The Team Today: Tough Times
Positivity the key as O'Sullivan & teammates return to Rexall Place for practice
THURSDAY, MARCH 18, 2010RETURN TO REXALL
The morning started with two on-ice photo sessions, including the official team photo and a group photo featuring players, management, and team staff.
After the lights and benches were cleared away, the players donned their practice jerseys and returned to the ice. Although he didn't participate in the drills, forward Patrick O'Sullivan made his first appearance since injuring his hand March 9 vs. Ottawa.
"My fingernail came off completely and there was some damage done to the tissue that's underneath," he explained. "Yesterday I skated with a glove on; today's my second day doing that. I can't shoot, I can't really grip my stick. I had surgery the day after to repair most of it."
O'Sullivan is the eighth player on the team's current injured list, and the four games he's missed have pushed the Oilers man-games lost this season to an astounding 426.
I've never seen anything like it, a situation where there's as many guys hurt at one time as there is," he said. "It's frustrating. It's one more thing to add to a tough year, a pretty disappointing year."
'IT'S BEEN TOUGH'
O'Sullivan isn't the only player to be disappointed and frustrated by how the season's turned out. Faced with a fourth season of missing the playoffs, the Oilers are trying desperately to stay positive and finish on a winning note.
"It's a little tougher when you're out of the playoffs and things like that, but at the same time, you want to finish strong," Ryan Whitney said after practice. "There's a big difference between the last 12 games going 2-and-10 or going into next year going 8-and-4 or 9-and-3. It sounds tough now, but you'd feel a lot better about yourself in the summer and I want to be a part of that."
Devan Dubnyk has experienced a roller-coaster season, and despite being winless in his 10 NHL starts, the rookie goalie takes pride in the improvements he's made.
"I've been up, down, all over the place -- It's been tough," he admitted. "The 'no wins' thing is obviously a real tough issue right now, but I can honestly say that each game I've felt a little better and I'm starting to get more comfortable and confident.
"It's not a situation that anybody wants to be in, but you need to take the opportunities that you get and you need to be able to deal with that, put the losing aside. You can't think about outcomes, you've just got to keep focusing on the things that you need to do to get better."
RED WINGS TOMORROW
The Oilers open a four-game homestand tomorrow when they take on Pavel Datsyuk and the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings have won seven of their last nine games as they battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Limited tickets are still available.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Dan Tencer and Kristi Hennessy
TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2010OILERS at WILD:
AT THE MORNING SKATE
After landing in Minnesota at around midnight Monday night, the Oilers got a decent rest before concluding their back-to-back and four-game road trip vs. the Wild tonight.
Eight skaters and goalie Devan Dubnyk took part in the club's optional morning skate at Xcel Energy Center, including Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Theo Peckham, Zack Stortini, Chris Minard, Ryan Potulny, Taylor Chorney and Fernando Pisani.
After the skate, Pisani confirmed that his groin injury has improved and he is ready to play vs. Minnesota.
"I pulled it before the Montreal game and it got a little bit sore so I decided to just take a couple days and let it rest a bit," the veteran forward explained.
The injury is the latest in a string of setbacks for Pisani, who has missed 42 games this season.
"It's obviously very frustrating," he said. "It's one of those things that you really can't do anything about except when you get there, just play, and that's how I'm going to approach these last 13 games."
With Pisani drawing back in, Oilers coaching staff are expected to scratch Mike Comrie. Head Coach Pat Quinn confirmed that Chris Minard, who was called up when Patrick O'Sullivan injured his hand, will play.
"[Pisani] probably could have played last night but we decided to take an extra day and play the young fellow (Minard) that we wanted to look at. We'll still look at him tonight -- he'll get one more game for sure," Quinn said.
DESLAURIERS TO START
Although the Oilers forward lines are in flux, the club's "win and you're in" goaltending plan continues. After backstopping a losing effort in Columbus Monday night, Devan Dubnyk will watch tonight's game from the sidelines as Jeff Deslauriers gets the start.
Quinn praised Dubnyk's performance vs. the Blue Jackets but added that he's still looking for consistency from his goaltenders.
"It's interesting because our guys have shown that they'll make big saves for us from time to time," the coach said. "He made some really good saves for us, a couple of lateral plays in the first period when we were really loosy-goosy, and then a couple of ones that you'd like to see him save.
"It's been a pattern with our guys -- they're good, and then a couple of stinkers. So we've got to get over that hump too."
The Oilers have lost 12 consecutive games at the Xcel Energy Center, and although the entire club would like to see that streak end tonight, perhaps nobody wants it more than Minnesota-born players Taylor Chorney, Ryan Potulny and Tom Gilbert.
"You'd like to win in front of your family and friends," Gilbert said. "They show up a lot and there's yet to be a win since I've been here in Minnesota. It's just one of those match-ups. We've had plenty of great games where we've had plenty of opportunities to win the game and they always seem to find a way to come back and either beat us by one goal or beat us in overtime."
Potulny is looking forward to playing in front of family and friends.
"It's always fun to come back here, a lot of memories from college days, but it's nice to see friends and family also," he said. "After the games, I'll have a bunch of people that come every time, so after the game I'll get to visit with them shortly before we leave."
WILD 4 - OILERS 2
The Oilers kept pace with the Wild through 45 minutes and managed to out-shoot them 36-28 in 60, but up against strong goaltending from Josh Harding, the extra shots failed to net sufficient goals and the club had to settle for a 4-2 loss in Minnesota Tuesday night.
Marc Pouliot and Ryan Potulny scored for Edmonton, Sam Gagner got helpers on both goals, and Jeff Deslauriers stopped 24 of 28 shots in the loss.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer
MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2010OILERS at BLUE JACKETS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE
In keeping with his "win and you're in" goaltending plan, Head Coach Pat Quinn confirmed that Devan Dubnyk will get the start vs. the Blue Jackets. Dubnyk played the final 20 minutes of Saturday's game in Toronto, stopping 18 of 19 shots.
Among the skaters attempting to keep the puck away from Dubnyk and in the opposite net will be Gilbert Brule. The first-round draft pick returns to Columbus to face his former club tonight.
After a disappointing two seasons with the Jackets, Brule was traded to Edmonton in 2008 and has since embraced a steady role with the club.
Quinn said that Brule's continued improvements show that patience is an important virtue to have when developing NHL players.
"There's some big decisions to be made by the organizations on players, and some of them give up on their guys," the coach explained. "It's really important for your professional scouts to be following all of the drafts for two or three years after they're picked in case there's someone that falls through the cracks or they just want to move on, like with Gilbert.
"It is a fairly regular happenstance and it could be a way for teams to find some jewels."
Although Brule said he enjoys coming back to Columbus, he admitted that the move to Edmonton was a good one for him.
"I think a change of scenery for guys can be a huge difference. And obviously for me just to get out of Columbus here and go to Edmonton was amazing and I'm getting the opportunity to play this year which obviously has been a big change."
According to Quinn, Brule's biggest challenge this season has been staying healthy.
"I think what set him back a couple of times was those illnesses and he really both physically and mentally took a step backwards," Quinn said. "We know he's competitive, he can skate, he really has a good shot, and we'd like to see that 82-game schedule being played rather than the spottiness of what happened this year, and we might have a real good player on our hands."
Brule attributed his recent success to confidence and consistency.
"I think I'm starting to play more consistently and that's obviously what the coaches are looking for and that's what I want to implement in my game," he said.
BLUE JACKETS 5 - OILERS 3
After surrendering the first goal late in the first period, the Oilers spent the rest of the game nipping at the Blue Jackets' heels. Late scoring chances pulled the team over the 30-shot mark, but an empty-netter from Antoine Vermette quashed the visitors' hopes and capped a 5-3 Columbus victory.
Robert Nilsson, Dustin Penner and Aaron Johnson scored Edmonton's three goals, while goalie Devan Dubnyk made 24 saves for the loss.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer
SUNDAY, MARCH 14, 2010HELLO OHIO
But once on the ice, the team got down to business for a 45-minute skate in the Blue Jackets practice facility, which adjoins the main Nationwide ice surface.
With the exception of Fernando Pisani, who also didn't skate Saturday night in Toronto, a full contingent was present for practice.
Head Coach Pat Quinn slightly modified the lines, with Chris Minard switching places with Robert Nilsson. As such, Minard skated with Ryan Potulny and Zack Stortini, while Nilsson skated with Sam Gagner and Marc Pouliot.
FOCUS ON FINISHING STRONG
With two tough losses in their recent memory and an early summer in the near future, the Oilers are focusing on staying positive and closing the season with some solid performances.
"Everybody understands our situation now, but even if we weren't in this 'rebuilding phase' let's call it, and we were in a good playoff spot, we would still be trying to make our team better, to help the individual players improve. And as long as they're willing to put the time in -- and they are -- then we're all in a good place," Associate Coach Tom Renney explained.
"I almost feel sorry for them, but you can't let that creep into what's going on there either," he added. "They're trying, there's no question about that. We've had circumstances that have really forced us to play above and beyond what we're maybe capable of as individuals and maybe even as a team, who's to say."
THE COACHING FACTOR
The risk of coasting through the final 14 games is great, and Renney says it's up to the coaches to provide a good example and continue to get the most out of the players.
"We have to be the source for a lot of things, and often times that's confidence, it's work habits, it's a good attitude, it's being professional," Renney explained. "This is adversity, as the cliche would suggest, and we have to find ways to overcome and persevere through that."
According to the coach, the tactics are different for every player.
"Everybody's wired a little different, and again it comes to the coach as to how you might steer people, help them out with some good dialogue, some feedback. You'd like to think you've got some wisdom you can share with those guys, but there's nothing like experience. There comes a point in time where talking about it doesn't matter anymore. They've got to get out there and just live through it."
"It's always nice," Brule said about returning to Columbus. "I started my career here and the fans were great here and obviously I want to play a good game when I come here."
Columbus isn't the only city Brule wants to play well in, and he emphasized that his desire to score and win will remain strong through to the end of the season.
"I have personal goals, I'm sure everyone on our team has their own goals, but obviously I want to help our team win. Even though we're still out, I want to play for pride and still put the puck in the back of the net."
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com