SUN Hockey Pool

Rita out of the box, Dvorak staying home

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

Jani Rita's waiting game has reached double-digits, but he'll be back in the thick of things when the Edmonton Oilers open a three-game swing against the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow.

Right winger Radek Dvorak will be left at home with a strained groin when the team jets out of town this morning after taking a tumble into the boards at practice Monday. That means Rita will draw in after 10 straight games in the press box as a healthy scratch.

"Definitely, it's going to be a big chance for me," Rita said after practice at Rexall Place yesterday. "For me, I just have to do my job and not try to do too much."

Rita, 24, hasn't played in more than three weeks, since Nov. 11 in a game against Columbus, but coach Craig MacTavish said yesterday he'll get his chance when the puck drops against the Flyers.

"He looks great in practice every day," MacTavish said. "He's a tremendously conditioned guy. It's just a case of finding an opportunity for him, and this looks like it."

Krys Kolanos, who has put in more pressbox time than ice time since being claimed off waivers from Phoenix, is the only other option up front, but Rita's a right-winger and can slip in alongside Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres.

"We've got good depth at forward," MacTavish said. "It's not that we don't have faith in Jani or Krys. It's just that the forwards have been playing well.

"You don't want to make a change or take anybody out of the lineup who is playing well. We've had good chemistry with the forwards, so those guys have just had to bide their time."

Rita, the Oilers first-round pick in the 1999 Entry Draft, has seen action in just 13 games, scoring 2-0-2, but he's waited his turn without complaint and has impressed with his work ethic.

"He's worked hard and he hasn't said a word," said vice-president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast. "He's given everything he can at practice. It's an opportunity for him.

"It's been a long and hard road for Jani, but he's a good kid and a good player. He just needs some games and some confidence."

With the Oilers on a roll until they gassed a 3-0 lead in a 5-4 overtime loss to Boston on Saturday, Rita's had to be patient.

"I think it's more mental than physical," Rita said of the challenges of getting back into action after almost a month of sitting. "I've been working hard, so physically, I'm in good shape. You have to think the game."

There's no firm word on when or if Dvorak will join the team on this trip, and there's the possibility he could be placed on the injured reserve list. If that's the case, that would open the door to recalling somebody from Hamilton or Iowa of the AHL.

With just six healthy defencemen in the fold, the Oilers could put in a call for Dan Smith or Dan Syvret.


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