THE TEAM TODAY

The Team Today: Back to Basics

Oilers practiced at Rexall Place Sunday afternoon looking to find some answers

Sunday, 27.12.2009 / 4:43 PM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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The Team Today: Back to Basics
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2009
SPECIAL TEAMS NOT SO SPECIAL

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Sunday's practice involved a lot of soul searching for the Oilers as they attempted to find some answers for their recent special teams struggles. 

The club spent a lot of time on the ice working on basic special teams drills in addition to other fundamentals such as shot blocking as they try to break out of their current six-game funk.

"We're in a stretch now where we've given up a lot killing penalties," head coach Pat Quinn remarked following practice. "Too many of them are point shots and tips or loose pucks around the front. We have to do a better job."

The powerplay has also struggled, with only three goals in the team's last 35 opportunities (8.6%) - an 11-game stretch. Two of those three goals came in the Nashville game on December 17.

"On our powerplay, we are dry right now. We're playing teams that are presisng us more quickly than in the past. That would be the scouting report," Quinn continued. "Our guys haven't responded well to the quickness that they have to start moving the puck. That's what's getting in our way right now. We want to hold onto it, we think we have time but it's not there."

According to Quinn, the issue on both the powerplay and penalty kill has been consistency.

"We are not a consistent group. We give up on plans quickly. We're a team that's been used to losing - we hope we never accept it.

"We don't stick to a program long, we go to an ad lib. 'I'm going to do it myself' kind of mode. As long as I've been around that never works."

What the team has been practicing lately is an attempt by Quinn to try and build some of that routine into his players.

"Execution is what counts. We identify our jobs then we have to do them correctly."

POTULNY'S TRAVEL NIGHTMARE

Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Potulny, left, has the puck poke-checked off his stick by Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
Ryan Potulny scored Edmonton's lone goal on Saturday night but he almost didn't make it to the game at all. Following the team's game in Minnesota on December 23, Potulny stayed behind in order to spend Christmas with his family in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The city is about two hours south of Winnipeg and Potulny's plan was to drive into Manitoba and catch a flight from Winnipeg to Edmonton in the early afternoon on Christmas Day. He would then charter with the rest of the club into Vancouver on Boxing Day morning.

A blizzard changed all that.

"It started out on Christmas Day. I was scheduled to fly out of Winnipeg at 1:00."

"The snow in Grand Forks was too high around the area and the roads were shut off so we couldn't fly to Winnipeg to get on that flight.

We just scratched that ticket, bought a new one to fly out of Grand Forks at 1:00. Got to the airport and that flight didn't go out because of the weather. Rescheduled again for 5:00 out of Grand Forks. Got on the runway, I'm thinking 'we're looking pretty good, finally on the runway.' Then we turned around because of mechanical problems. Temperature was too cold."

"Booked myself on the 6:50 flight. Made sure I could get my connector in Minnesota (to Edmonton), it was a late flight, a 9:50 flight."

"But that flight was delayed because they were trying to move everyone over from the one that got scratched. Got into Minneapolis at about 10:30. My flight left at 9:50 so I missed that one."

"Stayed at a hotel right by the airport in Minneapolis. Got on a flight straight from Minneapolis to Vancouver the next morning. Got there about noon, got to go on the ice, skate a little bit and got the legs moving but it was a long, stressful one-and-a-half days there.

ZACK PACKS A PUNCH

Edmonton Oilers' Zack Stortini, right, and Vancouver Canucks' Rick Rypien fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
One of the highlights from Saturday night's game was Zack Stortini's dust-up with the Canucks' Rick Rypien.
Stortini more than held his own against Rypien - one of the best fighters in the NHL despite his smaller size. Out of three fights against Rypien, it was clearly Stortini's best showing.

"It was a good batlte. He's an honest, tough guy. It was one of the better ones, for sure," said Stortini on Sunday.

The motivation for the fight from Stortini's point of view was simple. The team was down two goals after the Canucks netted a pair of powerplay markers in 18 seconds. He felt the club needed a lift.

"Our team needed a boost," he said. "We were down two goals and they play a physical brand of hockey. We weren't backing down."

And sure enough, seconds after the bout Potulny scored to make it 2-1.

"It was a great goal by Potsy to get us back in there."

Author: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2009
LINE SHUFFLING IN MINNESOTA

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Following a disappointing homestand that saw the team gain no points in four games, Oilers head coach Pat Quinn went back to the lines the team used during its successful five-game road trip but with a slight twist.

The very successful fourth line unit of Ryan Stone, Robert Nilsson and Zack Stortini was reunited, as was the combo of J-F Jacques, Patrick O'Sullivan and Shawn Horcoff.

The twist was that Ryan Potulny was on the top line, centering Gilbert Brule and Dustin Penner.

"We blew the lines up for yesterday's game and even though four of the goals were in penalty kill against it's hard to evaluate your players and line's play in a game like that with seven goals against," noted Quinn.

"The initial thought was to go right back to how we played the five games that we did pretty well again. I really only adjusted one guy and that was Potulny instead of Gagner (on the top line)," he said.

"The reason is that Potulny's been very good. He's been very conscientious defensively and a consistent scorer on what you might call a third line - not a scoring line so to speak."

Sam Gagner continued to play with Andrew Cogliano. The two had success last game, teaming up for a goal. Ethan Moreau played the left wing side.

"Gagner and Cogs at least like playing together. One of the few postiive things we saw (last night)."

LOOKING FOR A FRESH START

Following four straight losses at home, the Oilers are hoping that a return to the road will result in a change of fortunes for the club.

"It's not as if we didn't start well in every one of those games. Maybe the Nashville game wasn't as good as we wanted but we started well again there," said head coach Pat Quinn following practice. "We found a way to fold (in each game). There's no quitters in that room but sometimes you get down yourself, you change plans, you get very individual in your play and it hurts you instead of helping you. We've got to convince our guys to stick with the program and we've got a chance to recover."

On the ice, the team had a frank discussion with assistant coach Wayne Fleming talking about various aspects of the powerplay. Powerplay quarterback Sheldon Souray was leading the charge in the discussion. After practice, he was frank about the direction of the team and what's needed to get things back on track. 

"Collectively we need to play with a little more of that edge, a little more of that hunger. We did it four games ago when we were on the road," Souray remarked. "Not going in and punchng guys in the head or running guys over but 'I'm not going to get knocked off the puck tonight.' A little bit more competitive edge. We need that. We're going to play against a team that has that tomorrow and we're going to need to be better than them."

THE TREND STOPS HERE

One thing the Oilers have done well this season is break lengthy droughts against teams they haven't had much success against on the road. That's included wins in cities like Nashville, Detroit and Dallas.

"I wasn't aware of that statistic but we'll mention it tomorrow now that I know about that," chuckled Quinn when informed of the stat by Bob Stauffer. 

In order to win tomorrow, the Oilers will need to break another drought as they haven't won a game in Minnesota in 10 outings (0-8-2). Tonight marks Quinn's first game in Minnesota as Oilers bench boss.

"The big thing I'll be asking is stay with it. Fight hard to execute as well as we can. We'll make mistakes but need to make sure they don't break us this time."

O'SULLIVAN, HORCOFF LOOKING FOR SUCCESS


Oilers forward Patrick O'Sullivan found himself back on a line with Jacques and Horcoff as head coach Pat Quinn tried to find the right mix for both O'Sullivan and Horcoff.

"I think we know how each other play and we all have a little bit of a different role on the line. We play against the other team's top line mostly and try to create some offence ourselves as well," said O'Sullivan. "We've probably played together the most as far as linemates go."

Quinn has tried many combinations to attempt to get Horcoff going, including reuniting him with Penner for several games on the recent homestand. He wasn't happy with how the Horcoff, O'Sullivan, Jacques line's play slipped off.

"That combination was getting scored on every time you turned around. So that was the negative side - even though their play wasn't bad they were still coughing it up and getting caught for goals," said Quinn.

"We're hoping that doesn't happen and we get the good side of what they can be. We have to get O'Sullivan scoring. He's a guy you'd expect that from. And Horc is the same way. He has a history of being not a great scorer but a good one. A consistent one."

Author: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com

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