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OFF THE ICE

Zack is Back and other stories

Friday, 21.12.2007 / 4:40 PM / Off the Ice
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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Zack is Back and other stories
Colorado Avalanche goalie Peter Budaj, right, of Slovakia, waits as Edmonton Oilers right winger Zack Stortini tries to direct the puck on the net in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Denver on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
After missing the last five games as a healthy scratch, Oilers winger Zack Stortini will draw back into the lineup tonight against New Jersey.

“It’s definitely a big game for us. We want to come out strong. They’ve got a good team out there and have been doing well,” said Stortini, who will be playing on a line with Kyle Brodziak and Andrew Cogliano. Previous to his current stint in the press box, Stortini played in 17 consecutive contests for the Oilers. However, as the team got healthier and subsequently got on a bit of a roll he became the odd man out. However, Stortini never lost focus.

“You’re always prepared and ready to play each and every night,” he said.

Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish felt that it was time to get him back into the lineup and playing. At only 22 years old, Stortini is still in the development stage of his career.

“It’s just a cycle we’re in as a team. We want to continue to have an eye on developing our young guys. Zack has been out a number of games now and we have to make a decision on him. We’ve got to get him back in or get him down to the minors and playing,” said MacTavish, adding he’s been impressed with Stortini’s work ethic over the past few weeks.

With the strong play as well of Patrick Thoresen, it will be Geoff Sanderson stepping aside to make room for Stortini.

“Geoff’s a veteran player and we all know how valuable experience is – not only now but as the games grow more pressure filled,” said MacTavish. “I like a lot of things that Geoff’s brought to our team. It’s a good luxury now but it’s unfortunate for him because he’s really played decently. But I think he understands the situation as well.”

TARNSTROM ALSO DRAWS IN

Edmonton Oilers' Dick Tarnstrom pins Colorado Avalanche's Ryan Smyth to the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007, in Edmonton, Alberta. (AP Photo/John Ulan, The Canadian Press)
Another new face in the lineup tonight will be defenceman Dick Tarnstrom. Sidelined with a concussion on November 24, Tarnstrom was given the green light to play last week. But again, the team was winning and MacTavish didn’t want to tinker with the defence.

“When the team’s playing well, you’re always hesitant to make changes on the back end,” said MacTavish. Tonight it will be Denis Grebeshkov as a healthy scratch.

“We’re going to have to share some of that responsibility of being in the press box. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for the hockey club or the individual who goes into the press box; it just has to be framed the right way.”

MacTavish also added that he was apprehensive about putting Tarnstrom in right away due to the nature of his injury.

“It’s taken him awhile to recover from the hit. I feel more comfortable now putting him in than I would have even a game or so ago. He looks ready to go,” he stated. “You can’t be too cautious about those situations if a player experiences some symptoms. If you take your time they’re more ready – not only physically but mentally – to jump back in there.”

Tarnstrom understood the situation that kept him out of the line up even when healthy.

“We’ve been playing great here for the last little bit. We’re winning so there’s no sense mixing up the lineups all the time,” said Tarnstrom. “Winning the games is what counts so I’m good with that.”

He also commented that it might take him a little while to get his game legs back.

“I have no idea what to expect. I’m just going to get in there and play my game, try to get the timing and positioning again. I haven’t played in a month and it’s always tough to come back so I’ll just try and keep it simple.

“You’ve got to have the right gaps and the timing to the puck. It’s something that’s not coming right away. It’ll probably be a little off to start but hopefully I’ll get back into it real soon.”

ROTATION CONTINUES

Edmonton Oilers goalie Mathieu Garon, left, is congratulated by fellow goalie Dwayne Roloson after he made a save on Los Angeles Kings' Anze Kopitar of Slovenia in a shootout to clinch his team's victory in an NHL hockey game in Los Angeles, Monday, Dec. 3, 2007. The Oilers won the game, 4-3. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Mathieu Garon gets the start in goal tonight, marking the ninth consecutive game that MacTavish has gone with a different starting netminder. It’s worked well, with the team holding a record of 4-2-2 in the previous eight games.

“They’ve handled it exceptionally well and you would expect that with the situation that they’re in,” said MacTavish. “They’re both very supportive of one another and I think you need that.”

At the start of the season, the Oilers said that an ideal situation would be Roloson playing 50 games and Garon playing 30. So far, Garon is on pace to start 35 games so that plan is right on schedule.

“We talked about reducing Roli’s workload before the season started,” MacTavish remarked. “What better time than when Mathieu’s playing so well?”

Garon wasn’t sure what to expect when he signed on with the Oilers in the offseason but has relished the opportunity to play a bunch of games.

“It’s the first time I’ve been in a system like this. So far I really like it because I have a chance to play a lot and it keeps you sharp,” he said. “We both want to play well because if you’re playing well you might have a chance to play the next game. But at the same time, if both goalies are playing good, it’s good for the team.”

But whether he gets the nod between the pipes or Roloson does, the bottom line is winning hockey games.

“All we want is to have a successful team and a team that wins a lot of hockey games.”

Roloson tries not to worry himself too much with the goaltender rotation.

“It doesn’t matter what I like or what I don’t like, it’s out of my control. It’s up to Mac – it’s his decision at the end of the day so it doesn’t really matter.”

All the 38-year-old netminder can do is get himself ready to play every night.

“You’ve got to prepare for every game like you’re playing anyways, whether you’re in or not because you never know what could happen.”

He was in a similar situation with the Minnesota Wild, splitting the workload with Manny Fernandez almost entirely down the middle but Roloson did not want to draw any parallels to the situation. 

“You can try and find all the differences and all the similarities but that’s not my cup of tea to break that down, I just go out and play whenever I get the opportunity to play.”

Craig MacTavish has been impressed with the professionalism exhibited by both Roloson and Garon through this goaltending situation.

“They’ve both been feeding off one another. I know a lot of times it’s not the healthiest environment but the way these two have handled it, it’s been a positive environment for both of them.

“It’s a more unlikely scenario in today’s game because of the fact that most teams are going to spend their dollars on one goalie. It’s unusual that you have two goalies that are not only playing similar amount of minutes but also at a high level.”

OILERS WORKING OVERTIME

Edmonton Oilers' Sam Gagner, right, scores on Los Angeles Kings goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin during a shootout in an NHL hockey game in Los Angeles, Monday, Dec. 3, 2007. The Oilers won the shootout and beat the Kings, 4-3. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
The Edmonton Oilers come into tonight’s game having played five straight overtime games and an NHL record four straight shootouts.

On Thursday, the team practiced the shootout in a drill and an unlikely player – Marty Reasoner – won the competition.

“I think it just moved me up from 10th to 9th on the list. If we go nine deep I might be in there,” Reasoner joked.

He added that he doesn’t think changes should be in order despite Tuesday’s loss to Dallas considering how successful the team has been this season.

“I think when you go 10-2 you’re pretty solid with the guys that you have. They’ve obviously done very well. I don’t think one night off is going to change the whole shootout order.”

MacTavish has been mulling over some changes to his shootout lineup, and Thursday’s drill was a part of that process.

“That’ll be interesting. I don’t think I’ll quite make that decision until I have to. It’s always a point of observation for the coaches to see who has the aptitude on the shootout.”

He added that success in practice doesn’t necessarily translate into success in a game situation in this case.

“There’s always a player or two that looks like they’re ready for it. It’s a lot easier to do some of the fancy movements that are more difficult in practice than when there’s 18,000 fans watching you.”
INSIDE THE OILERS