After defeating the division rival Calgary Flames by a score of 4-0 one night ago, the Oilers were back on the ice at Rexall Place Friday morning as they prepare to host the Florida Panthers on Sunday evening.
The 2010-11 season began about as well as anyone in Oil Country could have imagined, and the energy and happiness on the ice this morning reflected the positive mood. Although line rushes were only run near the conclusion of the practice, the early drills worked heavily on offensive zone creativity; the players, much to their delight, brought positive vibes and scored several highlight reel goals in the process.
The players celebrated as if it were a goal scored in game action, as the team was clearly enjoying the moment and relishing their early season success. While the season is still young, the way in which the game was won last night provided a moment of enjoyment all throughout the practice and the players weren't shy to hide their excitement. Head coach Tom Renney’s season theme of “having fun” was in full swing this morning.
Taylor Hall and his delighted teammates are enjoying the fun and more relaxed atmosphere, but he insists that the process is only beginning, and that their hard work is far from over.
"I think we've just got to stay humble and realize that it's just one out of 82 games; there's going to be ups, there's going to be downs, but if we can stay on an even keel – but carry confidence into the next game knowing that we can be a good team."
It’s also a theme that’s carried over off the ice as well. The Oilers made their dressing room even more competitive today when they re-introduced a familiar game – their old ping pong table was back and head coach Tom Renney was extremely supportive of the decision, as he feels the players need to make the dressing room their own.
"I think it's great, absolutely. That's their domain, you know, and I've always felt that the rink has to be a destination and a place they want to come to. If as a coaching staff we're making that too difficult, then that doesn't make a lot of sense to me."
While the on and off ice fun was palpable this morning, the theme around the rink was focused on the new Oil Country hero, Jordan Eberle.
His highlight reel goal last night was the hot topic and players, media and fans alike couldn’t get enough. Linemate Taylor Hall commented on the goal and Eberle’s likely reaction to the fanfare.
"I'm not sure if he even went to sleep, I think he just watched the video the whole night. No, I'm happy for him. It was a great goal; and a great first goal."
It certainly wasn’t a one-off. Hall expanded the compliment for his linemate and hopes the chemistry between the two grows as the season progresses.
"You watch him in practice and he does the same thing. I'm sure it's not his first Highlight of the Night (on TSN) and it's not going to be his last. It's good for him. Hopefully he has a lot of confidence now and he carries into the next game.”
Confidence likely isn’t an issue for the crafty winger, as he handled the pressure of his first NHL game better than most professional rookies. His goal showed the cunning ability desired by many long-time veterans of the game. It’s a special quality that head coach Tom Renney hasn’t seen very often.
"It was as good as it gets, there's no question about that. It's exciting. I mean, the speed in the first place and being able to do all that at high speed, and just the wherewithal to sell the goaltender on this one and give him that one – it's pretty neat.”
When asked to describe how Eberle could put all that together at such a young age in his first NHL game, Renney was blunt about his exceptional qualities as his career hit the ground running.
"Great hockey sense, great anticipation, very good quickness, and an extremely confident player."
While the excitement and attention around the rink was focused on Eberle’s goal and overall performance in his first NHL game, he remained humble and focused as he looks to prepare for Sunday night.
"I think I caught it once. I think he (Hall) watched it more than I did. But, you know, that's yesterday and I have to move on today. We got the win and it was nice to chip in offensively and feel comfortable out there. Obviously going into the game that's what I was looking for was to get the win and it started off on the right foot."
The right foot, indeed. That as the case for many last night and it continued today as everyone on the ice showed excellent effort and the regular season sharpness that we would expect. In goal, Nikolai Khabibulin continued to look strong in practice and seems to have settled back into the role, both mentally and physically.
At the other end of the ice, Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers shared the net and worked extensively on technical drills prior to the session and afterward as well. At this point it's unclear which goaltender will perform the backup duties tomorrow night, but both Dubnyk and Deslauriers ensured they put forth a great effort in practice to gain an advantage.
Notably absent from today's practice was the man who scored the first goal of 2010-11, Gilbert Brule. Although concerns had arisen when he left the game in the third period last night, Brule says it was simply a precautionary measure resulting from a sore ankle.
"Yeah, I feel fine today. It was kind of just a precautionary thing; just did some treatments today. My ankle, basically from last year – that high ankle sprain I had – I just tweaked it a little last night. Just went out with 10-minutes left in the third and we were up 4-0, so there was no need to push it."
In the latest edition of our fan question series, Ryan of Edmonton submitted a question for Ales Hemsky.
RYAN: "Since you are such a great playmaker, puck-handler and skater, have you ever thought about playing centre?"
|Ales Hemsky celebrates his third period goal with his teammates.
ALES: "No, because they never put me in that position. I always played left wing and right wing but never played centre, so I never even think about it.
I think my game is the speed and around the boards, on the fly, so I never really think about. I don't know if I'd be comfortable with something like that and getting used to it, just changing to centre. Some guys can do it but it would be a little different, a little tough, so don't think so."
Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer & Tom Gazzola