THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Tempo Time

Oilers switch up lines & participate in an up-tempo practice Thursday morning

Thursday, 04.11.2010 / 5:20 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Tempo Time
 
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4

TEMPO TIME

In preparation for what should be game of high skill and puck control Friday night vs. the Detroit Red Wings, the Oilers spent today's hour-long dress rehearsal readying themselves for the up-tempo style that the Red Wings have long been known for.

Head coach Tom Renney pushed the pace this morning as he and his staff aimed to encourage greater urgency in developing good habits as they prepare for the game-night pace.

While the pace and high tempo precision carried over from Wednesday's session, the line combinations certainly did not.

SPARE CHANGE

Up front, the top two lines were altered to bring about some greater balance of offensive ability and speed, which is essential when playing a team like the Red Wings; a team that has earned league-wide recognition for their ability to control the puck and the pace of a game.

Shawn Horcoff will continue to centre the team's top line with Taylor Hall flanking the left-side. Familiar face Ales Hemsky will be reunited with Horcoff to complete a line made for offensive substance and neutral zone speed.

While it will be incredibly difficult to match the offensive creativity of the veteran Red Wings, the Oilers will be doing their best to keep up with a second line that features an extremely deep pool of young offensive talent.

Sam Gagner, now perhaps considered a veteran in this role, will centre rookies Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle on the revamped second unit.

The third and fourth lines remained unchanged, due in large part to their strong collective play Tuesday vs. Vancouver. The third line that featured another strong performance from Andrew Cogliano was the catalyst for yet another third period comeback. The performance of Cogliano in particular hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff, as Renney remarks that he has been playing "really well" over the past few games.

COGLIANO'S TIME TO SHINE

Andrew Cogliano

"Andrew Cogliano's been a real steady performer here and of late. The last three or four games for sure he's been an excellent player for us," said Renney.

"He is actually drawing some comparisions, I suppose, to other players but he's creating his own identity and getting a level of respect for that -- which he certainly deserves."

Cogliano understands and is pleased with his recent resurgence, but still respects the fact that he needs to bring that kind of effort and execution on a nightly basis.

"For me, I've just been taking it one game at a time. I've been happy with how I've been playing and certain parts of my game. I think for now it's coming all together for me, and like I said I'm happy and I'm playing hard, I feel like. I'm helping, I'm competing, and that's all I can really ask for."

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

While the Oilers still recognize that a lot of work needs to be done on special teams before they can be satisfied with their respective results, the inclusion of new line combinations made this a day of experimentation on the fly.

There were plenty of five-on-five line rushes to complement the session's earlier work with in-zone special teams systems. According to Renney, penalty killing isn't the only necessity. Simply being disciplined would be a good start.

"Our enemy won't just be the Red Wings tomorrow night. It will be our lack of discpline, if in fact, it rears its ugly head because we can't spend too much time in the penalty box. Whoever the 29th place team is would probably give us the same fits the way our penalty kill has been. Detroit or whoever -- it just doesn't matter. We just have to be more disciplined."

The day of change didn't end there.

On defence, all the players were given the opportunity to play with a new partner as the coaching staff wanted more verstality on these units as well.

Ryan Whitney

After playing an incredible 29:42 Tuesday night vs. Vancouver, Ryan Whitney continued to play on the team's top pairing, although with a new partner. Jim Vandermeer joined him at the top, after sitting Tuesday night's game in favour of veteran Jason Strudwick.

The second unit featured a mix of toughness, offensive mindedness and puck moving ability with Theo Peckham and Tom Gilbert working together. That diverse mix of ability was a theme that carried into the third pairing as well, with Ladislav Smid and Kurtis Foster rounding out the completely revamped defence corps.

READY FOR THE RED WINGS

The Red Wings employ one of the most precise systems of puck control in the NHL. The Oilers, like most other clubs, are aware of this fact but need to execute to perfection in order to be successful. Defenceman Jim Vandermeer admits the key to success resolves entirely around puck management and limiting turnovers.

"Everybody knows the kind of skill they have over there. It's just a matter of us managing the puck when we have it, and not turning pucks over to feed their transition game. If we turn pucks over in the neutral zone and at their blueline, they're coming right back at us pretty quick."

Today's high-paced practice was not only done to drive more focused energy into the players, but it has also become a strategy utilized by the coaching staff as well. Renney's message was clear as the team prepares to battle the Red Wings tomorrow night:

"Our intent is that we'll beat them. That's it, that's our job. We're going to beat the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow night, one way or another. We know how we're going to have to play in order to do that."

ONE-ON-ONE

Sam Gagner

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Will of Kelowna, BC submitted a question for Sam Gagner.

WILL: "Were you always the best player on your team growing up?"

SAM: "I actually had a really good minor hockey team growing up. I played with John Tavares -- he was on my team. There were a lot of guys, actually; a couple first-rounders in the NHL.

There were years were I was, but then there were years where Johnny (Tavares) was. There was an ongoing battle, I think. It was a fun time, I don't think anybody really worried about at that time who was the best on our team, because we were having so much fun and we were winning. I think when you go through that it makes you want to get back to that, so that's what we want to develop here and hopefully we can do that."

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 Tom Gazzola, Bob Stauffer & Jen Sharpe

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 3

BATTLE LINES

After falling to the Canucks 4-3 in a game where the team was physically pushed around at times - particularly in the early going - the Oilers coaching staff aimed to remedy that situation at practice on Wednesday with a hard practice that involved a lot of physical confrontation.

"If you watched practice today, we did a lot of battling and there's a reason for that," Oilers head coach Tom Renney said.

"We have to conjure that up in our players and demand that of them all the time because it's a great equalizer. You might not have the experience, the technical expertise but if your battle is where it needs to be it can really create an equal footing for your team."

The players felt that this type of practice was very much welcomed. Fourth-liner Colin Fraser in particular remarked that the team needs a bit more sandpaper.

"A lot of battle drills today. That's the message, we've got to battle more. Not only that but battle drills for the puck, coming out with the puck. Being hard on the puck, too," said Fraser.

It wasn't without its casualties as Andrew Cogliano left the ice after a one-on-one battle with Shawn Horcoff. He did return, however.

"That's the way it goes," said Renney. "I had no problem with that."

(PAINFULLY) LOOKING BACK

Head Coach Tom Renney had a painful expression when asked if getting beat by Raffi Torres was a lot worse than simply getting beat by the Sedins in a loss to Vancouver.

"I was thinking about that all night," he said. "How about that last goal? Come on. Stop in the high slot, sticks down, defensive side, be alert and the thing doesn't make it through the slot. And it's in the back of our net."

Renney did find the ability to crack a joke at Raffi's expense, however.

"Good for Raffi, what the hell," he laughed. "He's fighting for a job, just trying to make a living. Just do it somewhere else."

The slow starts is also something the team needs to overcome, Ales Hemsky added.

"We have to have better starts. We always talk about it before the game but we never do it. If you go down 3-0 or 2-0 all the time it's so tough to get back. You just spend so much energy to come back. I don't know why, we've just got to get into the game a little bit more, that's all," he said.

PERFORMANCE CONSULTANT ON THE SCENE

Kimberley Amirault

The Oilers have hired a Performance Consultant, Kimberley Amirault. Her background in pro sports includes some time with the New York Rangers, New York Knicks and Columbus Blue Jackets.

"With all the teams I've worked with, it's a whole variety around performance consulting. Helping people be at their ideal performance state consistenly playing at their highest level," she said.

Amirault has an impressive background that includes her current work with the Canadian Olympic Committee. 

"I also work for the Canadian Olympic Committee where I headed up Sports Psychology Department for the 2010 Olympics for Canada and was just hired for the 2012 Games. I also work for the Canadian Sports Centre in Calgary where I'm the Director of Sports Psychology."

"The objective is to make sure that she's available to our players when they need that. It's completely optional for them. Athletes nowadays have some type of connection to a mental skills coach. We're providing that to them," said Renney.

Renney has a history with Amerault, having worked with her not only with the Rangers but also with the Canadian Olympic program in the late 90s.

"I mentioned her to Glen and worked with her in the '98 or '99 National Team. That's where I met Kimberly. He then brought her in to work the Rangers and the Knicks."

Amirault has a wide background when it comes to sports.

"I started out volunteering literally with Pee Wee hockey teams as I did with other high school teams and University teams. It was a good fit, I found out. I also worked with cross country skiing and women's hockey."

JACQUES OFFICIALLY ASSIGNED TO OKLAHOMA

Oilers forward J-F Jacques was officially assigned today to the Oklahoma City Barons on a conditioning stint. Jacques has been out of action since February with a back injury. He'll skate with the Barons for a maximum of two weeks before returning to Edmonton.

READ THE PRESS RELEASE

ONE-ON-ONE

Devan Dubnyk

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Richard of Red Deer submitted a question for Devan Dubnyk.

RICHARD: "What is the most significant change you have to make now that you have secured the  lone back-up position?"

DEVAN: "I think the biggest thing is to not change anything. I've tried to keep a level head throughout the whole thing and not think too much about it - whether I'm the only goalie or one of five goalies. It feels a little different but the important thing is to just stay steady and confident and that's how you're going to perform when you get a chance."

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: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2

OILERS vs. CANUCKS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

Following their most impressive offensive performance of the season last Friday, the Oilers are back in action tonight when they take on the Vancouver Canucks. Edmonton is hoping to bring some of that Chicago success into Rexall Place, but they know it won't be easy against a tough division rival.

"[The Canucks are] a good team, and we've said it before, we've had good teams in here not so long ago and we have to measure up," Head Coach Tom Renney said after the morning skate. "A team like Vancouver really helps you sharpen your senses to the point where you have to be spot-on."

The Canucks have a lot going for them, Renney added.

"They've got a nice blend of [antagonism] and skill and talent, obviously. Their goaltending is certainly solid, so you've got to play a complete game to beat them."

Forward Sam Gagner is looking forward to the challenge.

"They're definitely a fun team to play against," he said. "Every time we play against them it's usually a pretty big battle. We seem to have a really good rivalry with them and I think the biggest thing for us is getting off to a good start, getting pucks in deep and make sure we get our forechecking game going and hopefully we'll get some offence off of that."

Thankfully, the tactics that resulted in a 7-4 win over the Blackhawks is fresh in the Oilers' minds.

"Any time you play against Stanley Cup Champions, it seems to raise your level of play," Assistant Coach Kelly Buchberger explained. "We scored six goals, I think, off the rush and obviously we've got to really watch tonight against the Sedins and make sure we work their D."

Captain Shawn Horcoff said the win was great but consistency is required.

"The biggest thing is trying to find some consistency and be in there night in, night out," he explained. "That's the hardest thing that comes with youth is trying to find a way to be there every day. Our schedule has been pretty easy on us so far and obviously it's going to be tough here in the month of November so it'll be a good test to see how we can hold up."

DESLAURIERS CLEARS

Jeff Deslauriers will play in Oklahoma City
Nikolai Khabibulin will start the game for the Oilers, but the big goaltending news involves a player who is no longer with the team. After being placed on waivers Monday morning, Jeff Deslauriers officially cleared at 10am this morning and will be assigned to the Oilers AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City.

Renney said he was "a little bit" surprised Deslauriers wasn't picked up by another team.

"I hold him, as well all do, in pretty high regard as a goaltender and I guess it's one of those situations where it's early enough, people don't quite know what their needs are and feel that they have to have a better idea of what they need," the coach explained. "But having said that, he's a good goaltender, he's our guy, and he'll head to Oklahoma City and play."


CANUCKS 4 - OILERS 3

Ales Hemsky battles Henrik Sedin

A sluggish first period had the Oilers in an early 3-0 hole, but a second-period goal by Dustin Penner and third-period markers from Ryan Jones and Gilbert Brule put the club even with the Canucks after 45 minutes. The comeback was cut there, however, as Vancouver's Raffi Torres added his third goal of the night to seal a hat trick and salvage a 4-3 win for the Canucks.

Ladislav Smid and Andrew Cogliano registered two assists each for the Oilers, while Kevin Bieksa matched Torres' point total with three helpers of his own. In net, Nikolai Khabibulin finished with 26 saves and Roberto Luongo with 23.

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

   

Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com

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