Sam Gagner will play the right wing with Eric Belanger and Magnus Paajarvi tonight. It will be Gagner’s first game since March 9th, and while he did dress v. Calgary in the preseason, it has been over seven months since he felt the pace of regular season action.
Gagner is fired up to play and isn’t concerned about playing the wing.
"We have a lot of depth and a lot of guys who can play in different positions. I’m not worried where I’m playing. I feel comfortable on the wing. I’m just excited about getting back in the lineup, and I’m playing with two guys with lots of skill who are solid at both ends of the rink, so I should have a lot of time and space to make plays."
Gagner will play the right side with Eric Belanger and Magnus Paajarvi. This isn’t Gagner’s first attempt as a winger, in fact, a major portion of the most productive stretch of his four-year career came as a winger at the end of his rookie season.
Gagner tallied 28 points in his final 28 games that year, and in 19 of those games he was a winger on a line with Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson.
Was Gagner more effective as a winger? Even he didn’t know the answer.
"A lot of that success was powerplay success as well. At that time we were the go-to guys and we were playing a lot. As a winger maybe I get more room offensively, I don’t know what it was, but I felt good and hopefully I can get some of that back again."
Trying Gagner on the wing wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment decision by coach Renney.
"I have watched some footage of him as a winger, and I had some good visits with him about it (playing wing). I actually talked to a former coach he had (I’m guessing MacTavish) about using him on the wing, and it seems like it is going to go fine."
The Oilers centres have played well, and with Belanger and Horcoff winning draws Renney didn’t want to put Gagner in the middle and risk losing more draws. Renney still might try him in the middle, but he’s really liked Lander on the 4th line and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is producing, so putting Gagner on the wing makes sense for now.
REST OF THE LINEUP
Linus Omark will take a sit beside Theo Peckham in the pressbox tonight. Renney likes Lennart Petrell as a PKer and a big body along the boards, and didn’t want to shuffle all his lines to bring in one guy. Now that the Oilers have some healthy bodies, you can expect Renney to move guys in and out if they aren’t playing well.
Nikolai Khabibulin will start for the 2nd straight game. He leads the NHL in GAA at 0.95 and is 2nd in SV%, 0.962 behind Jonathon Quick. Renney stated afterwards we shouldn’t read too much into it beyond tonight, meaning Dubnyk won’t be sitting out very long.
SHOOT THE PUCK
Renney had separate, and brief, one-on-one chats with Hall, RNH and Eberle at the morning skate and the message was very simple. Shoot the puck.
"They have it (puck) a lot, and they have it a lot where most people want it, so shoot it. Pretty straight forward. Be a little more selfish at times and shoot it."
He was asked if the Eberle toe-drag v. Minnesota was a prime example and Renney agreed. He likes their creativity, but they need to shoot the puck more, especially Eberle, because he has such an accurate shot.
It is clear this team is serious about winning. They were still annoyed about their two previous games because they feel they should have won them. The Oilers know they can’t get on any sort of losing streak if they expect to be in the hunt, and they sounded like a group that will play with some fire tonight.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: For the sake of Oiler fans let’s see some offence and intensity. You’ll see an offensive explosion, but Oilers will lose 3-2. Yes right now two goals is an explosion.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Kevin Weekes will be pumping Khabibulin and Lundqvist’s tires the entire game.Both are top-five in SV% and I’m sure you’ll hear about it mulitple times, not to mention he will suggest that "Tent City" was a great wakeup call for Khabibulin.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: I’ll be enjoying the game from the stands tonight celebrating a birthday with the fellas. I love sitting in the crowd and listening to the banter. I love the fan who gets fired up. The one who cheers loud and boos just as loud, or high fives strangers after goals. I like the fans who really enjoy going. However, like most of you, I can’t stand the SHOOOOT guy, or talk-to-the-players-as-they-make-plays guy, or the loud-talker-who-isn’t-watching-the-game-and-blabbing-about-their-life-problems guy/gal. The problem is I have a hunch one of the guys going to the game with us is the latter guy. If so, I vow to take pictures of that guy and mock him on twitter. No fan likes the annoying fan. Cheer loud, hell, boo loud, just don’t talk about your life-problems loud. Not at the game at least.