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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: L.A. Story

Oilers practice in the late afternoon at the Kings' practice facility in El Segundo

Wednesday, 22.12.2010 / 5:31 PM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: L.A. Story
 
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 22

L.A. STORY

After a close loss to the Sharks in San Jose on Tuesday night, the Edmonton Oilers had a late-afternoon practice at the Los Angeles Kings' practice facility in El Segundo on Wednesday in preparation for the Kings tomorrow.

"I like the way they play. They generate an awful lot from their back-end first," stated Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "Their D can skate the puck and they can pass it. We've got to make sure when they are in transition they have to come a long way and they have to come through some bodies at least."

Of concern to Renney and in his mind's forefront during practice was the team's second-period performance on Tuesday in San Jose. After a very strong first period that saw the team hold the Sharks to only five shots on goal, there was a bit of a letdown in the middle frame.

"We kept them to the outside. They had some zone time on us but they didn't generate a whole lot of shots. When they did try to access the net we were on the right side of them," he continued. "It was a good first period by us and in the second period we handed the puck over to them a couple of times."

WHITNEY'S REDEMPTION

The first 24 points put on the board this season by Oilers defenceman and leading point-getter Ryan Whitney were assists despite the rearguard getting a number of great chances over the first 31 games of the season.

Last night in San Jose, Whitney finally broke the goose egg in game 32 but it took nearly 24 hours for him to finally get credit for the marker.

"It's just a relief," Whitney said. "It's good to get one. Get it out of the way, finally."

Ryan Whitney

With 1:59 remaining in the third period, Whitney teed up a blast from the right point that eluded a screened Antero Niittymaki. The goal was initially credited to Dustin Penner but after a thorough review of the tapes by the NHL, it was changed to Whitney today.

"We needed two goals quick so there wasn't really a lot of opportunity to celebrate it. I wish it could have been the tying goal or winning goal," he said.

The unwanted NHL record for most consecutive assists to start a season without a goal belonged to Jimmy Thompson, who had 29 straight helpers in 1947-48 over 59 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"It's just been weird. I've never really been through that part of it. Guys can struggle and score, and play well and not score."

When asked who in the room was hassling him the most, Whitney didn't really pinpoint any one player.

"It was kind of a group effort," he laughed.

The player who was initially credited for the goal, Dustin Penner, had a little bit of fun with Whitney.

"Everyone was happy for him except for me," deadpanned Dustin. "(The same thing) happened to me in my first year. The d-man said he touched it and it didn't go my way again."

LINEUP CHANGES COMING?

Devan Dubnyk

Renney said he would contemplate making a few lineup changes tomorrow night. Among them, Steve MacIntyre may draw into the lineup.

"I'm thinking about Mac," Renney said. "Ruling Mac out at this point in time is not the best thing to do, I may play him."

Renney also hinted to putting Devan Dubnyk in goal against the Kings.

"I might go with Dubie," he said. "I spoke to Khabi about this yesterday. We are looking at a ratio that we want to identify with moving forward.

"I don't want to keep Devan out too long. He's a good young goalie and there are other young players getting an opportunity to play here and he's no different."

ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Alex from Leduc submitted a question for Taylor Hall.

ALEX: "Do you ever miss your family with being away so much? And not being able to spend a lot of time with them at Christmas?"

TAYLOR: "You definitely miss family and friends. I'm an only child. It's my mom and dad that I really miss. It was tough last year at World Juniors I didn't get a chance to go home, either. This will be my second Christmas away from home. I'm kind of getting used to it now.

"I have a few offers from guys on the team to go over to their houses so I'm sure I'll pick one."

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: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer & Tom Gazzola

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21

OILERS vs. SHARKS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

After four days without a game, the Edmonton Oilers get back in action tonight. With Gilbert Brule out with the flu and not on the team's current trip, the team is being forced to make some lineup adjustments from the team's successful 6-3 drubbing of the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rexall Place last Thursday.

J.F. Jacques draws back into the lineup in place of Brule. Ryan Jones will likely slot into Brule's spot on a line with Cogliano and Penner but the team did not run lines this morning. Oilers head coach Tom Renney was non-committal when asked about his plans.

"We're talking about that right now," said Renney. "We skated with that intention here this morning but we haven't really made up our mind on what our lines will look like."

Renney commented that the break might not have been the best thing for the team and he hopes that they can overcome it.

"When you get that extra long break you really seem to bottom out. Emotionally, mentally we're great. The concern is the battle level as that's what goes first," he said.

Jordan Eberle was looking forward to getting back on the ice in game action.

"It's nice to recharge the batteries a bit but at the same time you always want to play hockey," he said. "We're a little bit hungry."

Nikolai Khabibulin will be getting the start in goal for the team, making his seventh start in the past eight games. Khabibulin has been very solid since returning from injury with a 4-1-1 record along with a 2.11 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.

"They're definitely one of the better teams. They have a lot of firepower up front. They have some big bodies there so it's going to be a big test for all of us," Khabibulin said following the morning skate.

ENTERING THE SHARK TANK

Tonight's game marks the first appearance in San Jose for a number of the Oilers' young players, Jordan Eberle being one of them.

"They said it's a great place to play. Very good atmosphere and tough place to play. We're excited for the challenge," Eberle said.

Renney acknowledged the difficulty of playing games at the Shark Tank.

"Great rink, great environment, great fans, great team," Renney remarked. "It's a big challenge for us."

The head coach talked about the fact the team can't have any in-game letdowns if they hope to be successful tonight.

"We've got to handle the confines of this arena. We need to do it in a way that suggests to our opponents that we're in every single shift we play and that it lasts for three periods.

"Opponents like San Jose are really good for us, because they're that good and we get a chance to measure our game and how far we've come through teams like this. We like that challenge."

ON THE DOT

Another challenge for the Oilers tonight will be in the face-off dot. The Oilers sit 28th in the NHL with a success rate of 45.1% in the circle. Meanwhile, the Sharks are second in the League at 53.1%.

"Right off the get-go, our face-off is going to have to be a five-man job. They have a little something in the tank here - literally - when they play at home," Renney stated.

The head coach added that while the team needs to be wary of how they play after losing draws, that can't be the mindset either.

"You don't want to start with the point-of-view that you're going to lose the draw all the time, either. That becomes cumbersome," he said. "What we've got to do is really work hard for our wins, do it by committee, and jump in and help out our centremen naturally."

SHARKS 2 - OILERS 1

The Edmonton Oilers rallied late but came up just short in a 2-1 defeat to the San Jose Sharks at the HP Pavilion in San Jose on Tuesday night.

The Oilers' lone goal was scored by Ryan Whitney with 1:59 to play in the third period but that was as close as they would get.

Author: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola & Bob Stauffer

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

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