THE TEAM TODAY: The 'D' Situation

Justin Schultz doesn't skate, Petry takes a tumble, Whitney back in Saturday & more

Friday, 15.02.2013 / 6:36 PM
Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com

EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers practiced today at Russ Barnes Arena. It was the team's second practice in as many days as the team's longest break of the shortened season concludes with a match-up against the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night.

It was an eventful practice, though not for the right reasons. Justin Schultz did not skate after having his practice cut short on Thursday due to stiffness in his back but Ralph Krueger expects him in the lineup Saturday.

"I'll tell you right now that the chances of him playing are extremely high," he said. "It was really just sitting with the medical staff this morning and realistically assessing the value of the practice for him coming off of that yesterday. He did a really good workout with Chad Drummond at Rexall and he's going to be good for the pre-game skate tomorrow. We're calculating him 98% tomorrow."

In another notable incident, partway through practice Jeff Petry fell along the boards during a drill and ended up injuring himself. He had to be helped off the ice by his teammates.

"It was a battle along the boards and it looked like he had a little tweak somewhere in his upper leg area. We'll assess that. I can't tell you anymore right now because we had to continue on with the practice so hopefully it's nothing major."

After the incident, Petry came back on the ice briefly on his own strength and skated for a moment before heading back to Rexall Place for good.

"It was a tweak and we just said, that's enough, go. We'll see. If he needs something more physically he can do it at Rexall. We're in a very defensive mode when it comes to players feeling something in their body."

All indications were that Ryan Whitney would be making his return to the lineup after being out on Sunday and Tuesday.

"It's definitely planned right now. We feel that there's an opportunity there for Ryan to react and add to what's been one of our challenges, which is scoring offensively five on five and getting that game going, helping out on the power play. He knows what our expectations are and we look forward to giving him that opportunity."

Power play lines ran were different from what Oilers fans have been accustomed to for most of the season. One unit had Ryan Smyth, Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Whitney while the other had Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Teemu Hartikainen, Ales Hemsky and Corey Potter. Whitney saw him being on the power play unit as a sign that he was back in.

"I think I'll be playing, I'm looking forward to it," said Whitney. "I just want to play better, it's pretty simple. I want to do whatever it takes and whatever I have to do to do that, that's what I want to do."

Krueger says that Whitney has taken the benchings well.

"Those are all things that you work on from day one and you speak to the player about in the summer. It's all about our preparation for this season and understanding the fact that anybody at any time could have a phase in the season where he's going to be bumped by somebody. This was clear in the expectations that we're measuring on a daily basis, trying to field the best possible team out of the information that we have which is much more and much deeper than the players have."

The Oilers head coach added that often the coaches have a unique perspective from the players when it comes to assessing who will play on any given night.

"We see a lot of things. We can re-watch every game as often as we want on the videos and have statistics to show trends. We look at all of that before we make our decisions and we really try to take the feelings out of those decisions."

Krueger added that accountability and consistency are key elements for any player in the lineup when it comes to whether they'll be in our out on a regular basis.

"This is the National Hockey League. You have to be able to deal with that kind of pressure on a consistent basis. To understand that what you did last game, last month, last year isn't going to count anymore. It's what are you doing today and continue to improve and continue to be a better player until your last day in the National Hockey League."

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