SUN Hockey Pool

A date with the Devils

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- If Ty Conklin is feeling any extra pressure going into his first appearance with the Edmonton Oilers in seven weeks, he isn't admitting it.

What else is he supposed to say? Crouching on the blue in the ice, even against an outfit struggling as badly as the New Jersey Devils, is no place for nail-biting or woe-is-me head-hanging.

Conklin knows tonight's tilt with the Devils isn't just another night in the four-by-six, but he's exuding the same quiet confidence he did before some bad performances and a tender groin sent his season sideways.

As always, actions will speak louder than words. Conklin, who'll get the final stop on a three-game road swing after Mike Morrison and Jussi Markkanen split the first two, admits it's time for some of that.

Just stop the puck.

"I haven't played in awhile, so it's not going to be just your average game for me," Conklin admitted. "There's a little more pressure, sure. I'll be a little more excited, have more nervous energy for the game. A lot has been made about my game this year as far as people thinking it's been really poor. I don't agree with that. I don't think it's been great, but my confidence has never dropped off. I was frustrated a bit, but everybody goes through that."

CONDITIONING STINT

Conklin, 29, rejoined the Oilers in New York on Sunday after a two-game conditioning stint with Hartford of the AHL. Conklin stopped 34 of 37 shots he faced in a 4-3 win over Springfield Friday, then followed up with a 34-save performance in a 3-2 shootout loss to Philadelphia.

No tweak of the groin he aggravated while knocking off the rust in Hamilton and nice numbers - more fetching than his 1-1 record, 4.39 goals-against average and .836 saves-percentage in four outings with the Oilers.

To state the obvious, neither Conklin nor the Oilers imagined a struggle of this magnitude when training camp began. Conklin, with Markkanen riding shotgun, was supposed to be the go-to guy.

"Obviously, things haven't gone as I expected," Conklin said.

"There's going to be some pressure there to perform. Really, what it comes down to is performance and results. That never changes."

PECKING ORDER

Conklin, who gave up four goals his last time out on just 14 shots in a 7-1 loss to Colorado Oct. 21, has fallen behind Morrison and Markkanen in the pecking order. The numbers say way behind.

And, with Craig MacTavish having said he's not of the mind to carry three goaltenders very long, and all three stoppers needing waivers to be sent to the minors, something's got to give. Doesn't it?

"We're going to carry three for awhile for sure, because it's the best-case scenario right now," said MacTavish, backing off the position he took before this trip began.

"I made a lot of it not being ideal, but it's the best set of circumstances for us right now, based on how everybody is playing. We'll let the situation resolve itself through the next couple weeks."

Morrison beat the Flyers 3-2 to open the trip. He's 5-1 with a 1.79 GAA and .927 saves percentage. Markkanen played well despite a 3-2 shootout loss on Long Island.

Conklin has to begin to make his case in the goaltending sweepstakes tonight, even if nobody's framing it that way.

"If it's not resolved at that point, then we may have to make a decision," said MacTavish. "I wouldn't feel comfortable making that decision now because I don't have enough information."

Certainly, it's premature to talk about this game in terms of last chances. At the same time, Conklin's smart enough to know tonight is as good a time as any to begin to reclaim his place in the pecking order.

"It's 30 games into the season and I haven't really contributed too much," said Conklin.

"I think I still can. I'm not giving up hope on myself, that's for sure, but it's got to the point where it kind of has to start right now."


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