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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Jet-Set & Go

Oilers hold brief practice in Leduc, depart on longest road trip of the season

Saturday, 06.11.2010 / 4:50 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Jet-Set & Go
 
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 6

JET-SET & GO

A winless homestand preceding the longest road trip of the young 2010-2011 campaign would seemingly gesture a daunting task ahead for the Oilers.

After all, following the two latest home losses, the team now sits with a 3-6-2 record in the NHL's Western Conference.

But there was no time to be reflecting on the past. It was time to look forward and begin a new test.

Only 12 hours after falling victim to the Detroit Red Wings, the Oilers took to the ice at the Leduc Recreation Centre for a brief session before jetting cross-border to the Windy City.   

With only one win in the team’s last nine games, it would be all too easy for the team to roll over and accept its early-season fate. But the Oilers understand the situation and realize that a young team will naturally undergo some growing pains in the process.

For a team heading into an important stretch of games, moving forward is the best thing they can do.

"You have to move past that stuff," stressed Oilers rookie Jordan Eberle. “You got to try and find the things you did wrong and improve on them, and find the things you did right. Like I said, you can't look in the past; we have to look forward."

Defenceman Jim Vandermeer agreed with Eberle’s assessment, stating that the team needs to “take it day-by-day, one game at a time” as the Oilers look to get back on track.

"I don't think you can dwell on the losses too long. I think you take the good things out of your game and try to apply them to the next game. That's definitely what we'll try to do tomorrow," said an eager Vandermeer.

KEEP THE PACE

This morning’s succinct 30-minute practice had a different approach; a pseudo morning skate, where drills focused primarily on conditioning, quick transitions and odd-man rushes to keep the pace high. Legs were burning and minds were refocused as the team hopes to have better success on the road, beginning tomorrow against the Blackhawks.

Oilers receive instruction at practice.
Odd man rushes of all situations highlighted the session, with head coach Tom Renney and his staff encouraging the players to utilize the entire ice surface in the process.

Quick puck movement and quality shot selection were the key points of attack, where the Oilers lacked last night against a veteran Red Wings squad known for their dominating puck possession game.

Line combinations were only briefly run as units, but both the forward and defensive groupings remained the same as they were last night against Detroit. Young defenceman Theo Peckham, who has done an incredible job this season of imposing his physical will, was absent from practice as he was still suffering some effects from a flu bug that kept him out of the lineup last night. 

THE FIVE GAME, EIGHT DAY MARATHON

The Oilers are one of the league’s youngest teams and feature a lineup with several young rookies getting an opportunity to learn on the fly. The forthcoming five-game road trip is going to be a new experience for many, but Eberle says the trip length “isn’t that big of deal” considering his experience in the Western Hockey League with Regina.

“I'm used to bigger trips, but obviously the pace of the game, it really takes a toll on your body and you have to make sure you're taking care of yourself,” said Eberle.

"It's going to be a good test for us. We're playing some good hockey teams and we need to obviously try and play our game. We've had one game of success in Chicago, and I think that's obviously going to help us. We need to go in with the expectation of doing well and coming together."

SPEAKING OF CHICAGO

Jim Vandermeer
The Oilers are undoubtedly in tough on this upcoming trip; a five-game roadie that features some quality teams on the opposing side. But perhaps some recent success in Chicago will give the team some confidence to kick things off.

Both Eberle and Vandermeer share the quietly confident sentiments, but caution that the team can’t look too far ahead.

“We had a good outing last time in Chicago, so we want to make sure that we go in with a good effort and try to get two points there,” said Vandermeer, as he eagerly anticipates the rematch tomorrow night.

"It's huge. We’re going to need to get some wins here pretty quick. We know the importance of these next five games and we'll treat it that way."

Eberle, while pleased with the outcome of the last game at the United Center in Chicago, says redemption will be the priority of the Blackhawks come Sunday night.

“Anytime you get beat by a team, you want to make redemption. For us, we're going to go in with the same game plan and try to come out on top.”

AND SO IT BEGINS

Immediately following practice in Leduc, the Oilers hopped on their charter flight to Chicago as they prepare for the challenge of the marathon trip. It all begins tomorrow night when the Oilers and Blackhawks meet for the second time in eight days, as the home side hopes to avenge the 7-4 drubbing laid by Edmonton in the previous meeting.  

ONE-ON-ONE

Jordan Eberle

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Serena of Port Alberni, BC submitted a question for Jordan Eberle.

SERENA: "Is there a song that plays in an arena that drives you nuts? (eg. the Canucks in Chicago with Chelsea Dagger)"

JORDAN: "We had a song in Regina, actually. Say we were down by one and the other team scored in the third period and we were down by two, and they always put on Journey - 'Don't Stop Believing' and it just drove me nuts on the bench."

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

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 5

OILERS vs. RED WINGS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

Judging from morning skate, the Oilers are expected to maintain their lines from Thursday's practice tonight vs. Detroit. Ales Hemsky slips in on the right side with Taylor Hall and Shawn Horcoff, while Jordan Eberle will skate with Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner.

Gagner is eager to hit the ice with the two rookies.

"Obviously Eberle's cycle game is great, he's so smart and makes little plays that open up a lot of room for you and I think that's got to be the thing for me to feed off of, is try to give and go with him and make plays that way," the young center explained. "And obviously Magnus, with his speed, he opens up a lot of room that way, and I've got to try and get him the puck with speed as much as possible and hopefully we can develop some chemistry."

DIGGIN' DETROIT

Speed and chemistry will be key tonight as the Oilers face the formidable Red Wings. A stacked roster and winning record gives the visitors the statistical edge, but with three wins over Detroit last season, Edmonton has the tools to clip the Wings.

According to Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney, there is no simple recipe for success against such a talented squad.

"Fear is a great motivator," he said to the media post-practice. "We can't afford to play anything but our very best and, certainly from an effort-perspective, we need that. And then beyond that against Detroit as usual, you have to execute accordingly and you really have to hang in there and manage the puck because they don't take too many shifts off.

"It's an opportunity to create some type of momentum and feel-good because they're a great team."

Assistant Coach Steve Smith is looking for intensity from the Oilers tonight.

"[The Red Wings are] probably one of the hardest working teams in the league, and we know that their top players are going to give an absolute concerted effort every time they're on the ice," he explained. "They're going to be really solid offensively and really solid defensively. I think they control the puck so well that that really makes them what they are. Their puck management is as good as any in the game, and I think just matching their intensity gives us an opportunity to win."

From a players' perspective, Jordan Eberle said it's important not to over-think the opponent.

"Obviously there's a lot of heritage behind this team but you can't focus too much into that," he said. "It's just any other game. If we go out and play our game, we have a shot to win the game, so you can't build things up too much."

Gagner is looking forward to a "fun" test tonight.

"We haven't obviously had the best years of the past couple years, but when you come up against a team like Detroit, you want to test yourself," he said. "I think the biggest thing for us is to have that respect factor for them, but at the same time we've got to close on them and take away their space and they're going to be less effective with less time. I think that's got to be our focus and hopefully we can do that tonight."

RED WINGS 3 - OILERS 1

Taylor Hall battles Henrik Zetterberg

After struggling through the first, the Oilers outshot the Red Wings in the following two frames to keep it close at Rexall Place Friday night. But unlucky shots and strong goaltending from Jimmy Howard combined for a 3-1 Edmonton loss.

On the Oilers highlight reel, Taylor Hall scored the club's only goal, a power-play equalizer early in the second period, and Nikolai Khabibulin finished with 27 saves.

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

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

   


Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com

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