THE TEAM TODAY

The Team Today: Home for the holidays

Oilers return to Edmonton, get ready for four-game holiday homestand

Sunday, 13.12.2009 / 3:08 PM / The Team Today
By Jen Sharpe  - edmontonoilers.com
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The Team Today: Home for the holidays
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2009
SUNDAY'S SKATE

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After enjoying a well-deserved day off Saturday, the Oilers returned to the ice Sunday morning at River Cree arena. The team skated for over an hour, and thanks to the light mood around the team, a handful of players -- including Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner, and Ryan Potulny -- stayed on to test call-up Bryan Pitton and practice deflecting the puck into the net.

After practice, Gagner said that despite the lighthearted practice, the team is focused on translating their recent road success into a home win Tuesday night.

"To win five in a row is obviously a pretty good feeling but with the position we're in, we can't really rest on our laurels at this point," he said. "We've got to continue to push forward. The first game of the homestead is going to be a big one for us, so we're excited for the challenge and will hopefully get off to a good start."

When asked if the team's game plan will shift at Rexall Place, Gagner said that isn't the case.

"We try to bring the same type of game plan to every game and same type of intensity. I think we're just kind of in a bit of a groove there where we weren't really worried about what happened and just went out and played."

PITTON STEPS IN

Just going out and playing with the Oilers isn't something goaltender Bryan Pitton has yet experienced, but he employed the same strategy at today's practice.

On Saturday, the Oilers temporally reassigned back-up Devan Dubnyk to Springfield so he could get some playing time with the Falcons. In order to keep two goalies with the team for practices, the team thus recalled Pitton from the ECHL's Stockton Thunder.

Oilers goaltending coach Frederic Chabot tests call-up Bryan Pitton at the tail end of practice.
"We just finished a game in Alaska, and we ended up beating them 6-4, and as we were celebrating in the crease there, the coach came over to me and said 'Hey Pitts, you're going to Edmonton.' So it was pretty neat," the young goalie said. "Once I got back to the room, all the guys found out and gave me hugs and congratulations."

"Anytime you get called up to an NHL team, it's your dream to play here one day, so it's nice to get a little bit of action to see what it's like," Pitton continued. "I was a little afraid coming in here, a little nervous, but [the guys] were all really nice to me."

DEEP IN A DEEP FREEZE

While Pitton quickly adjusted to the NHL game Sunday morning, he also had to adjust to Edmonton's -35C temperatures. Stockton is located in central California, but his trip to Alaska with the Thunder gave him a taste of what Alberta would hold.

"It is actually a lot colder here -- I was surprised," he said with a smile. "I never knew what the winters here in Edmonton could be like, but man, I thought Alaska was cold when I got up there. I was complaining, but this is something else."

With three seasons experience with the Oilers, Gagner wasn't fazed by forecast.

"It's a little chilly, but it's something you get used to having been here for a couple of years. I guess it's hockey weather."

Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2009
CONFIDENCE THE KEY

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The Oilers rolled into St. Louis very early Thursday morning and thus didn't test out the Blues practice facility until 12:30pm. Not surprisingly, the mood on the ice and in the locker room has vastly improved since the start of the road trip, and everyone is feeling the good vibes.

Although they both required some recuperation and didn't take to the ice Thursday, Shawn Horcoff and Tom Gilbert absorbed the team's happy atmosphere and both credited confidence for the inspiring turnaround.

"Everyone's got confidence to go out there and make plays and do things knowing that guys are going to be there to back them up, be in the right position," Gilbert said. "We're finding ways to win which is the big difference than in the beginning of the year. We're holding teams off. We're just pushing a full 60 minutes . . . It makes coming to the rink -- practices, games, anything -- just that much better."

Horcoff agrees.

"I think the confidence is high with the guys and when you're winning games, it makes for a fun atmosphere. We have one more game left on the trip and we'd love to finish it off the right way," the centre said.

"We want to keep this going as long as we can. I think that's what good teams are able to do -- ride their streaks when they're winning games and get the most points out of those streaks as possible. For us, the situation we're in, we need the points, and we'd love to finish off this trip with a win in St. Louis tomorrow."

TOTAL TEAM EFFORT

Horcoff and Gilbert were also quick to acknowledge how their teammates have risen to so many challenges so early in the season.

"There's big roles to fill, in (Ales) Hemsky and (Mike) Comrie, and then you've got a goaltender (Jeff Deslauriers) that hasn't had a lot of games and now he's got enough confidence to go out there and try to make plays with the puck, and he's making those big saves to keep us in games and hold teams off," Gilbert said. "So all-round, our team play has been great and we're getting a lot of help out of guys from the forward spot, D spot and goaltending."

With Zack Stortini's Gordie Howe hat trick still fresh in the Oilers' minds, Horcoff gave a lot of credit to #46 and his linemates Ryan Stone and Robert Nilsson.

"There's not much that they're not doing," he said. "We're telling them as much as we can that they should be proud of themselves. They're working extremely hard and they're giving us big minutes and big plays and a big lift."

WINTER-READY

After enjoying +30C temps in Tampa, the Oilers are gradually reacquainting themselves with winter weather. The players and staff will benefit from two days of near-freezing temperatures in St. Louis before dropping another 30 degrees when they return home to Edmonton this weekend.

Oilers video producer Steve Taylor said the time in Missouri should prevent "shock to our systems."

An interesting tactic, but Oilers head office staff are skeptical.


Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Steve Taylor & Bob Stauffer
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2009
BLUELINER BACK SOON

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On the heels of Monday's shootout victory in Fort Lauderdale, the Oilers travelled up-state for Tuesday's practice in Tampa Bay.

The team skated for an hour, but a handful of players stayed on late, including Denis Grebeshkov. The Oilers defenceman has been sidelined with knee injury since November 15th but is days away from returning to the line-up.

"
It all just depends on my conditioning right now," Grebeshkov said after leaving the ice. "My best guess is Friday but we'll see.

"My knee feels alright. It's not bothering me right now, so I guess I have to get back in shape and I'll be ready to play . . . It's pretty amazing how much you lose it in three weeks, but I hope it's not going to take a while for me to get back."

Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, who is in Tampa Bay with the team, is looking forward to the reunion of his club's defensive line. "It'll be nice to see Grebeshkov come back and actually see what our defence is supposed to look like," Tambellini said.


INJURIES CREATE OPPORTUNITIES


With Grebeshkov's return imminent, the Oilers are continuing to rebound from the injuries and illness that plagued them throughout October and early November. Although the depleted line-up significantly challenged the club, Tambellini said it also created opportunities for other players to shine.

"Ales is out, Nik is out, but the half-full answer is that it presents opportunity -- it presents opportunity to people we've talked about giving a chance to," Tambellini said. "They've maybe demanded a chance, feel they're not being used properly. There's opportunity here for people to show maybe they're pushing more than what you thought for that extra ice time, for special team, for more five-on-five in the last two minutes of play."

WATCH THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH STEVE TAMBELLINI
One player Tambellini may be referring to is Dustin Penner, who leads the team with 31 points and is only six points shy of last season's total.

"I think (Gilbert) Brule, (Dustin) Penner & (Sam) Gagner have done a nice job more than not of generating good things. Dustin's been there pretty much the season so far, and I like the chemistry I've seen between Brule and Penner on this part of the road trip for sure."

Tambellini doesn't say the team is out of the woods, but he does hope that the roughest road is behind them.

"I don't know if you ever get a chance to see for any type of longevity of your team being totally healthy, but at least we're getting close."


KHABI'S RECOVERY SLOW

Nikolai Khabibulin
The Oilers may be getting close to healthy, but for at least one player, the journey has been slow.

Nikolai Khabibulin has been suffering from a tweaked back since November 21st, and after consulting with the team's Head Athletic Therapist, Ken Lowe, Tambellini confirmed that the goalie is "maybe 25% better"

"He's taken some treatment with our doctors back in Edmonton," the GM explained. "[He] really hasn't got to the point yet where we can say he's 100% ready to go start the kind of training needed to play at this level. So I guess we'll know better after a week where he's at, but at this point I'd say it's kind of slow."


DON'T FORGET: WEBCAST WEDNESDAY

The Oilers play the Lightning Wednesday, December 9th and the only spot you'll be able to watch the game is right here on edmontonoilers.com.

Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2009
PRACTICE IN DALLAS

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After arriving in Texas late Thursday night, the Oilers got a good night's sleep and practiced at American Airlines Arena on Friday. Lines remained unchanged from the night previous, with the exception of Ladislav Smid, who was absent from practice.

TAKING OFF FROM THE WIN OVER WINGS

With Thursday's big 4-1 win in Detroit still fresh in their minds, the Oilers were a confident and good-natured club Friday. But despite heading into Dallas with an extra two points, Head Coach Pat Quinn was quick to emphasize that he's still looking for consistency.

"It's been a problem for us, as everyone knows. We've had good phases in a game but not a full game a lot of nights, and so we were pretty good for most of the night last night and we want to re-emphasize, as I said, the fact that's what good teams do: they're consistent in their execution and their performance and their emotional readiness.

"We want to make sure that's the start of a good trip for us, because if we don't pay a lot of attention to what's going on with this, we might get left behind, and we certainly don't want that happening," Quinn said.

THE JACQUES FACTOR

After missing seven games due to a tweaked back, Jean-Francois Jacques was back in full force Thursday night. He led all players with seven hits in the game, assisted on Patrick O'Sullivan's first goal, and finished +2.

The power forward's impact has not been missed by Quinn or the Oilers opponents.

"Right from the start of training camp, we identified that he's a kid we wanted in our line-up for that reason -- He could help real skilled guys get some more room, and he has enough skill to be able to play with them as well.

"You saw [the Red Wings] switch their lines around the other night, not because we were so good with our skill level, it was because Jacques was making a difference and they were playing differently when he was on the ice," Quinn said.

According to Jacques, the first few hits are the key to his success in a game.

"The same guy tried to hit me twice and ended up just going down, and that just kind of started it all," Jacques said after practice. "It seems like as soon as I can get a couple hits early on, my game is way better and I seem to have more confidence with the puck."

When asked about making adjustments coming back from injury, the forward said he didn't experience any downtime. "As soon as I came back from my seven game, I was pretty confident. I knew that I can't let it affect my game and that's something I'll always be confident in and hopefully I'm good for all year."

PRETTY PLAY JUST THE START

WATCH NILSSON'S GOAL IN DETROIT
Another player who made highlight reels Thursday night was Robert Nilsson, who's flashy goal in the first period turned out to be the game-winner for the Oil.
Thursday marked Nilsson's first return to the line-up since missing 10 games with a concussion, an though his goal was spectacular, Quinn is looking for more.

"That skill needs to be taken into the hockey games and done on a consistent basis," the Oilers coach emphasized. "Those nice plays that he performed last night aren't always there. It's usually when you're still trying to do those that you turn the puck over a lot and you cause a lot of heartache for your teammates.

"He's in that fine line between trying to do that more often and doing simple things really well. Sometimes you get a chance to make those beautiful plays, but that's not always there and so you want to make sure that you're doing the right thing.

"You gotta battle for what you're going to get, and that's what we're looking for," Quinn continued. "That doesn't mean fighting or anything like that, what it means is being in the fray and competing for the puck. That's what we want and that's what we have to have if Bobby's going to be a guy that helps this hockey team."

Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer & Steve Taylor
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2009
NILSSON, STONE READY
HORCOFF GAME TIME DECISION


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The Oilers landed this afternoon in Detroit where they will begin their long road trip. They found their way to the Joe Louis Arena for an off-day practice.

Robert Nilsson is expected back in the lineup tomorrow night after being sidelined with a concussion back on November 10th.

"Both Nilsson and Stone have been cleared from a medical standpoint," Quinn said. "It's now about practice time and getting back into your feelings about playing competitive game. They may come in tomorrow, we'll see after the morning skate. With Horcoff, it's a pain threshold thing. He did quite a bit today but our trainer is still hesitant to tell him that he's a go but we'll see about him in the morning as well."


"I feel really well and ready to play," said Nilsson. "I had one at the same time last year and it was a harder one but I came back quicker.  I feel I have something to prove and I can't wait to play tomorrow. I know what I have to do to be a successful player. I have to play my game. You can't change who you are, you can improve yourself but I have to play my style of game."

LET'S ROLL WITH WHAT WE HAVE

As anticipated, Coach Quinn kept the same lines for practice today for the most part. On the clicking top line he had Gagner, Brule and Penner. The second line showed Moreau, Cogliano and Potulny. Third line has Nilsson back in with O'Sullivan and Jacques. Last but never least had Stortini, McDonald and O'Marra.

Defensive pairings had Strudwick with Staios, Gilbert with Souray and Smid with Visnovsky. Horcoff and Stone were both on the ice this afternoon in Detroit however neither one were on a specific line.

Everyone knows how tough it is to play against the Detroit Red Wings and playing in the Joe Louis is never an easy task. Well today Pat Quinn shared what the team practiced and how improving specific things will allow the Oilers to keep up with the offensive Wings.

"We wanted quick puck movement from our defensemen, that's the real key here," said Pat Quinn. "A lot of the drills are designed around our defense moving the puck to our forwards. We practiced a lot of attack drills so that we can get used to throwing a little more pucks in the net. They still want to stick handle and pass it into the net. We're encouraging more shots on the rush and more shots in the offensive zone."


THOUGHTS ON THE WINGS


"They are very well coached," said winger Dustin Penner. "They have high offensive talent with Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom and a lot of their young guys are right there with them as far as talent goes so we know we're going to have it tough especially in this building."

"They are always a lot of fun to play. They can't be underestimated. They've had a rough start but they certainly still have a lot of skill and ability on that team." said Quinn.


Author: Kristi Hennessy | edmontonoilers.com
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