Taylor vs. Jeff doesn't have quite the ring to it as Taylor vs. Tyler, but that hasn't stopped the hockey media from hyping Tuesday's matchup between Edmonton's Taylor Hall, the first overall pick in June's NHL Entry Draft, and Carolina's Jeff Skinner, the seventh overall pick and currently the league's top-scoring rookie.
Skinner has opened up a decent margin between himself and the NHL's other freshmen — his 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 14 games are 50 percent more than any other rookie. Edmonton's Jordan Eberle, with eight points, is among a group of four trailing Skinner in second place, while Hall has half of Skinner's total, but has five of his six points in the past five games.
But lost in the hubbub of Skinner vs. Hall is the fact that this will be just the third time the Oilers have visited the RBC Center since the Hurricanes hoisted the Stanley Cup June 19, 2006, following a 3-1, Game 7 win over Edmonton.The teams played twice in Raleigh in 2008 — Carolina's 7-2 win Jan. 18 of the 2007-08 season that featured three third-period goals by Eric Staal, and a 3-1 Edmonton win Nov. 1 of the following season that snapped a five-game Oilers’ losing streak — but the rosters are vastly different now from then, and even more different from that Stanley Cup Final.
The Hurricanes boast only five players from that Cup-winning team (Staal, Cam Ward, Chad LaRose, Erik Cole and Anton Babchuk) and both Babchuk and Cole played elsewhere — Babchuk in the KHL, Cole with the Oilers — before returning to Carolina. Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff — who will miss the game due to injury — both played for Edmonton in the series, while Jean-Francois Jacques played 37 regular season games for the Oilers that season, but none in the postseason. Jacques is on injured reserve and has not played for the Oilers this season.
So Edmonton will have one player, Hemsky, in the Copper and Blue that suited up back in June 2006 — Carolina has as many from that Oilers squad: Sergei Samsonov — and now features a roster loaded with numerous 25-and-under players.
No. 1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin is not among those who are, at most, shaving every other day. In fact, at 37 years old his beard may be speckled with more grays than Edmonton's trio of Hall, Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi have facial hairs at all. Khabibulin was certainly a disappointment in his first Edmonton campaign last season, playing just 18 games due to injury, but has helped the Oilers stay afloat in the early goings of 2010-11. (Update: According to the Edmonton Journal, Khabibulin will start. Jim Vandermeer will sit for Theo Peckham. See the full lines in the aforementioned story)
After winning its first two games, the Oilers are 2-6-2 in the last 10 and have a Western Conference-low 10 points through 12 games. But Edmonton is coming off a win Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, led by Khabibulin and another young up-and-comer in Sam Gagner — who has three goals in his past four games.
The Oilers defense is made of 20-somethings, led by the Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert. Both thrive in the offensive zone but fail to use their big frames to out-muscle opponents. Ladislav Smid, a key piece in the trade that sent Chris Pronger to Anaheim following Edmonton's run to the '06 Finals, has grown into a reliable shutdown defender, while Kurtis Foster continues his career comeback.
The Canes should boast the same lineup they used in their weekend home-and-home against Florida with one exception: Joni Pitkanen, who missed the series with the Panthers after reaggravating an upper-body injury Nov. 3 against the Islanders, will play. Brett Carson, who was in the lineup the last two games, will be returned to Charlotte as a condition of his emergency recall.
Eric Staal is coming off a two-goal effort Saturday vs. Florida, and his next goal will be the 200th of his career. Skinner registered his third multipoint game of the season with a goal and an assist, while Samsonov is riding a three-game point streak.
The game starts at 7 p.m. and will not be televised locally. The game can be heard on 99.9 The Fan. We will update any lineup decisions — such as starting goalies — as we hear them.
- Edmonton's Whitney is tied for ninth in the NHL in defense scoring, registering 10 assists through 12 games. That ties him with several players — including Sidney Crosby — for 12th in the league in assists.
- Staal's six goals have him tied for 20th in the league. His two game-winning goals are only bested by six players who have three.
- Horcoff, who will miss the game, has three of Edmonton's nine power play goals this season.
- Eberle has two shorthanded goals 12 games into his NHL career, good for a tie for second in the league. Jordan Staal (seven in 2006-07) and Kris Versteeg (four in 2008-09) are the only post-lockout rookies to manage more than two in a season.
- The Oilers and Hurricanes are ranked 29th and 30th, respectively, in faceoff percentage. Edmonton has won 44.3 percent of its draws, while Carolina has won just 38.1 percent. The Canes could hold an advantage though, as Horcoff will miss the game and is the team's best regular faceoff man at 48.4 percent.
- Tuomo Ruutu ranks tied for third in the league in hits with 51.
- Gilbert is 11th in the NHL in blocked shots with 32.
- Cole is tied for ninth in the league with a plus-8, but is minus-2 in home games.
- Four defensemen in the game rank in the top 30 in average ice time: Whitney is fifth (25:57); Joe Corvo 13th (24:56), Gilbert is tied for 20th (24:11) and Pitkanen is 30th (23:39). Staal is third among forwards at 21:45, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and Crosby.
- Cam Ward's seven wins are one behind four league leaders. Khabibulin is one of three goalies with six losses, trailing only Martin Brodeur (eight). Ward leads the NHL in saves with 428.
- Edmonton's 70.9 percent penalty kill rate ranks last in the NHL. Carolina is 22nd at 79.2 percent.
- Carolina is one of five teams that has not lost when scoring first, and they also have not lost a game in which they have led at the end of any period.
- The Hurricanes have converted just two of 26 power play chances (7.7 percent) in home games.
Players To Watch
Carolina: Jussi Jokinen has just two points in the past seven games, but is 5-6-11 in 13 career games against Edmonton, including five power play goals; LaRose has three points (a goal and two assists) in three games against Edmonton; Ward is just 1-3 with a 2.79 GAA and .890 S% vs. the Oilers; Patrick O`Sullivan, who has not yet played in November and will likely sit again tonight, has six goals and three assists in nine career games vs. the Oiler.
Edmonton: Andrew Cogliano and Gagner each have a goal and an assist in three career games against the Canes; has four assists in five games vs. Carolina; Khabibulin has a modest 7-6-5 record against the Hurricanes, but his save percentage (.926) and goals-against average (2.17) are well above his career average.