OFF THE ICE

Chopping at the bit

Friday, 28.12.2007 / 5:58 PM / Off the Ice
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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Chopping at the bit
Oilers captain Ethan Moreau will play his first game wearing the 'C' on Saturday night in Minnesota against the Wild. (photo: Andy Devlin/EOHC)
 
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Looking to play a grittier game in an attempt to break out of their four-game winless drought, the Edmonton Oilers will have just what the doctor ordered Saturday in Minnesota when their captain Ethan Moreau returns to the lineup. “What he gives us is a lot of sandpaper, a lot of leadership and a lot of lead-by-example type stuff,” said defenceman Sheldon Souray. “We’re going to need that right now. We need the energy and enthusiasm that he’s going to bring.”

Moreau has been ready to go for several days now and after several hard practices and strong results from a fitness test, head coach Craig MacTavish will not hesitate to use him in all situations.

“He’s fit and ready to go. We had a VO2 test on him yesterday. He was exceptional so he’ll be ready to take a lot of minutes,” said MacTavish. “He looked sharp in practice the last few days so we’re hopeful he can jump in as seamlessly as Fernie did with maybe a little bit more endurance out of the gate.”

“It’s exciting. It’s going to be a fun trip,” said Moreau on Friday shortly before the team departed for Minnesota – the first stop of a four-game road swing. “It’s been a long time but I’ve had a couple good practices and I feel confident.”

The man they call "Chopper" last played back on October 21, 2006 when he dislocated his shoulder in an altercation late in the game with Red Wings defenceman Danny Markov. He emerged briefly for a pair of pre-season games – one in which he scored a pair of goals – before an ankle injury suffered in Calgary put him back on the shelf.

Initially, he thought the ankle injury was simply a deep bruise and that he would be back for the season opener but after it didn’t heal, a fracture was revealed. He put on a cast and had to start the rehabilitation process all over again.

“I’ve put all that past me. I’ve gone through some points where my morale was down and I was pretty frustrated with the way things were going but right now mentally I’m in a great place. I’m excited to play and don’t really think about it too much. I need to focus on how I need to prepare to be at my best tomorrow.”

Moreau said he doesn’t expect the game to be much different after missing 113 games.

“The game hasn’t changed. I’ll play the same way I always have but I’ll probably be a little bit more nervous than I usually am.”

He noted that the biggest adjustment for him will be the physical play.

Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish presents Ethan Moreau with his jersey adorned with the captain's "C" on the front prior to the start of the regular season. (photo: Andy Devlin/EOHC)
“That’s something that I have to do to be effective and something I can’t simulate in practice. I’ve handled the puck well, I feel great and my skill level is where it was when I left off. It’s just the physical play, being able to compete for pucks.”

Particularly with Raffi Torres out of the lineup, that physical element is what will make Moreau such a valuable addition to the Oilers lineup.

“What I bring is something we lack right now which is a positive for me. I know I can make an immediate impact.”

MacTavish was quick to point out the importance of having Moreau provide a physical presence to the team.

“He’s going to give us a great lift. I know emotionally he will for sure. He’s everything that we need right now. We need some physical pop. We’ve got five forwards under 5’11” in the lineup. When you come up against a defence that has the size and skill set that Anaheim has you get the result offensively that we had last night.

“We need some size and pop in our lineup – especially with Raffi being out. We’ve done our best to offset it but the game today is a man’s game and you need some size.”

Moreau brings more than just leadership, size and sandpaper to the Oilers. In 2003-04 he was named the team’s most valuable player. MacTavish talked about his ability to simply take over games.

“Ethan in the past has always won us a handful of games by himself with just his sheer determination. I can think of three games singlehandedly that he’s won for us in the past – one game against Nashville here, a game against Montreal here a number of years ago and a game in Philadelphia against the Flyers.”

The Oilers defeated the Flyers 3-2 with Moreau contributing a pair of shorthanded goals to the effort back in 2005-06. The Oilers will need their captain to make a difference offensively.

“We’re going to count on him offensively, not to put too much pressure on him early, but he’s a former 20-goal scorer,” MacTavish continued. “Those guys are a rare commodity in today’s game.”

Moreau made a point of acknowledging he will need to chip in on offence.

“I think in the Stanley Cup Final we were so deep so I’ll have a bigger role offensively (now),” he remarked. “I’ll still be relied on to kill penalties, play physical and block shots – the things I usually do – but I think they’ll ask for a little more out of me offensively from the last time I played.”

PLAYING WITH PISANI

Fernando Pisani celebrates with teammate Ethan Moreau in overtime after scoring a shorthanded game-winning goal in game five of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. The Oilers defeated the Hurricanes 4-3 to stave off elimination. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
MacTavish will certainly put him in a position to succeed. He will be playing the left side with Andrew Cogliano at centre and Fernando Pisani on right wing to start.

“I was happy to see him on my right side. I’ve played with him a lot and I think he’ll make a huge difference,” said Moreau about Pisani. “It’ll be huge for me. I know how he plays, he knows how I play. It’ll be a comforting feeling having him on the bench and having him on the ice.”

MacTavish feels that the trio will complement each others’ abilities well.

“With Ethan back, (Cogliano) will be in a better position. We want to try and put him in the middle between Ethan and Fernando,” said the head coach.

“You’ve got to play to each others’ strengths. I can’t have a line of Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner and Cogs. It’s just not going to work. You need some guys with some size and offensive ability to play to the strength of Cogs. I haven’t been able to find him some linemates so far and obviously his confidence has suffered because of it.

“Hopefully this will be a line that works for us, because they can play to each others’ weaknesses.”

Pisani was happy to see a familiar face in Moreau skating on his opposite wing.

“He knows his role. He’s been in the league long enough to know what he’s capable of doing,” he said. “He’s going to bring some intensity that’s needed to our team. When we need a big hit we rely on him to go out and make a big hit, if we need him to block a shot he just does the little things very well. It’s going to be great to have him back in the lineup.”

Having missed the first 25 games of the season himself, Pisani knows how difficult it can be to get up to game speed.

“When you’re out for quite awhile it takes a little bit of time to get adjusted to the speed and the pace. I think after a couple games you get a grasp of how things are going to be and you kind of roll with it from there,” Pisani continued. “He’s been waiting for this return for a long time. He’s going to add more intensity to the team and do those little things that we’re lacking right now.”

Saturday will also be Moreau’s first game on the ice wearing the captain’s ‘C’. Number 18 has not forgotten that important detail.

“It’ll be a huge thing for me. It’s the first time I’ve worn it and I don’t take it lightly. It will be a huge honour and it will be a special moment in my career when I put that jersey on.”
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