The Team Today: The road ahead
Oilers hold final meeting at Rexall Place before concluding season on the road
THURSDAY, APRIL 8, 2010. . . AND THEN THERE WERE TWO
The Oil wrap their season with two weekend games in California, starting Saturday afternoon vs. the Kings and concluding Sunday evening vs. the Ducks.
With nine wins in their past 11 home games, the club has found success at Rexall Place since Olympic break and will carry those good vibes into the off-season. The players and coaches hope two wins this weekend will add some shine to an otherwise dreary campaign.
"We've obviously struggled on the road and I can't really say why," Shawn Horcoff said Thursday. "I don't know if it's a matter of maybe just being more comfortable at home or what it is, but we'd like to finish the season strong here and have a couple good efforts (this weekend)."
The Oilers have been out of the playoff race for some time and are now playing perhaps their best hockey of the season. Coincidence? Associate coach Tom Renney says the organization is taking the recent success "with a grain of salt."
"I think we're getting a chance to see this full spectrum of our players, and what we've got to do is really assess them honestly as to what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and are they capable of being a part of what we need to be moving forward," he said.
"We're in the process of obviously doing that now, and that's going to take some time, but the bottom line is we've seen everything with these players -- good, bad, and indifferent -- and we have to draw conclusions on whether or not they'll help us moving forward."
THE STATE OF THE 'C'
One player who fully admits he is unsure about his future with the Oilers is captain Ethan Moreau. Moreau was named in a number of trade rumours at the March 3rd deadline, but has since stepped up his game and produced four points in the past four games. He credits his success to his linemates Shawn Horcoff and Fernando Pisani.
"Especially in the role we were given, to play against the other teams' top lines, we produced offence, we won that match-up on the majority of the nights, and Horc and I on the PK really clicked," Moreau explained. "It's a pretty good run that we went on, so regardless of the situation that we're in, it was really fun to play with those guys and come to the rink"
If Wednesday's game turns out to be his last as an Oiler at Rexall Place, Moreau said his teammates and fans ensured it was memorable.
"It was fun to play with Horc and Fernando down the last few games, and we had a good home record our last month, so it was fun to play," he said. "The fans were great. We got a great ovation last night and if it was the end, it was a good way to end on a couple wins. We'll see what happens."
Although a traditional practice was scrapped from the schedule Thursday, that didn't stop a handful of players from taking to the ice in tracksuits and, in one case, goalie gear.
Injured players Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, and Nikolai Khabibulin spent more than 30 minutes on the ice, working on simple skating, passing, and puck-stopping drills. Gagner is currently sidelined with a hip injury, Hemsky is recovering from shoulder surgery, and Khabibulin is easing his way back into the net after undergoing spinal surgery in January.
The injured players were joined by Ryan Jones and Charles Linglet, also in tracksuits.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7, 2010OILERS vs AVALANCHE:
AT THE MORNING SKATE
The Oilers took to the ice for their final gameday skate at Rexall Place Wednesday morning.
Despite helping his team earn two points with a 25-save performance Monday night vs. Minnesota, Devan Dubnyk was the last goalie to leave the ice, meaning Jeff Deslauriers is likely to start tonight vs. Colorado.
FOR THE FANS
Although a playoff berth is out of the picture, the Oilers have something important to play for tonight: a final home win for their fans.
"That's obviously what we're playing for," Andrew Cogliano said after the skate. "Colorado obviously clinched a spot last night, so we don't know how they're going to be prepared or coming out tonight, but for ourselves, we've got to try to win a game for the fans and look forward to next year."
Assistant Coach Wayne Fleming agrees.
"You've got to respect that fans who hung in there, and I think it goes back to that standing ovation we got a couple months ago after we snapped that losing streak," he said. "I've never seen anything like that and I think that really carried on."
Fleming is pleased with the way the team has played of late, especially at home.
"We're coming with energy, we're feeling good, and the puck's going in for us. That's a positive sign. And at at the same token, we're really strengthened up some of our defensive play. Hard work and focus, it sometimes goes a long way."
Defenceman Ryan Whitney credited a total team effort for the club's recent home success, eight wins in the past 11 games at Rexall Place.
"I think that the forwards, defencemen, and goalie all put together have kind of meshed pretty good and not let each other out to dry," he explained. "I think that all the wins we've had here, our goalies have been great. It's kind of been off and on which guy it is, but that makes a huge difference.
"We've scored some pretty timely goals, things like that, and the D have played well. So everything put together, it's made it a pretty successful year at home."
NIK STOPPING PUCKS AGAIN
Before the team took to the ice for morning skate, injured players Nikolai Khabibulin and Sam Gagner strapped on their skates for a test drive.
For Khabibulin, Wednesday's stint in net is the latest in a handful of on-ice appearances since undergoing spinal surgery in January. The goalie is pleased with his progress.
"It seems like every day it feels better," he said. "We started easy with just a track suit and Friday I put full gear on and took a few shots and this week three times already."
Khabibulin is confident that he'll be ready to play for the start of the 2010-11 season.
"I asked [the doctor] what it's going to be after surgery, and he said once you recover, you shouldn't feel anything," the goalie added. "So I'm pretty optimistic about it and the last couple days it was really exciting because I really felt very good.
"Ultimately it comes down to what the player feels and what I feel, and just like I said, the last couple days I wasn't really surprised but I think in the last three to four days, it really started to go to the next level as far as recovery."
Gagner has missed the past six games due to a hip injury, and although it is improving, he doesn't expect to play again this season.
"I skated today, just by myself, and it felt pretty good, but I talked to the doctors and there's really no point in pushing it right now, just continue to let it heal," Gagner explained. "I've gotten MRIs on it and there's nothing structurally wrong. There was a week there where it kind of stayed the same, but over the last four or five days, it's gotten a lot better. And I feel like in a week's time, I'll be 100% and I'll be ready to train again."
OILERS 5 - AVALANCHE 4 (OT)
Wednesday's final game of the regular season started bleakly for the Oilers after the Avalanche scored three goals in the first nine minutes. But the Oil countered to tie it up and traded third-period goals with their opponents to force extra time.
Nearly four minutes into sudden death, Ryan Whitney ended the suspense by beating Peter Budaj with a game-winning snapshot. With the primary helper, Dustin Penner capped a dominant game in which he posted one goal and two assists. Shawn Horcoff and Mike Comrie scored Edmonton's other two goals, while Jeff Deslauriers stopped 31 for the win.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer
TUESDAY, APRIL 6, 2010HOME ICE ADVANTAGE
With the club's home schedule wrapping up Wednesday and the full season Sunday night, the players were honest about the disappointments of the past six months and are now striving to finish on a positive note.
Perhaps the sunniest statistic of the past few months is the Oilers recent home record. After Monday's win, the Oil have won eight of the past 11 at home and say strong showings at Rexall Place are an important "thank you" to fans.
"We realize it's been a tough year for our fans and we've sold our every game, so we talk about it in the room that we want to play well, especially the last couple months at home," captain Ethan Moreau said.
Ryan Potulny isn't sure why there is such a discrepancy between the home and road record (8 of 11 vs. 1 of 11 on the road), but he thinks the fans probably have something to do with it.
"I think maybe it's a comfort level when we're playing at home -- we have the fans behind us and maybe we come out with a little more energy," Potulny said. "They've been there for us all year through some tough times so it's important for us to come out these last couple games and play well for them."
The final home stretch of the season started this week vs. the Wild, and the Oilers got the result they were looking for. Not only did the club post a solid 60-minute effort for two points, a handful of players registered multi-point games, including Moreau and Dustin Penner, who scored two goals each.
"There's nights where you're feeling really good and you're skating well and you just don't get the puck in the right positions to score, and last night Horc (Shawn Horcoff) made some great plays and got me the puck in scoring areas and I was able to score a couple goals," Moreau explained.
"When you're at home you get to have last change, we get to play against the top lines, and it's been effective."
For Penner, the markers helped him attain -- and surpass -- a personal goal: 30 on the year.
"It's a bit of a relief, especially when I was at 29, because you can go on 10-game scoreless droughts," he said. "It was nice to get it out of the way early, especially on the first shift.
"It's bittersweet though, with the way the team's doing. It would mean a whole lot more to me if we were in the playoffs and at least pushing for a spot. But it's been a tough year."
Ryan Potulny, who registered two assists last night, said winning the final three games is priority number one, then it's time to build on the positives, like yesterday's victory.
"We're trying to finish this season off the right way," he emphasized. "This summer we'll look back and take out some of the positives that we can out of this season, and that's one of them -- a good home record -- which if you're tough to beat at home and you can get the road game going, you're going to be a good team."
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer