- 28 games in 2011-12, the Oilers have established a 3-4-3 record against the Northwest Division. With another opportunity to reach the .500 mark tonight, the orange and blue could also be back in a post-season spot.
Doing so will be a challenge, as the Oilers have won only once on the current six-game homestand, spotting a 1-3-1 record overall as the struggling Colorado Avalanche roll into Rexall Place.
In order to come out with the team's second win in six, the Oilers' sputtering veterans will be counted on to produce; look no further than Ryan Smyth
, who's struggled of late, posting donuts in two consecutive games in which the home side has dropped 5-3 decisions.
"[Colorado] is playing well, they're playing hard," said No. 94. "We've got to be assertive; we've got to make sure we're ready for 60 minutes. That's one thing you can control on a daily basis is your effort; work ethic, and once you ply that to the game plan, you're going to get your results."
Smyth, 35, has notched 12 goals and 26 points in 28 games this season; a blistering pace, no doubt, so a small bump in the road was to be expected to come at some point.
Looking for a spark, however, Head Coach Tom Renney has assembled new line combinations in preparation for tonight's matchup. Smyth will line up alongside Shawn Horcoff
and Ales Hemsky
who, combined, came up with some early-season success as a trio.
"In that sense, it's a wake-up call for everyone," Smyth said of the changes. "It's a matter of staying focused, whoever your linemates are that that particular time." GAGNER'S ROLL
With the changes in mind, Sam Gagner
has been promoted to the top line; he'll skate next to point-per-gamers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
and Jordan Eberle
as he hopes to continue his mid-season roll. The 22-year-old has recorded one goal and nine points in 21 games this season, but has registered seven in his past eight outings.
"Things aren't always going to go your way," he said, looking back on his earlier challenge. "You've got to continue to push, and by no means do I think this is the end point. I know I still have a lot to prove. I want to continue to bring that intensity every night and help contribute to a win.
"That's a huge part of it," he added, regarding his ever-evolving boost in self-assurance. "You hear about it a lot in sports. I think the one thing I never wanted to lose was that intensity and the will to get through things. That's the attitude we have to have throughout our entire lineup right now. Tonight will be a good starting point."
Upping the heat was a bout with Nashville's Matt Halischuk back on Nov. 22, when the Oilers captured a 6-2 win. That was the start of Gagner's eight-game run; leaving little doubt that it was a turning point in his abbreviated 21-game season.
"I think that did it for me," he agreed. "I want to continue to play with that same passion; it's hard to do night-in and night-out in this league when you play so many games, but you've got to make sure you harness it and bring it every night. That was a big turning point for me.
"You've got to try and do anything to light that that spark."
Renney, who's been preaching passion since he arrived, couldn't agree more with Gagner's unrelenting drive to improve.
"I thought [Gagner] was spot-on before that," he explained. "He showed a great attitude, allowed himself to continue to be coached; bounced around the lineup a little bit to help us out in various locations as we put together the strongest lineups on the ice that we could.
"I think it can enlighten you, I think it can encourage you to impart your will, again, on your opponents. It wouldn't bother me to see other guys do the same if they feel they can be successful at it." TEUBERT'S TIME
With Andy Sutton
having been suspended by the NHL for a leaping hit on Carolina's Alexei Ponikarovsky in Saturday's tilt, Colten Teubert
will get back into the lineup tonight vs. Colorado. The 21-year-old has missed the past four games as a healthy scratch and is understandably excited to get back in.
"I'm happy," he said. "Everybody's happy to be [in the NHL], but you've got to earn it. I'm working hard every day and trying to get better and improve; obviously when my chance comes, I'm going to be ready and that's now. "
No. 33 has recorded one assist in eight games this season, and will be looking to fill Sutton's exceptionally large skates during the veteran's untimely absence. As usual, he's driven to keep his game simple and not let the NHL's crackdown on headshots change his game.
"You've got to play the game the way you were born to play it," said Teubert, whose 6'4", 195-pound build will strike fear into oncoming attackers. "I've got to play to my strengths, and that's being physical, simple and that's what I'm going to do." Nikolai Khabibulin
(9-6-3, 2.00 goals-against average and .932 save percentage) will make his 19th start of the season. -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick