I like the look of the lines that Edmonton Oilers coach Tom Renney ran at practice today, and not just because they included Taylor Hall, who is poised to return to action against the Phoenix Coyotes Thursday after missing seven games with an injured left shoulder.
While the Oilers still have a decision to make on Magnus Paajarvi, seeing as the team is obviously hesitant to send him to the AHL to get some playing time, if Renney rolls out the same trios against the Coyotes, we’ll see three lines with some offensive capability.
Noteworthy, aside from the fact Paajarvi skated as an extra, is that Ryan Smyth was bumped to the third line, Sam Gagner stays in the top six and Ales Hemsky moves back into the top six after playing on the third line late in Saturday’s 3-0 loss in Calgary.
RENNEY’S LINE-UP CARD
Here’s a look at the lines Renney rolled with at Millennium Place with the boxcars for each player in parenthesis:
GAGNER (3-9-12) RNH (13-19-32) EBERLE (11-20-31)
With Hall ready to return, Gagner could have been the odd man out seeing as he’s been moved all over the place so far this season, but it makes sense to reward his improved play of late by keeping him here. Busting Gagner to the third line would have been an unfair kick in the pills.
HALL (7-11-18) HORCOFF (7-13-20) HEMSKY (3-8-11)
Despite the suggestions by some readers I’m among those who’d like to run Hemsky out of town, I’m with Renney when it comes to keeping him in the top six. If you aren’t going to play Hemsky with linemates who’ll him get going, then you’re sending the wrong message. Hall will open ice for him.
SMYTH (12-14-26) BELANGER (1-8-9) JONES (9-6-15)
Smyth won’t be thrilled to be bumped into a third-line role, but I don’t have any problem with lines that will result in his 5-on-5 ice time being slightly reduced, seeing as he might be a little gassed already. Between Smyth and Jones, there’s going to be a lot of Oiler backside in the faces of opposing goaltenders.
EAGER (2-1-3) LANDER (1-2-3) PETRELL (2-3-5)
This group could change if the Oilers continue to dither on what to do with Paajarvi. It won’t do Paajarvi any good in terms of finding his offensive game to play here, but I’m wondering if he’ll spot in here.
MAINTENANCE DAY, EH?
The Oilers kept Nikolai Khabibulin off the ice again today and they’re calling it a "maintenance day." That makes it two "maintenance" days in row for Khabibulin on the heels of a day off for everybody. Hmm.
Given Khabibulin’s birth certificate and propensity for breaking down in recent seasons, getting him some rest makes sense, but I’m not altogether convinced No. 35 hasn’t tweaked something (groin) already. I have no inside info on that, it’s just hunch. Doesn’t smell right. We’ll take another sniff when the puck drops in Phoenix.
WHILE I’M AT IT . . .
— Defenseman Corey Potter is also close to a return, but he’ll have to pass Renney’s fitness test before he gets back into action. My guess is it’s more likely we’ll see Potter Saturday in San Jose or next Monday against the Detroit Red Wings than Thursday.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.