After coming away with four out of a possible six points on their recent road swing, Edmonton returned home to Rexall Place today and held an hour-long practice that pushed the pace and put the players back to work in a hurry.
With an extra day in between games before the Vancouver Canucks come to town on Tuesday night, the Oilers spent the bulk of today's session working on end-to-end skating drills, which included a heavy emphasis on heart-pumping one-on-one exercises.
While line rushes and in-zone offensive plays weren't the focus on this day, they were touched on briefly midway through the practice when the forwards attacked on a series of odd-man chances up the ice.
The lines were the same as they have been over the past few games, although with Ales Hemsky notably absent from today's practice, spot placement was necessary to complete each line.
Although Hemsky did not participate in today's session, he's not injured and was in attendance at the rink as he conducted a "maintendance day."
The rotation on the fourth line continued, with all of Steve MacIntyre, Zack Stortini and Ryan Jones splitting duty on the unit to accompany centerman Colin Fraser.
The story was the same on the blueline as well, with Jason Strudwick and Jim Vandermeer parsing duty on the third pairing with Theo Peckham.
While the Oilers only came away with one victory on the road trip, -- against the Stanley Cup champions, however -- the Oilers skated away without a single regulation loss. Losing their first two games in a shootout following some impressive third period come-from-behind efforts has helped the team bond and build some confidence moving forward.
"We did a lot of things that were better on the ice, especially as a team. Obviously it's nice scoring seven goals against a team like Chicago. But, I think a lot of it showed a lot of our character when we came back in the first two games; never gave up, our first periods were great, and that's what we're looking for," remarked defenceman Tom Gilbert.
"We did a lot of good things. We moved the puck well and when we do that, success is definitely something that might come."
Centerman Colin Fraser agreed with Gilbert, but cautions that there's still plenty of work to be done.
"We're making steps in the right direction, obviously. With the last game in Chicago, I think we had a really good start; still need things to work on. I don't think we can be satisfied with the win -- we still gave up four goals and whatnot. They still had some chances, but I think it was a step in the right direction for us."
Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for the team's recent success has been the stark improvement on the penalty kill.
The Oilers have been shuffling different combinations around to try and find a formula that works, and it would appear that the inclusion of some offensive firepower is providing a lift.
"We would like to be able to make sure everyone makes a contribution on our team, and you'd like to see your third and fourth line guys really contribute to the penalty kill. We believe that we can get there. At the same time, I don't have a problem that with that little bit of an offensive threat on the PK, where that other team might not just give you everything that they have because of the artillery you might have as a killer," said head coach Tom Renney
"That said, the job is to kill penalties."
While the players and coaches all admit that there's still some improvement to be made, Renney was fervent to compliment his team's improvements and overall strengths over the past few games.
"I like the fact that we really competed for three periods. I liked our attack game, I thought our transition game was good, I thought we moved the puck through the neutral zone with quickness, I thought we got it to the net with purpose. For the most part, we didn't lose people in the offensive zone or on our forecheck."
NUMBER ONE'S FIRST
Fresh off a road trip in which Taylor Hall scored his first and second career goals in consecutive nights, the 18-year old was thrilled but wanted to keep an even keel as he hopes to continue his recent offensive production into Tuesday night.
"It's definitely nice to get that first one out of the play, and once I kind of did that I was a little more relaxed out there.
Playing with Horc (Shawn Horcoff) and Ebs (Jordan Eberle), it's not hard to get points if you do the right things. It was a pretty good weekend for myself."
While his on-ice performance certainly got a rise out of his teammates when he scored in Columbus, Hall says the outpouring of support from family and friends has been tremendous.
"It was good. Everyone was pretty happy to see me get that goal, obviously; a lot of text messages and all that kind of stuff, so it's good to have people support you. I have some family coming here soon, so that should be nice."
The Oilers will be back on the ice tomorrow for practice as they prepare to host the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night. Singles and standing room tickets are still available.
Click here to purchase tickets for Tuesday night
In the latest edition of our fan question series, Kenton of Winnipeg, MB submitted this question for Taylor Hall:
KENTON: "This being your first season in the NHL, how is the OHL compared to the NHL? How much harder is it?"
TAYLOR: "Probably the biggest thing is the goalies. They're just so good in this league, and you really have to pinpoint your shots to put them in. They challenge so well, too, so that's probably the biggest thing that I've noticed.
The strength is obviously a factor, but it hasn't been as big of a factor as I thought it would be because there's so much speed. The faster players really have an advantage because they call every penalty and if you're fast you can get away from guys; you don't really have to use the strength, so speed is definitely an advantage.
Other than that, I'm having a blast. Staying in the hotels, in the airplanes, and just being around this team. It's been a lot of fun."
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola