker and support the offence," Smid said. "It's not that one D man is going to go end-to-end to score a goal. We have to move it quickly and jump up in the attack and you never know; you can create some chances."
Gilbert, the Oilers' lone goal-scorer from this past Tuesday's 2-1 loss in Calgary, agreed.
"I think the more you squeeze your stick when it comes to offence, the harder it actually gets," he said. "We've been getting a lot of chances, but just haven't been burying them. I think if we continue to keep playing solid across the board, our chances will come and we'll start scoring some more.
"We've got to bear down on those opportunities; on odd-man rushes, in-zone setups and even on broken plays. When that comes, and it will, we'll have success."
Last season, the Oilers and Rangers met once at Madison Square Garden in New York. The home side drubbed the orange and blue by an 8-2 score, in the process making enemies as Sean Avery sucker-punched Ladislav Smid; a total of 154 minutes in penalties were assessed, too, in the late-game melee.
"It's behind me, it's in the past and I'm looking forward to this game," Smid said. "I think everybody can make a picture about [Avery]; he's not in the lineup this year and it doesn't matter to me anymore.
"That was a really bad game," he added. "We played really poorly and the score was 8-2. It was a terrible game, but this one is in our building and we don't want to slide on a losing streak, so hopefully we can get a big W."
Gilbert came to Smid's aide that evening, tussling with New York's Michael Del Zotto along the benches as Avery was escorted to the locker room. He, too, insists that 2011-12 is a new season and that there's no bad blood spilling into this once-a-year matchup.
"I don't think so," he said when asked if there was any extra motivation heading into tonight's contest. "I think that was a different story last year; we were in a bit of a slump and the team wasn't playing as well as we wanted to. I think, overall, we're in a better place this season.
"You take what you learned from last year and the experience you had, and you don't want it to happen again. We're more focused on the way that we want to play and the way we've been playing. That's more important and that's how we're approaching this one."
Up to this point, Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk have split the action, playing in three games each in the Oilers' first six matches. The ‘tender carousel will come to an end tonight, as No. 35 will granted a second consecutive start between the pipes.
Can't argue with the coach's call. Khabibulin has posted a 1-0-2 record, along with a league-best (among netminders with more than one game played) 0.96 goals-against average and .962 save percentage.
"I thought he was good the other night," Renney said. "I liked the way he played, I like where he is mentally, but I wouldn't read too much into it beyond him starting tonight."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick