Tonight is the only time you will see the Rangers and Oilers do battle this season, barring a miracle Stanley Cup matchup, and right now neither team is playing very well.
After winning seven straight the Rangers are 2-5-1 in their last eight and are suffering from the same “stone-itis” as the Oilers with only five goals in the last four games.
Ladislav Smid didn’t skate this morning and looks to be out tonight, so the defence pairings looks like this:
Visnovsky — Chorney
Strudwick — Staios
Gilbert — Grebeshkov
The Oilers still don’t have a pairing that resembles a shut-down pair and it will be interesting to see who Tom Renney puts out against Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal. If Smid was playing he would be the guy, but with him out Renney told me it will be by committee tonight.
Renney has been really happy with Smid this season, and that when they have given him the assignment to shut down a guy, he has welcomed it.
Up front the Oilers will role two supposed scoring lines, and then a checking line and an energy line.
Penner — Gagner — Hemsky
Comrie — O’Sullivan — Nilsson
Moreau — Cogliano — Pisani
MacIntyre — Brule — Stortini
JF Jacques is out for tonight. He is suffering from back spasms, and he will have an MRI this afternoon. They don’t think it is related to his previous back injury and the MRI is more precautionary. Mike Comrie is feeling a bit better, but he won’t know exactly how his breathing is until he gets in the game. And look for Comrie to take a few draws with O’Sullivan not overly comfortable in the dot.
The good news for the Oilers is that the Rangers aren’t a dominant team in the dot. The Rangers are 48% while the Oilers are 46% in the draw, so one of them will improve their percentage tonight.
As you hunker down, or head out to The Pint to watch PPV tonight, expect the Oilers to be more physical. The consistent message from the players is that they have to get back to being hard to play against like they were in the first nine games. The Rangers aren’t blessed with a really big or physical team, so if the Oilers skate and hit like they did early this season they should be successful.
The Oilers need to do a better job of getting shots and limiting the shots against. They can’t expect to win games when they are consistently getting out-shot by ten or more shots. It comes down to effort and a willingness to compete.
Which is the exact same problem they’ve had in previous years. This team needs to be more consistent with the small details of their game, and they need to start executing what the coaching staff wants. If they don’t they will struggle to stay in the hunt, but if the light switches on then they have the make up to be competitive.
Look for the Oilers to re-call someone after the game, just to ensure they have enough bodies on the road trip. Chris Minard would have been the guy, with nine goals in eleven games, but he has a mild concussion and is out. Ryan O’Marra has not been good of late, so expect it to be either Ryan Potulny or Liam Reddox.
Sheldon Souray spoke for the first time since being injured on October 8th. He had a fairly intense bike ride yesterday and then skated. He has gone four days without any negative symptoms, but is very cautious about when he will return.
When I asked him his thoughts on the play with Iginla he said, “I respect Jarome and the way he plays. Accidents happen all the time and it is unfortunate what happened, but I’m not upset about it. It is a common play in hockey when a guy forechecks hard and you feel the pressure …The game is so fast and guys have to make decisions in a second and sometimes accidents happen.”
Not surprising that he feels that way, since Souray is a hard-nosed player and it clearly wasn’t a cheap play. Ideally Iginla’s stick wouldn’t have been there, but the game is so fast, ultimately accidents will happen.
Souray is taking a very cautious approach, and he would like to join the team on the road, just so he could get skating with other people. He hasn’t worked out in a month, and said he hasn’t gone that long without working out in his career. Even after shoulder surgery he would start rehabbing within a week or two. So he feels he has to get back in shape and hopefully not suffer any setbacks before he even thinks about returning. Don’t expect him back for at least two weeks and probably three.