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.
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'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.
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."
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?"
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola, Bob Stauffer & Jen Sharpe
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.