EDMONTON - In preparation for Sunday's season opener against the Vancouver Canucks, the Oilers participated in an hour-and-a-quarter-long, power-play-focused practice at Rexall Place.
"I didn't know what to expect [when I got called up]," said Danis. "I didn't know if Khabby was good to go or not. I know my situation -- I know I'm the third guy. I'd love to get into a game, but it's not my call. All I can do is work hard in practice and stay ready.
"I'm just happy to be here."
"I feel good, but not quite where I want to," added Khabibulin, who's still recovering from off-season surgery. "It's more about getting into game shape and seeing some more shots from NHL shooters. It shouldn't take too much time."
For now, he's not ready to play: "It's a day-to-day situation," said Head Coach Ralph Krueger.
Everyone else, including smooth-skating Swede Magnus Paajarvi? Congratulations, you made the team.
In what was practiced at length Friday, here are the Oilers' power-play units: No. 1: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Teemu Hartikainen and Justin Schultz. No. 2: Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Whitney.
"We need two groups going this year," Krueger said, praising the club's depth but acknowledging the risk in icing four forwards on a power-play. "Last year, the power-play was based predominantly on one group and that's not enough with the schedule we have and the pace we're under.
"We want to increase the pace. You might even see three shifts on a power-play this year."
In 2011-12, the Oilers had the League's third-best power-play (behind the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks) with a 20.6-percent success rate. In order to replicate or improve on that success, Krueger's message is a simple one:
"Overly skilled power-plays in the NHL generally lack work ethic," he said. "We had success last year not because of our skill, but because we worked harder than everyone else. Our goal this year is much of the same with continued simplicity.
"There aren't any handcuffs on the players, but there is a framework."
Since the D pairings continue to be consistent, it seems as though Mark Fistric will sit out on Sunday vs. Vancouver. Corey Potter appears to have won the sixth spot (for now) and will likely be paired with Ryan Whitney.
With Whitney and Justin Schultz anchoring the power-play units as the lone defenceman, Potter won't be getting much (if any) time on the man-advantage. The 28-year-old played 62 games last season, averaging 2:28 per on the power-play where he scored 11 of his 21 points.
"I'm not going to be getting much time back there, but it's not something I'm too focused on," said the Lansing, MI product. "If we're only rolling a couple D back there, we'll put our top guys in that situation -- the coaches know what I bring in that role, so it's possible I'll get some more power-play time as the season goes on. For now, my goal is to be as solid as I can defensively and still contribute on the offensive side, but at even strength. That's something I'm totally capable of, too.
After having a strong start to his first season in Edmonton (scoring eight points in his first 10 games), Potter inked a two-year extension with the Oilers in January of 2012. While there aren't any superstars on the back end, Potter and others have provided the Oilers with something they haven't had in quite a while: depth on defence.
"It's a good mix," Potter said. "We have a lot of good defencemen on the blue line here. It's good for competition -- bringing in Schultzy certainly adds to the offence and Fistric helps on the defensive side. I'm excited because we're going to be pretty solid back there this year."
SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!
Apr. 7, 2012 seems like so long ago. It was the last time the Oilers played, wrapping up the 2011-12 season with a 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.
It's time to get back to work.
"The pace that Ralph has put us under over the past week has been incredible," Potter said. "He doesn't like to waste any time during practice and that's great. Not only is the pace awesome, but it keeps our minds sharp. This is a short season and we need to stay as fresh as possible. That's a good way to do it.
"I can't wait for Sunday. It's going to be great."
"It's not going take a motivational expert to get these guys up for Sunday," laughed Krueger. "They're ready. As a coach, it's about continuing to feed the fire that's running through that dressing room right now."
Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff missed Friday's practice with a stomach virus. Krueger hopes it's a "24-hour thing," but No. 10's status is questionable for Sunday. Expect an update on Horcoff's condition in Saturday's edition of The Team Today.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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