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Pittsburgh vs. Edmonton Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (29-18-1-59) vs. Edmonton Oilers (16-24-5-37)
Where: Rexall Place

When:
Thursday, January 14, 9:30 p.m.
Radio:
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV:
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.

Season Series:
The Penguins and Oilers hit the ice for their only matchup in 2009-10. Pittsburgh held on for a 5-4 victory over Edmonton on Nov. 6, 2008 at Mellon Arena behind Evgeni Malkin’s three assists. Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan each tallied twice for the Penguins and Maxime Talbot netted the other goal as Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots to record the victory.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Dupuis-Crosby-Guerin
Talbot-Malkin-Fedotenko
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Rupp-Adams-Godard

Defense
Goligoski-Letang
Eaton-Gonchar
McKee-Lovejoy

Netminder
Fleury


Last Meeting: Nov. 6, 2008
  PIT 5 - EDM 4 
Game Highlights
AP Recap
 
KEY TO VICTORY
60-Minute Effort: When these two teams met last season in Pittsburgh the Penguins jumped out to a 5-0 advantage with 13:03 remaining in the second period. The question at that point wasn’t whether the Penguins would hold on for the victory, but rather could they reach double-digits. Instead the Oilers scored the next four goals and made it a game before falling, 5-4. While Edmonton might be raw, but they are a scrappy bunch who will continue to work.  

Offensive Zone Pressure: There are two reasons why this will be a key for the Penguins, First, the Oilers have a defensive corps more built for the offensive end than the D-zone, so forcing them to defend is not their forte. Second, Edmonton had the night off on Wednesday while the Penguins battled the Calgary Flames. The Oilers should have more energy left in the tank, so Pittsburgh needs to preserve some of theirs by being the team on the attack.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE OILERS
When the NHL returned from the lockout in the 2005-06 season the Edmonton Oilers came out of nowhere (they had missed the postseason two of the three seasons prior to the work stoppage) to make a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final. Although they lost No. 1 netminder Dwayne Roloson to injury in Game 1, they still put up a valiant fight and lost in seven games. Since then they have suffered through three straight non-playoff seasons despite a wealth of young talent. This year they currently have the second-lowest point total in the NHL (37) as they sit in the basement of the Western Conference, 16 points out of the final playoff berth.

Long-time head coach Craig MacTavish, who held the job for nine seasons, was let go at the end of last season and replaced by veteran bench boss Pat Quinn. Edmonton is the fifth stop in Quinn’s well-traveled career. In 19 seasons as a head coach, Quinn has guided his teams to the playoffs on 15 occasions, including a run to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final when he was with the Vancouver Canucks. This is Quinn’s first head-coaching job since he was let go by the Toronto Maple Leafs following the 2005-06 season.
 
NEW FACES
Edmonton delved into the free-agent frenzy only twice during the summer to bring in No. 1 goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and forward Mike Comrie, but each player has missed a majority of the season.

When he was healthy, Khabibulin gave the Oilers a dependable presence who often bailed his young team out when they made defensive mistakes. His numbers might not reflect how well he was playing, but on many nights he was the Oilers’ top player. Before suffering a potentially season-ending back problem in November the 37-year-old backstop had a 7-9-2 record, 3.03 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

Comrie is in his second stint with the Oilers, having originally broken into the league with Edmonton back in 2000-01. An Edmonton native, Comrie was signed to provide secondary scoring and grit on the top two lines. He was doing such with eight points (5G-3A) through 16 games, but he has been out since mid-November with mononucleosis.
 
FORWARDS
Edmonton’s offense is scoring at right around the same clip they were a season ago (2.67 goals per game compared to 2.78 last season), which can be taken as both good and bad. It’s impressive they have been able to hover around the same figure despite spending a majority of the year without Ales Hemsky and Mike Comrie. On the flip side, such stagnation means their talented young forwards have yet to take the next step in their development.

With Hemsky sidelined, Dustin Penner (See Player Spotlight below) has stepped up to begin justifying the mega-bucks free-agent deal he inked three summers ago. With 41 points (21G-20A), he has registered 15 more points than the next-closed forward, Sam Gagner. Just 20 years old, Gagner improved his goal-scoring total last season to 16 from the 13 tallies he had as an 18-year-old rookie in ’07-08. With nine goals in his first 44 games he make a good run at besting that figure once again coming down the stretch.

Gilbert Brule had trouble developing into the top-flight center the Columbus Blue Jackets hoped he would be after selecting him with the No. 6-overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but he is still only 23 years old and has found a niche as the second-line center with the Oilers. Brule has 24 points (11G-13A) through 41 games. Patrick O’Sullivan is yet another youngster who, at 24, has his better days still ahead of him. O’Sullivan has picked up nine goals and 23 points in 45 games. He scored a career-high 22 times and had 53 points for the Los Angeles Kings in ’07-08.

Twenty-two-year-old Andrew Coligiano has a great array of offensive skills and has shown the potential to be a solid 50-60 point producer for the next 10 years. The problem is his offensive numbers are down for a second-consecutive season. After a 45-point rookie campaign, which featured 18 goals, Colgiano slipped to 38 points last year (18G-20A). While such totals don’t represent a huge drop-off, it is somewhat alarming when you consider Colgiano has only 10 points (4G-6A) through 45 games this season.

Shawn Horcoff, who picked up 53 points (17g-36A) last season and is a four-time 50-plus point scorer, has really struggled to find his game this season. He has only 19 points (9G-10A) through 41 games and his defensive game has struggled as well, as his minus-21 rating is tied for the lowest on the team. Former Penguin Ryan Stone has seen action in 26 games for the Oilers and has picked up six assists.
 
DEFENSEMEN
The strength of the Oilers lies in their defense, even if the stats say their 3.29 goals-against average is the third-lowest in the league and several of their offensive-minded blueliners are experiencing down years.

Slovakian defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, acquired from the Los Angeles Kings prior to last season, has been their best overall player outside of forward Dustin Penner. The quarterback of the Edmonton power play, Visnovsky ranks second only to Penner in scoring with 27 points (8G-19A) in 40 games while also posting a solid plus-7 rating. The Penguins will catch a break as it appears Visnovsky will miss Thursday’s game with an ankle injury. American-born Tom Gilbert had a breakout season offensively last year with 45 points (5G-40A) but has had trouble getting untracked in ’09-10. Through 45 games he has picked up only 10 points (2G-8A), costing him a potential berth on the United States Olympic team.

Fans who remember Sheldon Souray from his days with the Montreal Canadiens know it might not be wise for the Penguins to get in front of one of his slap shots. The 6-foot-4 Souray used his cannon to tally 23 times last season, the second-best total among defensemen. It was the second time in three years he had reached the 20-goal mark. This season he has picked up 12 points (3G-9A) in 29 games. Russian Denis Grebeshkov has actually produced at the same pace he did last year, but has missed several games which have kept his overall numbers down. Last year he picked up 39 points (7G-32A) in 72 games and he has followed that up by registering 14 points (4G-10A) through 31 games. He will be representing the Russians next month at the Vancouver Olympic Games.

Veteran anchor Steve Staios and up-and-comer Ladislav Smid, who leads the Oilers with a plus-9 rating, provide a defensive presence to counter the offensive talents of the rest of the defensive core.
 
GOALTENDING
Nikolai Khabibulin is on the shelf for what looks to be the remainder of the season so the Oilers will be in the hands of Jeff Deslauriers down the stretch. The 25-year-old Deslauriers saw his first significant action last season as the backup to Dwayne Roloson. He played 10 games in ’08-09 and went 4-3 with a 3.13 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

Deslauriers can be a difficult netminder to get the puck behind for two reasons. First, he is one of those rare breeds who catch the puck with their right hand. Second, at 6-foot-4, he is an intimidating presence as he leaves little room for shooters to aim. Like any young player, it’s going to take Deslauriers time to fully develop at this level. That much is evident in his stats – a 9-13-3 record, 3.07 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. Those numbers put him in the bottom third of all starting netminders, but he has gotten better as the season has progressed.

Devan Dubnyk, a first-round selection in 2004, takes over as the backup. He stands even taller in the crease with his 6-foot-6 frame. Dubnyk, 23, has appeared in four games for Edmonton and has posted a 0-2 record, 4.41 goals-against average and a .839 save percentage.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: DUSTIN PENNER
Then Anaheim general manager Brian Burke cried foul well into the season in 2007-08 after the Oilers lured Dustin Penner away from his squad with a huge deal as a restricted free agent. When Penner scored a combined 20 goals his first two years of the deal fans wondered why he was regarded as such a big deal. Penner is showing the hockey world this season why Burke was so disappointed in losing him, and why the Oilers were so willing to pony up for his services.

Penner is the epitome of what a power forward should be with his 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame and his soft hands around the cage. He came out flying this season with seven goals in his first 10 games and he hasn’t stopped scoring since. He leads Edmonton with 41 points (21G-20A) and his 21 tallies rank eighth (tied) in the league through Wednesday. Penner recorded eight points (3G-5A) in 21 playoff games to help the Ducks capture the 2007 Stanley Cup.
 
INJURY UPDATE
Major injuries to key contributors are a big reason why the Oilers have struggled thus far in ’09-10.
- No. 1 netminder Nikolai Khabibulin has been out since Nov. 21 with a herniated disk in his back and he will undergo surgery on Thursday, likely ending his season.
- The Oilers were still reeling from the loss of their top goaltender when their best offensive player, Ales Hemsky, saw his season come to a close four days later thanks to a shoulder injury.
- Center Mike Comrie, a consistent 45-55 point scorer, has been out of the lineup since Nov. 16 with mono.
- Former first-round selection Marc-Antoine Pouliot should be ready to make his season debut in the next couple weeks. He has been out since undergoing surgery for a sports hernia during the preseason.
- Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, Edmonton’s second-leading scorer, is day-to-day with an ankle injury.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
"It's a long way to come back, but you can't look at that, you have to keep playing. Weirder things have happened. When the team here went on that playoff run (in 2006), they were so hard to beat. It just clicked all of a sudden. We just have to find that."

– Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert speaking to Yahoo! Sports on the Oilers’ playoff chances.

 
POINT OF INTEREST
1-8-1: Edmonton enters Thursday night’s game as the coldest team in the NHL with a 1-8-1 record over their previous 10 games. 
  
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Author: Jason Seidling

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