THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Countermeasures

Oilers prepare for injured Whitney's absence, bring Brule back into the fold

Wednesday, 29.12.2010 / 4:34 PM / The Team Today
By Jen Sharpe  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Countermeasures
 
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 29

COUNTERMEASURES

The Oilers got back to business Wednesday morning with practice at Rexall Place. Three players were absent from the on-ice activity: Shawn Horcoff (injured knee), defenceman Jim Vandermeer (ankle), and fellow blueliner Ryan Whitney.

Whitney is the most-recent addition to the team's injured list, having suffered a right ankle injury early in Tuesday's game vs. Buffalo.

"He should have had his MRI by now, I think, but we won't know until mid-afternoon, I'm sure, as to the results of that," head coach Tom Renney later stated.

Whitney is Edmonton's leading scorer with 27 points and is second among NHL defencemen in assists with 25. Players and coaches agreed his contributions will be missed.

"We're going to miss a lot of things out of him," Tom Gilbert said. "He's a really patient guy, he slows the play down really well, and that first pass is great -- he's great on the power-play."

Renney hopes his other blueliners step up and fill the gap.

"That's an opportunity for a group of guys to get it done, and that's not such a bad thing," he said. "It's an opportunity for us as a group of defencemen to share the workload, to understand the value of quick puck movement ourselves, understand the value of offensive zone play and where, when and how to put the puck where it needs to go.

"Those are things that they all have to learn and understand anyway and get better at, so this just helps maybe accelerate that whole process."

FORWARD FOCUS

Whitney's absence isn't the only change Oilers fans will see in Thursday's game vs. Colorado: forward Gilbert Brule, who has missed the past four games due to the flu, will return to the fold, while rookie Linus Omark is expected to be a healthy scratch.

As such, the lines at practice were as follows:

Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
Dustin Penner - Andrew Cogliano - Ales Hemsky
Magnus Paajarvi - Ryan O'Marra - Gilbert Brule
Ryan Jones - Colin Fraser - Zack Stortini

Brule said he's "very happy to be back in the line-up" and wants to make an impact in his return.

"I've just got to have a good game next game and step it up," he said. "I'm going to have to be flying, I'm going to have to be checking, hitting, and just playing positionally-sound."

As for Omark, Renney hopes the highly-hyped Swedish winger will learn from the experience of watching from the press box.

"
This is not purgatory -- it's the development of a young player," Renney explained. "That's just an opportunity for him to watch and sort of gauge for himself what it is we're trying to do, based on our game plan against Colorado, and we'll have a good talk about it the next morning.

"(He's) a player who loves the puck and doesn't want to relinquish that, who wants to manufacture more than what the circumstance will allow, and that's noble but it's also wrong," he continued. "Skilled guys don't like giving the puck up, and I get that."

With Hemsky's return Tuesday and Brule's return Thursday, the Oilers are overflowing with forwards. Judging by practice, first-year center O'Marra will stay in, while Jean-Francois Jacques and Steve MacIntyre will join Omark in the press box. Renney isn't yet sure how he'll balance the roster as the homestand continues.

"We'll take this a game at a time," he said. "If we win tomorrow night and everybody's extraordinary, then [Omark] might have a little more difficulty getting in, but that's speculation and I'm not going to go there."

AGAINST THE AVS

Edmonton's next test -- and final game of 2010 -- is Thursday, December 30 vs. Colorado. Single and standing tickets are available.

PURCHASE TICKETS

Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Ryan Dittrick & Tom Gazzola

 
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 28

OILERS vs. SABRES:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

The Oilers iced a full crew for morning skate Tuesday, including recently sidelined defencemen Tom Gilbert and Jim Vandermeer, as well as forwards Ales Hemsky and Gilbert Brule. Call-up Jeff Petry, who arrived in Edmonton yesterday, was also present.

Brule continues to suffer from a touch of the flu and  was placed on injured reserve, allowing the club to activate Hemsky without reassigning rookies Linus Omark or Ryan O'Marra to Oklahoma City.

As such, the forward lines were as follows:

Hall - Gagner - Eberle
Penner - Cogliano - Hemsky
Paajarvi - O'Marra - Omark
Jacques - Fraser - Jones

Players and coaches are looking forward to Hemsky's return tonight.

"That's huge for us," Sam Gagner said.  "We feel like we've done our best and played well without him, but obviously he's a key part of our line-up and has a lot of skill and he injects a lot of offence into your line-up right away."

Head coach Tom Renney hopes the talented forward "keeps it simple" in his first game back. 

"I don't think he can afford to go out there and try to reinvent the wheel here or be the extraordinary player that he can be in game one of 10 away," the coach said. "He's been a very good player for us and as good as we've had from the get-go. I don't anticipate that will be too difficult for him, but he might want to try to do too much."

GILBERT GOOD TO GO

After leaving Sunday's game vs. Vancouver late in the second period due to a tweaked knee, Tom Gilbert was questionable for tonight's game vs. Buffalo. But after resting and recovering for a full day, the defenceman says he's good to go.

"Nice day off obviously was definitely good for my knee and the skate felt good this morning too," he stated.

If the injury had stuck, Gilbert's impressive iron-man streak of 292 straight games would have come to an end. Though it may make an interesting stat, the streak doesn't factor into his decision to play tonight, he said.

"Streak's okay, but that's not the important part. The important part is making sure that it's okay to go out there and skate with."

PETRY TO MAKE DEBUT

While Hemsky will take to the ice for his 465th career NHL game and Gilbert his 293rd, on the blue line, Petry will skate in his first. The 23-year-old college-trained defenceman replaces Vandermeer, who is not yet game-ready, and will skate with vet Ryan Whitney.

"He's been very, very good in Oklahoma City and all reports from the coaching staff suggest this is the guy to bring up," Renney said. "My first glimpse of him was at the development camp last summer and there's just something about him you liked, and so to see the evolution of him moving into his first NHL game is really cool.

"That said, he's got to be good -- he's got to move the puck well, he's got to get his shots through, he's got to defend with good gaps, he's got to be strong and firm in his own end."

Petry admitted he will feel some nerves but hopes to keep them in check tonight.

"I'm really excited but I want to kind of control the emotions, get them all out in warmup, and just play the same game I was playing down in Oklahoma," he said. "Over the last three or four weeks I thought I've been playing a lot better, plus-minus is going up, just feeling more comfortable each game."

Petry is the third rookie call-up the Oilers have made this season. According to Gagner, Omark and O'Marra have performed well and Petry is expected to do the same.

"When guys come up, you want to have them help add to the depth, and Linus and Ryan have done that really well," he said. "With Petry coming up, he's obviously a guy with a lot of skill off the back end and he can move the puck really well ... I think it's just a matter of us getting open for him and supporting him, and he's got a lot of skill so he should have a good night."

SIX FIRST-YEARS

With the addition of Petry, Omark, and O'Marra, the Oilers now have six rookies on their current roster, including Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle.

It's a unique situation but not one that surprises Renney.

"We're in that stage of our development as an organization, and this is not the last guy that will get called up and get exposure to their first NHL experience," the coach explained. "We have to make sure that it's got value to it, and there has to be a certain demand on the player too. You want it to be seamless as much as possible, but we have to see what they can do."

STICKING IT TO THE SABRES

The rookies will face the Sabres for the first-time ever tonight and are likely unfamiliar with what happened the last time the two clubs met at Rexall Place. On January 27, 2009, the Sabres skewered the Oilers 10-2, a loss fans and players were eager to forget.

Gagner remembers the game but said it doesn't have a big impact on tonight's contest.

"We have a lot different team now and there's a lot of guys that weren't here for that, so obviously if you were a part of it, it's something that maybe you want to avenge," he said. "We have a lot of pride in here, but at the same time, it's a new year and we both have new teams.

"It's a matter of making sure that we're keeping things simple here at home and not trying to do too much but having that intensity where we're getting in on pucks."

Renney's philosophy is simple: "Before you start winning you've got to quit losing, and we've got to work on that."


SABRES 4 - OILERS 2

Despite scoring the first goal of the game and out-shooting their opponents 31-21, the Oilers were unable to secure two points and dropped a 4-2 decision to the Sabres Tuesday night. Dustin Penner and Ryan Jones scored for Edmonton, Jeff Petry recorded his first NHL point in his NHL debut, and Nikolai Khabibulin made 17 saves in the loss.

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

 
MONDAY, DECEMBER 27

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

After suffering a disappointing 3-2 loss in Vancouver and making the short flight back to Edmonton Sunday night, the Oilers returned to the ice for their first post-Christmas practice late Monday morning.

Shawn Horcoff donned a track suit and strapped on his skates before the rest of his teammates, testing out his injured knee. The Oilers captain has not played a game since December 7 vs. Anaheim.

Gilbert Brule also took to the ice before practice. The 23-year-old forward has missed the past three games due to the flu but is on his way to recovery.

Horcoff and Brule aren't the only players looking forward to rejoining the line-up: After 25 days on the injured reserve, Ales Hemsky fully participated in practice, skating with Dustin Penner and Andrew Cogliano, and said he expects to play tomorrow vs. Buffalo.

"The doctor said I should be okay, I don't have to take any MRI," he explained. "The last one week, I skated and I pushed it hard so I should be ready for tomorrow."

Hemsky has a simple goal upon his return: "Just focus on my game and help the team win some games."

With Hemky's imminent return, the Oilers will have some decisions to make. Rookies Linus Omark and Ryan O'Marra have performed well since their call-up December 8th, but returning vets may cut short their time with the club.

Head coach Tom Renney is going to weigh his options.

"I'm looking at who's injured and can't play, first and foremost, and that's really where my mindset is, and if I've got to send somebody down, then we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," he said. "I can't speculate given the nature where guys are in their treatment and their rehab, so I'm trying not to worry about that because it's a tough call."

DEFENSIVE DETAILS

The Oilers blue line will also likely see some changes in the coming games. Although Jim Vandermeer is expected back soon, Tom Gilbert was injured vs. the Canucks and is listed as "day-to-day" according to Renney.

"He's doing fine, he's doing way better today, but I'm one of those guys where if it costs a game to play the rest of the year, I'm going to do those things," the coach said.

For some insurance, the Oilers recalled Jeff Petry from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons Monday afternoon. Edmonton's second-round pick in the 2006 Entry Draft has recorded 21 points in 32 games  so far in his rookie season with the Barons.

Read the press release: Oilers recall Jeff Petry

SET FOR THE SABRES

The Oilers are hoping to overcome their injury issues and battle through to a win over Buffalo Tuesday night. Despite dropping their last three games, players and coaches are feeling good about the club's recent performances.

"We know we've been playing good hockey the last couple games, even though we lost, so we've just got to work on those small things," Magnus Paajarvi said. "We've got Hemmer coming back now i think so that's going ot help us a lot too."

"We've got to keep going at it and getting off to good starts like we have been," Colin Fraser added. "Seems like we have 10 minute lapses in games where they kind of not necessarily score but start swinging the momentum the other way, and I think we've got to limit that, limit our turnovers, and really just do much of what we have been doing but do it for a full 60 minutes."

Renney likes the team's mindset right now.

"We absolutely love the challenge of going out to get wins and that's how we're approaching this," he said. "Making sure that they stay positive, and good preparation, good feedback, practices that make sense, good dialogue back and forth ... At the end of the day, you sure want it to translate into results and sooner or later we need that."

Singles and standing tickets are available for Tuesday's game.
Click here to purchase.

ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Carla of Edmonton submitted a question for Ryan Jones.

Ryan Jones

CARLA: "What kind of music do you listen to before a game to pump you up?"

RYAN: "Pretty much whatever's playing in the room. We have the team iPod with a playlist that pretty repetitive. It's full of a little bit of Eminem, Bru might have got a Slipknot song on there. They take requests, but it seems like we've played it all year. It's been 34 games so I listen to 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.


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

Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com

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