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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Ride to California

California road trip begins with a stop in Leduc for practice

Monday, 20.12.2010 / 5:20 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Ride to California
 
MONDAY, DECEMBER 20

RIDE TO CALIFORNIA

Finally, after four days of non-game action in the books, it feels as though the wheels of the hockey season are in motion once again.

Just prior to the team’s departure to San Jose, the Oilers participated in a 45-minute skate at the Leduc Recreation Centre; one final tune-up as Edmonton looks to carry over the momentum gained from a strong finish to the six-game homestand.

Waiting to return to the game routine was painful for some.

"Brutal," said Head Coach Tom Renney of the extended layoff.

"I guess we'll know tomorrow night. The guys get a chance to sort of regroup a little bit and kind of have some Christmas fun. That's all good, there's nothing wrong with that at all. The bottom line is that there are a number of days there where you're just not playing."

"As everyone here understands, we're certainly a work in progress and any time we don't get a chance to work at it through playing, that's one opportunity missed. I'm glad we're getting back on the bike here."

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

While the head coach was more vocal in his concerns of the lengthy break, forward Sam Gagner expressed a different take on the matter. The 21-year old centre believes the extra practice time may help to correct bad habits and refine the positives.

"I feel like the last couple days of practice have been good, and we're looking forward to going on this road trip here."

"We've had a good few days of practice here where we've gone over a lot of the things that are going to make us successful going forward. If you look at the Columbus game, we could have just as easily been down after the first period. Because of that, we worked a lot on our defensive game and making sure we're breaking the puck out properly, getting the puck moving, and keeping the puck in their end."

BATTLE READY

The Oilers are certainly not expecting an easy outing against the ferocious and offensively dynamic Sharks attack. With some extra time to assemble game-plans and structured system play, players and coaches alike are ready for the test.

Ryan Whitney
"You've got to have a good start," said defenceman Ryan Whitney.  "It seems like every time there, they get like 15-20 shots in the first period and they come out hard. It's on us to get pucks in deep and be able to not give them momentum in the first period. "

Fellow defenceman Theo Peckham agreed, and further added that simplicity and discipline are key.

"When you go into places like that, the best thing is to keep it simple. When we went out east, that's why we were having a lot of success. We were keeping it simple, getting pucks deep. We weren't trying to beat guys one-on-one, so that's definitely something we've got to focus on. "

"The best penalty kill is not taking penalties. If we stay out of the box, I think we should have some success against them. We don't want to get their top powerplay line out there. Obviously with Thornton and Heatley and guys like that, they've got a lot guys who can put the puck in the net."

Head Coach Tom Renney believes the upcoming challenge will be an excellent test for his club.

"San Jose's a very good team. It's a great place to play. It's a great energetic building and they'll come hard, so this will be really good for us."

"Don't hand the puck over to them. They like it when you give it to them and we've accommodated them so far. I think the bottom line is to really manage the puck appropriately, keep our shifts short so we can keep the energy level high, and attack them as much as we can and force a real good team to have to maybe spend more time in their own end than they want to."

GROWING FAMILIARITY

The Oilers begin this pre-holiday road trip with a 6-3-1 record in the team’s last ten contests. One of the leading reasons for this impressive run has been the steady dose of offensive production from Sam Gagner. Since Captain Shawn Horcoff went down with a knee injury, Gagner has stepped up in the role between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Quite simply, he’s done an admirable job in relief.

Sam Gagner
Gagner has now recorded ten points in his last ten games, as he continues to improve and develop chemistry with his linemates.

"I feel like it's getting better," Gagner said of the trio’s growth. "The first couple games there, I think we were kind of getting used to each other and the way we play. All three of us like to carry the puck and have the puck on our stick, and the biggest thing for us is making sure we're always supporting each other and giving the puck up to get it back. We've been doing that the last little while here and getting better. "

"I just want to keep improving with them."

Gagner also spoke of his leadership role with the absence of veterans Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

"I don't want to change much. At the end of the day, I just want to continue to keep improving. I feel that we've got a good team here and we're going to have a good team in the future. I think as a group, that's been our mindset all year -- to continue to get better."

Gagner isn’t the only Oiler who’s been recently enjoying a solid run of production and chemistry with his linemates. Defenceman Ryan Whitney is coming off a two-point, plus-four outing against the Columbus Blue Jackets this past Thursday.

Whitney has had a number of defensive partners this season due to his calming influence and high skill level. The dynamic blueliner says that he can play with anyone, and is currently enjoying his time with veteran Jason Strudwick.

"It's been good. We're pretty vocal out there. The more you talk, the more it helps make a difference -- knowing where you are and knowing how much time you have with the puck. He's played 600 games, so he knows what it takes to make it easy on your partner."

"His first game back in a while, I just tried to keep it simple. Now that he's getting into more of a rhythm, you're able to kind of jump up into the play and maybe leave him back a little bit more. It depends on the situation of the game, the score and things like that."

"I feel good with him," Whitney concluded.

BRULE ABSENT

Gilbert Brule was notably absent from this morning’s practice, as Renney later confirmed an illness had sidelined him for the time being.

"Early this morning, we got word that he was a little under the weather, so we've tried to keep him away from the troops. We'll see how he's doing in a few hours and take it from there."

It’s still unclear at this time whether or not Brule will join the team on its two-game swing this week.  


Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 19

CHALLENGES AHEAD

Following a well deserved off-day Saturday, the Oilers returned to Rexall Place this morning for a lengthy practice that pushed the pace and helped to clear the monotony of a four-day break in between game action.

With two tough assignments ahead on the pre-holiday horizon, the team skated for well over an hour as the coaching staff tinkered with various fundamental systems, including a lengthy portion spent on special teams.

Both the powerplay and penalty kill received equal attention, as the importance of these areas will be put to the ultimate test against two excellent Western Conference clubs.

Although the break in between games came as a blessing, forward Dustin Penner -- who has now recorded 12 points in his last 14 games -- says that the group needs to be cognizant of its collective energy level.

"Maybe what could be challenging is having the four days off in between games when you're so accustomed to playing -- I think it was every other day, pretty much, with it averaging out to be 20 games in 40 nights. Managing those four days off, getting a rest and not getting too rusty is key for us."

Rookie sensation Taylor Hall agreed, and further commented on the team’s play leading up to the break.

"It was a tough stretch, but I think we came out of it pretty good, though. We had a decent record during that time, but it's definitely nice to take some time off, just kind of regenerate and take some time away from the game. "

SHARK SIGHTING

With the Oilers having wrapped up the six-game homestand on a high note, and sporting a 6-3-1 record overall in the team’s last ten contests, the good vibes are rolling along as a visit to the Shark Tank looms.

Players and coaches alike both agree that the California swing will be a pivotal, though equally as challenging test for the young club.

"They're a tough team, especially in their building,” said Hall. "I've heard a lot of things about playing in the Shark Tank and how hard they come out, so it's going to be a tough game for us. But in saying that, this little break should help us get a good couple practices in and we’ll see what we can do. "

Dustin Penner
Penner agreed, and cautioned the skill and killer-instinct of the veteran Sharks as being a prevailing challenge.

"They're playing well. I think when you have other scoring, like secondary and tertiary scoring from those guys (Logan Couture), it takes the pressure off Thornton and Marleau -- and Heatley. They're not the type of guys that take nights off too often, and I think they'll be ready for us. "

Associate Coach Ralph Krueger says that the trip is most certainly a challenge, but that it will be a good test for the team moving forward.

"Especially San Jose right off the bat and following up with our first challenge against Los Angeles. Going into Vancouver -- teams like Vancouver and San Jose have really shown us what we still need to do to be a top team in the NHL. They've played excellent against us, they've had a lot of respect for us in the way that they prepared and the way they came out of the gate. "

"Going into their buildings should make it simpler for us. I think we won't have that need to try and play against them or perform. We can be more patient. We've been an excellent road team, batting .500 on the road gives us some confidence going into those games," Krueger concluded.

THE PLAYOFF HUNT

Following Friday’s practice at Rexall Place, Head Coach Tom Renney surprised many with a bold remark regarding the team’s search for a playoff spot as we approach the midway point of the season:

"It won't surprise me when we make the playoffs. It won't. The biggest surprise of all might be if we don't."

With Edmonton currently sitting 15th in the Western Conference standings, there’s an uphill climb ahead; an eight-point gap and seven teams to overtake are the current realities, but the organization believes in that statement as the Oilers look to embark on a mid-season push.

Associate Coach Ralph Krueger
"I think from day one that Tom (Renney) has made that really clear, in that you want to create an environment where that's expected, where you're going into every game expecting to take points, " said Associate Coach RaIph Krueger. "I think when you raise that expectation, you raise how hard we have to work in practice to match that. "

Krueger commented further on the fact that the team has no excuses with internal expectations set high.

 "We don't have any excuses, really, in our room at all. In the coaches’ room, there's none. We come in after wins and losses looking at how we can get better. It doesn't matter what the score on the board was, and that's just the culture that we want to create here; that it's a constant improving, constant striving to be better, and nothing replaces winning in the game. "

"It's something you want players to stretch for and reach for to meet the challenge."

Forward Gilbert Brule agrees that the bold claim is a realistic expectation.

"We are where we are right now, obviously, in the standings, but we're definitely looking to fight our way back and we're doing better as of late."

"I think you have to look at our last 15 games, we've improved so much compared to the first month-and-a-half of the season. We've come such a long way and we don't want to let that slide at all. We want to stay focused on what we've got to do there, and we've just been playing better team hockey."

INJURY NOTES

Approximately 45-minutes before the rest of the team hit the ice for practice, injured players Ales Hemsky and Jim Vandermeer took to the sheet with Skating and Skills Coach Steve Serdachny. The pair skated for 30-minutes, working on a variety of skating drills to test their respective injuries. There was no official update on their statuses, but both were pushing themselves hard as they look to make a return in the near future.

  Oilers Injury Report


ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Amelia of Edmonton submitted a question for Jordan Eberle.

AMELIA: "If you could travel anywhere in the world for a one-week adventure, where would you go, and who would you take?"

Jordan Eberle

JORDAN: "I love tropic places like Mexico or something like that. I'd have to probably go somewhere tropical like that or the Caribbean. I like the blue water and the white sand.

I'd probably take a close friend of mine; someone away from the rink so we wouldn't have to talk hockey on vacation."

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

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

 


Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com

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