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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Enemy Territory

Oilers return to Alberta, prep for Saturday's HNIC battle in Calgary

Friday, 15.10.2010 / 1:59 PM / The Team Today
By Jen Sharpe  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Enemy Territory
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15

ENEMY TERRITORY

After Thursday's 4-2 loss in Minnesota and a late arrival in Alberta, the Oilers wasted no time returning to the ice for practice at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary.

The 45-minute skate was attended by all players except Shawn Horcoff and Colin Fraser. The forwards had both blocked shots while penalty killing vs. the Wild and required a "maintenance" day, according to Head Coach Tom Renney.

"They're a little dinged up so we're just doing some maintenance on them today and give them a chance to recover from that a bit," he explained. "They'll be ready to go tomorrow morning."

TIME FOR SPECIALTY TEAMS

The bumps and bruises to Horcoff and Fraser aren't surprising: the Oilers struggled on the penalty kill, allowing four goals on six opportunities.

"It's tough when you block a shot and you're hurting," Renney explained. "There's a domino effect beyond that, because then we get stretched out trying to too much, or more than we should naturally."

"We just have to come back to taking huge pride in our specialty teams in general. It would have been nice to see our power-play go two or three for seven, and it didn't. So at the end of the night, the opponent won the specialty teams game."

BATTLE LINES DRAWN

The Oilers are hoping for a better result Saturday night when they face the Flames in Calgary. Edmonton trounced Calgary 4-0 in the season-opener at Rexall Place, but the club has struggled in the two games since.

Although the players and staff are eager for a Battle of Alberta repeat, they know that patience and hard work are the keys to finding consistent success.

"We're got a young group of guys with a lot of enthusiasm," Jim Vandermeer said after practice. "We're just trying to get the team going in the right direction and get to know each other, how each guy plays, and come together as a team."

Rookie Magnus Paajarvi, who has been held pointless through three games, is confident his play will improve.

"I knew it's not going to be easy. It's just been three games and so far it's gone okay. I can do better for sure, but I think our line is getting better and better. We've just got to keep working and be more desperate and try to create something more and be better both offensively and defensively," he said.

RETURN TO REXALL THURSDAY

Wild rematch coming up Thursday

Following Saturday night's game on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, the Oilers will fly north to Edmonton and prepare for their net match-up. The Minnesota Wild are in town Thursday and the Oil will no doubt be seeking revenge for the loss at Xcel Energy Center.

GET TICKETS

ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Kaylee Stigings of Innisfail, AB submitted a question for Kurtis Foster:

KAYLEE: "What was the first thing you thought of when you got signed in Edmonton? And what advice you would give to young defencman like me playing hockey?"

Kurtis Foster
KURTIS: "When I signed in Edmonton there was a lot of excitement because it was a team I watched growing up. I played in the States and had never played for a Canadian team, so there was just a lot of excitement about playing in front of the Canadian fans and being in a hockey town again.

As far as advice goes, the biggest thing and something I have to work on every day is that when you're playing defensively, you have to always have your stick on the ice, make sure it's always where their stick is. Try to play the body and try not to look at the puck. That's the biggest thing."

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: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer

 
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14

OILERS at WILD:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

The Oilers started their first road game day of the season with a brief team meeting and then morning skate at Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul, MN. There are no major changes expected to the Oilers line-up in tonight's contest. Like in Sunday's game vs. Florida, Zack Stortini will fill the role of fourth-line enforcer, while Steve MacIntyre sits out. Nikolai Khabibulin will continue to start for the Oil in net.

The hot topic Thursday morning was the Oilers 13-game losing streak at Xcel Energy Center. Although the streak is considerable, Edmonton's players and management aren't giving it much heed.

"I think the first thing we need to do is not worry about that, don't worry about history at all, and start to create our own with the type of effort that gives us a chance to win," Head Coach Tom Renney said after the skate. "For us anyway it's about making sure that our shifts are short, that we push the pace, that we compete in every aspect of the game."

Sam Gagner said systems consistency will be important to break the curse.

"I think for us the biggest thing is making sure our system play is good all night. I think if we're in the right spots defensively, we're going to create chances offensively and we've just got to execute from there," he explained.

"Backstrom stole some games from us in here and we've got to make sure we're getting pucks and traffic to the net and executing on our chances. If we're able to do that, we'll hopefully come out with a win."

Kurtis Foster, who played four seasons with the Wild, is looking forward to his first game back as a visitor.

"This is my first time coming out of the opposing tunnel, but it's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "Tonight's their opening night and I think it will be a good night for the Oilers to turn the tide here in Minnesota and win some games."

ROOKIES ROAD DEBUT

The return to the road is always exciting, but for three young Oilers, this season-opening trip to Minnesota and Calgary is their first opportunity to experience NHL life away from Edmonton.

"It's definitely a good experience and you definitely know you're in the NHL when you're staying at the kind of hotels we're staying at," Taylor Hall explained. "It was kind of funny: me and Jordan we went out for dinner with a couple other guys last night. Our bill was $100 each, and we were talking that that could buy us about 12 footlong subs from subway, that's what we're used to, so it's a little bit different but we're having fun getting used to it."

Coach Renney said the rookies excitement is contagious.

"We all get a chance to live vicariously through those kids now, with respect to their first experience through a lot of NHL rinks," he said. "It's good for all of us to be able to, through those kids at least, connect to the passion of the game and the beauty of playing it and how fortunate we are to do so."

WITH THIS RING ...

Colin Fraser (l) & Steve Smith (r) show off their new Stanley Cup rings.
The rookies weren't the only Oilers feeling special Thursday morning: before taking to the ice, Colin Fraser and Assistant Coach Steve Smith were presented with their Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship rings by a member of the Blackhawks organization.

The rings are big, heavy, and ornate, and although Fraser said he likely won't wear his very much, it was honour to finally receive it.

"You see the pictures but to see it up close, it's awesome," Fraser said. "I think it's going to get locked up there pretty quick. I'll show everybody, and then who knows after that."

"It is weird being on a different team now, but that's the way it goes sometimes, you can't control that, and we've got to win one now in Edmonton," he concluded.

WILD 4 - OILERS 2

After allowing the first goal in the opening period, the Oilers battled back to take a 2-1 lead early in the second. But the club had trouble staying out of the penalty box and the Wild capitalized, adding three more power-play goals to sink the Oil 4-2 Thursday night.

Dustin Penner and Tom Gilbert scored for Edmonton, while Nikolai Khabibulin registered 20 saves in the losing effort.

Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer

 
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13

ROAD PREP

With the team enjoying some early season success at home, a new test begins Thursday night when the Oilers will take on the Minnesota Wild as part of their first road trip of the 2010-2011 season. In preparation for that, the Oilers practiced one last time at Rexall Place Wednesday morning before departing to the central US.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Defenceman Ryan Whitney is looking forward to the road trip and says these are always great opportunities to bond with teammates.

"It's nice to finally get away. We've been here for a quite a while now, and it's just good to go kind of go out to dinner with each toher and do those type of things where you really kind of get to know guys. People have families at home and you don't see them that often, except at the rink, so it's good."

Whitney expanded further on the team's recent struggles at the Xcel Energy Center, but says there needs to be a system in place to have success on the road.

"You got to play a little different. You got to play simple on the road. It seems like it takes a lot more to win there, and just making simple plays. There is a way to play a road game to be successful, so it's just to up to us to do that and realize that it's going to be a little tougher without our fans."

Rookie Jordan Eberle is equally as excited to start his first road trip of his young NHL career and is looking to make a deeper connection with his teammates in a setting he hasn't yet experienced.

"You learn things about guys you didn't know before, especially when you have a roommmate, so that really brings the team together."

SYSTEM SCHOOL

Being a travel day, the pace wasn’t quite as intense as it has been over the past few days, but the players were still providing the utmost energy in their participation. Of sorts, it was a “back to basics” day as the team worked meticulously on familiar drills and areas that head coach Tom Renney feels needs improvement.

Oilers players prepare for an incoming shot from the point.
Although the practice didn’t officially begin until 10am, the entire team was on the ice well before the scheduled start-time to play around and enjoy some relaxed ice-time before the coaches began the session. Once the session began, it was all business during the drills but the players weren’t shy to hide their excitement of the atmosphere and overall mood.

While the Oilers showed tremendous precision and decisiveness during their 4-0 stomping of the Calgary Flames on opening night, the team struggled in certain areas two nights later against the visiting Florida Panthers. Passes weren’t crisp, the team was trying to get too creative when a simple shot would suffice, and the breakout was disjointed which led to a misaligned offensive attack.

Head coach Tom Renney agreed that the team still has plenty of work to do regarding systems, but insists that practice time is only part of the equation.

"We're still trying to tidy up parts of our game, where everybody is on the same page and we know what the execution is that's required. At the end of the day, we have to play; we have to play to make that determination. We can practice it all we want, but we have to have something on the line other than just getting it done that ten seconds of a drill."

As a result of the opposite ends in the two games played so far, the coaching staff instituted a greater emphasis on their system play today. Breakouts were the primary point of concern, as the team spent much of the session breaking out of the zone with various techniques and re-doing the drills to perfection.

THE TRAINING FILE

Tom Renney addresses the media following Wednesday's skate.
While head coach Tom Renney was cryptic during yesterday’s media availability regarding a potential reason for the team’s sluggish performance, he clarified that point today and says it was likely due to a training and communication error on the part of the coaching staff.

"I think we may have done some damage with how we trained in preparing for Florida, and there was a lactate build-up and we couldn't flush it out in time to play the way we really wanted to. I think we had heavy legs, because we might have done a little bit too much work in the fitness, skating, metabolic department."

While the coaching staff admitted an error in their methods, the players weren't about to use it as an excuse for their uninspired play. Jordan Eberle commented on the fact that the team simply wasn't prepared to match Florida's intensity.

"Anytime you're not getting chances and not doing what you usually do, it is frustrating. They worked hard - they outworked us. That was the key thing. We didn't come to work and they outworked us. Obviously Khabi played unreal, probably why we won the game, but obviously we have to be ready."

STRUGGLE IN ST. PAUL

The Oilers currently find themselves in a 13-game winless stretch at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnnesota. Considering the Wild are a primary divisional foe, the need for success is especially important. While the Oilers have had their share of struggles in Minnesota, this group is a new team with a new mentality; head coach Tom Renney feels that the new youthful enthusiasm could actually pay dividends for thepsychological effect.


"I like the energy of our guys; old, young, experienced, inexperienced. I just like the energy of our group anyway, not withstanding our last game where we seemed to struggle a little bit. I like our energy, and I think we're maybe just naive enough, too, where it doesn't really matter - whatever happened in the past is that. And maybe we can create an advanage for ourselves by really not caring. Just go play."

THREE-GAME MINI-PACKS

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ONE-ON-ONE

Magnus Paajarvi celebrates a pre-season goal.

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Justin of Edmonton submitted this great question for Magnus Paajarvi:

JUSTIN: "Magnus, First of all, "welcome"! Second, what are some the major differences between playing in the NHL and Elite? And what adjustments have you had to make to your game?"

MAGNUS: "The biggest difference is definitely the rink. Especially behind the net and in the corners, because there's no ice at all over there. You really have to make a play fast. And and that's what I ntoiced too: The time. You don't have much time. It doesn't where you are. Every team wants to pressure and be aggressive in this league, I noticed.

I would say those are the two biggest differences; the bigger rink and the aggressiveness, which I've had to get used to."


Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer & Tom Gazzola


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