OILERS vs. BLACKHAWKS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE
Following a road trip that many couldn’t wait to put behind them, the Oilers return to the friendly confines of Rexall Place this evening to battle, once again, with the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
After losing the 2009-10 season series to the Blackhawks 4-0, the Oilers have responded well this year, recording half of the season’s wins against one of the league’s most dynamic and complete rosters.
Perhaps even more impressively, both wins have come on the road at the United Center, which bodes well for a young Oilers team in search of confidence as they return home.
CHI TOWN PARADIGM
“We seem to be a little bit more alert to our system and more desperate to do the right thing as opposed to freelancing,” Head Coach Tom Renney said of the matchup vs. Chicago.
“Maybe it's been a function of us getting a good start early there two games ago, and then certainly being very close for the second game; we didn't want to make any mistakes. “
While the coach is aware of the team’s confidence against a very good Blackhawks team, he cautions that the group needs to stay focused and stick to the system.
“That's all good, but we have to make sure that in the interest of energy and the spontaneity of playing that we don't stand around and watch a real good team play, too.”
THE BELLE TOLLS
With Ladislav Smid currently out of the lineup as he continues to suffer the effects of a Sean Avery punch, rugged defenceman Shawn Belle will be getting his first taste of NHL action this season.
Belle arrives in Edmonton having put up incredible offensive numbers (two goals, 15 points in 17 games) for the Oklahoma City Barons early in this young season. With the opportunity to play solid defensive minutes in addition to some time on the powerplay, Belle says he’s excited about the chance.
“It's a lifelong dream. Getting back in the NHL, first game at home -- it's going to be something special,” Belle said with a smile.
“I think I just played with more confidence (in Oklahoma City). I used my skills to my advantage. I tried to be a little bit more patient instead of just jumping the gun. I started shooting the puck a little bit more, and there were some pretty good guys down there to play with.”
With the possibility of getting some additional time on the powerplay, Belle says his confidence continues to grow with the increase in opportunities.
“A little bit last year with Hamilton I played quite a bit on the powerplay. Not so much on the first unit, but the guys that I'm playing with are helping quite a bit.”
The influx of new ability didn’t stop at the addition of Belle. Physical forward J-F Jacques will be making his 2010-11 debut after starting the season on the injured reserve. When asked about how he’s feeling, Jacques insists that his injury is now a non-issue.
“Things are going well. I played four games there and it was perfect timing. It was good to get a day off in between to see how my back would respond. It went really well. It's probably better now than when I left, so it's great news.”
With some new faces and the need for a shake-up, the line combinations are as follows for tonight’s game:
Eberle – Horcoff – Hemsky
Hall – Gagner - Penner
Paajarvi – Cogliano – Brule
Jacques – Fraser – Jones
Whitney – Gilbert
Peckham – Foster
Belle – Vandermeer
Both Jordan Eberle and Dustin Penner will be taking on a different role tonight, as they will be playing on their opposite wings to help bring a spark to the offensive combinations.
“I get a chance to play left wing. I've never really played much left wing, a little bit in junior, but I like it,” Eberle said of the change.
“Just from the practices it's kind of nice to come in on your off-side to get a little bit of a better look on your shot -- and I've always been pretty good on my backhand, so I've got an opportunity to play with some pretty good players.”
Head Coach Tom Renney is confident that the players will be able to handle the change and looks forward to the new look.
“The biggest challenge of all is just what your job is defensively; paying attention to the needs of the off-wing now, and I think that they're both intelligent players to overcome that, no question about that. It makes it a lot easier if your biggest decision is what to do in their end.”
THE STRUGGLE WITHIN
With the team currently searching for confidence and ways to improve, captain Shawn Horcoff was helping to diffuse the pressure and help provide some confidence for the younger players.
“It's a fine line. It's tough as a young player. You can't just hear it, you have to go through it yourself. You have to go through tough times, you have to go through situations where your game isn't where it needs to be and you have to find ways to dig deep and overcome that; and find ways to find out what makes you successful at this level,” said Horcoff.
“That takes time. That's the same for every player. I think for us, more so than anything, we just have to make sure that their spirits are high when they come to the rink and that they're willing to put the work in.”
The Oilers will do their best to the rise the spirits and create some good vibes when they take on the Blackhawks tonight at 7:30p.m.
BLACKHAWKS 5 - OILERS 0
The Oilers were hoping to continue their success vs. the Blackhawks with a win at Rexall Place Wednesday night, but the visitors had something else in mind. Jonathan Toews scored the game's first three goals for a natural hat-trick, paving the way for a 5-0 shutout over the Oilers.
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola, Jen Sharpe & Bob Stauffer