NHL Preview: Edmonton Oilers vs. Colorado Avalanche

By brianpalmer
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers (4-2-1) will look to regain sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division today when they take on the Colorado Avalanche (3-4-0) at the Pepsi Center in Denver, while the Avalanche will be looking for revenge after losing to the Oilers 4-1 in Edmonton on Monday.

Like last time, special teams will likely play the biggest factor in determining the outcome of this game. The Oilers converted 4 of 6 chances against the Avalanche in the first matchup, while the Avalanche went 0 for 3 on theirs. This continues a season-long trend for both teams, as the Oilers rank fourth in power play percentage (31.4%) while the Avalanche rank 29th (9.5%); and similarly, the Oilers are sixth in penalty kill percentage (85.3%), while the Avalanche are 25th (74.4%).

The Avalanche continue to be one of the league’s most-penalized teams, so they will need to keep themselves under control and make the Oilers beat them 5-on-5–where they are significantly less formidable–if the Avalanche hope to win. The Avalanche are simply too thin to muster much offense at this time without Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly, and they can’t afford to take any more serious injuries to their players, so it will be tough for them to compete with the Oilers.

Having said this, the Oilers are not without problems of their own. After Shawn Horcoff was hit from behind by Shane Doan in Phoenix the other night, he has been out with a neck injury and may not be available for today’s contest. If Horcoff is kept out of action, this will mean Eric Belanger will continue playing the third-line center role in his place, while Anton Lander subs for Belanger on the fourth line. And despite the strides they have made on defense so far, the Oilers’ defensemen are not without weaknesses that can easily be exploited, so if the Avalanche can take advantage of some Oilers mistakes, they might be able to hang with the Oilers this time around.

The Oilers have been riding Devan Dubnyk the whole season with the exception of when he was pulled early in their loss to the San Jose Sharks during the second game of the season. With Nikolai Khabibulin off the IR now and theoretically ready to go, this would be the perfect opportunity to give Dubnyk a rest while bringing Khabibulin in to face some mediocre competition. Will it happen?

This one could be a doozy, and with first place in the division at stake for the Oilers, expect them to come out flying.

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