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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Chemistry Test

Rookies, veteran leaders dominate discussion following Friday's practice

Friday, 17.12.2010 / 4:15 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Chemistry Test
 
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17

CHEMISTRY TEST

After Edmonton came away with a decisive and energy-infused 6-3 victory one night ago, the team regrouped at Rexall Place this morning for a lengthy one-hour practice in preparation for the upcoming pre-holiday road trip.

With high spirits abound following the offensive influx, there was still a business-like attitude being showcased as the drills progressed through the session. A series of line rushes, in-zone offensive systems and an ongoing theme of putting shots on goal rounded out an upbeat and overall productive practice.

As Head Coach Tom Renney explained, the ups and downs of an 82-game schedule are expected, but the control over effort should always be considered in the utmost importance.

"We're going to make mistakes and have those games where not a lot goes right, but you can correct an awful lot of that by the second and third effort. That's the one thing that can't get lost this year -- the requisite effort to play hard."

There was one notable absence from this morning’s skate, as defenceman Tom Gilbert did not participate following his strong performance against the Blue Jackets.

There was no word on Gilbert’s status following practice, but the assumption around the rink was that he was taking a maintenance day. As a result, Steve MacIntyre filled on the third defensive pairing alongside Theo Peckham to round out the lines.

There were no other changes to the lines and defensive pairings as the Oilers look to continue working with a winning formula.

SENSATIONAL SWEDES

Last night, rookies and fellow countrymen Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi showcased their exceptional skills and chemistry as the pair concluded the night having put up an incredible five points. Magnus Paajarvi, fresh off the excellent outing, says that the familiarity between the two has been a pleasant discovery.

Magnus Paajarvi
"It's hard to say. He's a skilled player and he's a really good passer. I just try to get open with my speed and so far it has been working out pretty well. We've got to just keep working."

"We had a good game last night. Linus (Omark) played good and O'Marra played good, and hopefully we can keep playing together and keep playing some good hockey as well."

Paajarvi and Omark’s ongoing development of chemistry wasn’t an instantly created concoction. As Paajarvi explains, there’s a brief adjustment period for players coming over to a new league.

"I think you have to adjust when you come over [to North America] to be tougher and more gritty, especially in front of the net and in the crease."

"It is kind of different between Swedish and Canadian hockey for sure, but I think that has to do with the rink as well, with the bigger and smaller ice. It's different for sure."

While Head Coach Tom Renney is keen to offer compliments to the skill and execution of his players, he aims to keep an even keel as he believes more can be tapped from the sensational Swedes.

"What I'd like to see Magnus (Paajarvi) do, quite honestly, is start to take the body," said a passionate Renney. "Use his size and strength to access the front of the net, or use his size and strength to get in on the forecheck and start to finish checks on people. I haven't been adamant on him about that with him, but that will come."

"There will come a point in time where he's even more confident in his body to be able to play with that as part of his repertoire, too. That's important. And Linus, as much as you can, he uses his body anyway. That's good on both of those guys because it helps our team again."

KHABI-BRILLIANT

Nikolai Khabibulin
Perhaps lost in the shuffle of a 6-3 offensive showcase is the brilliant performance from netminder Nikolai Khabibulin. The veteran stopped 37 shots in the victory and has now improved to 4-1-1 since his returning from his brief stint on the IR.

"We're starting to play better and it makes it a lot easier on the goalies," Khabibulin said of the recent efforts. "We're doing a better job in front of the net, we're not turning as many pucks over, we're not having as many odd-man rushes. It's all helping."

"When you get a lot of shots, you feel like you're always in the game; and you feel the puck better and see the puck better."

"I think we're starting to play a lot better. It seems we're getting some order in our zone and between the lines, and overall I think it's just been better efforts. Everybody is playing with more confidence now."

Renney was also quick to compliment the superb play from his leader between the pipes.

"What Khabi likes to see is a team that works hard, both ways, and a team that really works hard to recover from mistakes. He's been outstanding that way, because he sees a group of people that are really working hard to improve in front of him. "

"He does everything he can to help us get some wins."

ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Mary of Edmonton submitted a question for Taylor Hall.

MARY: "If you could live the life of another Oilers player for a day, who would you choose and why?"

Taylor Hall

TAYLOR: "That's a really tough question! Maybe Ryan (Jones) or Magnus (Paajarvi). They're both pretty relaxed and laid back. They don't get too rattled up about anything, and I think I need to be more like that. It would be a lot of fun being in their shoes, I think."

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

 
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16

OILERS vs. BLUE JACKETS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

The Oilers took to the ice at 10am for their morning skate Thursday, with a few notable changes up front.

After sitting out Tuesday's game vs. Toronto, rookie Ryan O'Marra returns to line-up and will center Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark.

"I've got to learn how to speak Swedish pretty quickly here," O'Marra quipped.

"We're going to teach him some words, but you don't have the time to talk in Swedish either way, so it's going to be English for sure," Paajarvi assured.

Head coach Tom Renney likes the look of the rookie threesome.

"It's a combination of people that I think will be able to create some offence," he said. "Ryan O'Marra is a two-way centerman that can be responsible in his own end. You can understand why I would want that, obviously.

"From a creative point of view and attack speed and being tough to handle in the offensive zone, I think [Omark and Paajarvi] can make some things happen."

O'Marra is looking forward to playing with the Swedes.

"It's going to be good," he said. "Paajarvi's got unbelievable speed, his first two strides are incredible, and Linus' creativity is obvious. I'm just going to distribute them the puck and be solid in my zone and be strong positionally and open up ice for them in the offensive zone with some big hits."

On another reconfigured line, Andrew Cogliano will center Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule.

"I'm very comfortable playing with Pens -- he's a good guy to play with, he's strong, he's big, holds the puck in," Cogliano said. "And Brule, I think he's got such a good shot, he's on the forecheck.

"We're definitely a line that needs to bring some offence with guys like Horc and Hemmer out."

ETHAN RETURNS

The Oilers are the third-youngest team in the NHL, thanks to the addition of five rookies and the departure of a handful of veterans.

One of those vets was Ethan Moreau, and he makes his return to Edmonton tonight. Players and coaches have fond memories of their former captain.

"I had Chopper as a 17-year-old in Japan at the Pacific Cup as a very young player, and I certainly saw a guy that was going to be an NHLer then and an NHLer full of the right DNA when it came to competitiveness, battle level, leadership," Renney said. "To see him play for the Oil as long as he did, to see him wear the C for as long as he did, didn't surprise me at all."

"There are times when change is necessary and I think what we forget about is sometimes that change is really good for the player, a really good thing. I'm not going to say that I disagree with him not being here or not, I think the bottom line is Ethan has a new lease on life, he's an NHL player, he's a leader, he's important to his team, clearly, and good for him. I've got personal history with him and I have a lot of respect for him."

Brule said he became "good friends" with Moreau last season but won't hold back out on the ice.

"It's his first time back here so I'm sure he's going to be full of life tonight and excited to play, but we treat him like any other guy on their team, we just play him hard. We do miss him over here, but he's on the other team now so he's our enemy now."

TAKING ON THE JACKETS

Edmonton will have its hands full with Moreau and the rest of the Jackets tonight. Renney wants to see a spirited yet disciplined effort from his club.

"We have to be disciplined, naturally. We've got to play an assertive game. We cannot play on our heels. I would rather lose going after things and going forward than trying to play tentative," he said.

"I think beyond that we have to make sure that we've got the requisite energy and pace off the bench, out-changing teams. We had a too-many-men penalty the other night because of a brian cramp and that's just not being engaged. And we have to make sure that we are all about that every single time we play."

OILERS 6 - BLUE JACKETS 3

It went back and forth through the first 20 minutes, but thanks to an impressive total team effort -- including an 11-point contribution by five rookies and strong showing from Nikolai Khabibulin between the pipes -- the Oilers soared to a 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets in the remaining 40.

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

 
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15

A FINE BALANCE

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The media expected a lengthy Oilers practice following Tuesday's loss to the Leafs, but less than 15 minutes after taking to the ice as a group, the team filed off and returned to the locker room.

There was no drama or lesson behind the  decision, head coach Tom Renney later explained: it was simply a matter of providing balance to the training regimen and accomodating some off-ice appointments.

"We do a lot of off-ice just about every day, so it's not like we're not working on fitness, but there's sort of a mental health component to all of this too," he said. "And the NHL medical team is here to meet with them as they do with every NHL team, so we wanted to get them back inside for that as quick as we could too."

"We wanted to keep it short. The idea was that it would be real short and just do some drills and get some flow."

30 games into the 82-game campaign, Oilers coaches are tasked with pushing the players and supporting the team's development as the season wears on. It's a fine balance, Renney explained.

"There's a certain fragility too with trying to get traction and be a respectable team and a consistent team, so as a coach you work different angles at different times," he said. "The big thing that you want them to know is that you're doing everything you can to try to help them, because you're going to be demanding on the other side of that anyway."

CONSISTENCY WANTED

According to alternate captain Ryan Whitney, the players know that the season is a work in progress but that doesn't mean they can shrug off the losses.

"I think obviously people know there's going to be ups and downs to this year, but as a player, you can't really accept that. Maybe deep down you know there's going to be times when we struggle, but you've still got to strive for consistency and winning games. That's the kind of business we're in."

"A lot of guys are not even going to be here when this team is, so called, a cup contender, so you want to play hard now and you want to be a part of a winning team," he continued. "There's nothing stopping us from really doing that. We've shown in stretches we can, it's just about being consistent and staying out the penalty box, little things that make a good team."

RINGING THE BELLE?

An important part of a good team is solid defence, and the Oilers are currently without Jim Vandermeer, who suffered a right ankle injury Sunday night vs. Vancouver. Edmonton filled the gap with Jason Strudwick last night vs. Toronto and are expected do so again Thursday night vs. Columbus.

"We talked about it today and then we thought, well, maybe we can go one more and just have a look at this," Renney said.

With a four-day break in the schedule following the Blue Jackets battle, the Oilers will likely add a new body and take advantage of the practice time.

"I think we might go status quo (tomorrow) and then bring somebody up possibly to train with us through that little block of time," the coach stated.

During yesterday's pre-game press conference, Renney said Edmonton native Shawn Belle is the leading candidate for the call-up position.


ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Randi of Edmonton submitted a question for Sam Gagner.

RANDI: "What are your goals as a player for the new year?"

Sam Gagner

SAM: "I don't really set new goals at different stages in the season. I think at the beginning of the season, you set goals for yourself. When things aren't going as planned, sometimes you maybe sit back and re-establish new goals.

But I think as a team, we just need to continue to get better -- even though the last couple games haven't gone the way we would have liked. We've just to get back at it. Going into the new year, we want to be in a playoff hunt when the time comes around."

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


Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com

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