THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Union Address

Oilers assign Belle & O'Marra, Renney addresses roster movement & more

Sunday, 02.01.2011 / 4:10 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Union Address
 
SUNDAY, JANUARY 2

UNION ADDRESS

On the heels of a disappointing 2-1 loss to the division rival Calgary Flames one night ago, the Oilers returned to Rexall Place this morning for an off-ice workout to move on from Saturday’s result.

While the workout room saw the bulk of Sunday’s activity, two injured Oilers carved into the ice as part of their rehabilitation efforts. Jim Vandermeer and captain Shawn Horcoff both participated in a 30-minute session with Assistant Coach Kelly Buchberger; a series of intense skating and quickness exercises took presedence as the pair were pushed to their physical limit.

Once the morning’s activity concluded, Head Coach Tom Renney confirmed that Vandermeer has been cleared by team doctors and will be available to play at any time at the coaches’ discretion.

"We skated him this morning, as we did a couple days ago with the test. His times are good, he’s ready to go, so we’ll play him."

Horcoff, who has been sidelined with a knee injury, donned full equipment for the first time since suffering the ailment on December 7th and partook in the same drills as the ready-to-play Vandermeer. While Horcoff was showing improvement in his mobility, the team’s captain is still a distance from returning to the lineup.

LINEUP NOTES - BELLE & O'MARRA TO OKC

With the roster experiencing constant unrest due to the nature of the injury situation, the Oilers have been forced to make a number of decisions regarding minor league call-ups. As Renney explained, more changes are on the way with the assignments of Shawn Belle and Ryan O’Marra to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons.

"Right now, nobody," Renney said of the potential recall options. "We’ve got some nicks and whatnot that we’re going to have a look at tonight and tomorrow morning and then make a decision if whether or not we need anybody beyond that."

"Shawn (Belle) had a tough night, and I’ve got Jimmy (Vandermeer) coming off IR and looking like he’s ready to play.

Ryan (O’Marra) is going to be back with a little more information. I think he acquitted himself well, as is often times the case and these first couple of steps take a little while to get the kind of traction you’re looking for. 

He did a good job in the middle for us. He could use his body a little more; use his size and strength a little bit more on both sides of the puck. He’s gone back with that information, and we’ll talk to [Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson] about that and make sure that he nails it there."

The lineup fluctuation didn’t end there.

Rookie forward Jordan Eberle left last night’s Battle of Alberta after colliding with former-Oiler Ales Kotalik. Eberle exited Rexall Place wearing a walking cast on his left foot following the game, but there has been no update on his condition since then.

An MRI conducted later today will help to reveal more about his condition, explained Renney.

"I think we’re looking at a little bit of time here, but I don’t know. I’d hate to speculate. He’ll get the MRI today and we’ll have a little better idea."

INCONSISTENT RESPONSE

Head Coach Tom Renney
Injuries and lineup notes aside, the team is currently mired in a six-game losing streak – a sequence that began following Renney’s public declaration of playoff expectations.

Although the team has fallen in a 0-4-2 record since his comments, the coach wasn’t about to abandon his belief.

"I thought we played really well after those comments, and that wasn’t the intention. Instead of identifying with the intangibles all the time: Let’s work hard work, let’s show character, let’s battle, let’s have good intensity, let’s keep a good attitude – those are all very important traits as the process of becoming a good team would suggest.

At the same time, as a coach, it’s my responsibility to make sure there are tangible things to grab onto, too; and the playoffs are those things."

RELIABLE RYAN

One player who has certainly bought in to Renney’s comments has been gritty winger Ryan Jones. The 26-year old forward has scored nine goals on the season and has proven himself as one of the team’s most versatile bodies.

Perhaps even more impressively, Jones’ nine goals have come with almost no additional powerplay time to help contribute to his offensive totals. Despite that, Jones scored the Oilers’ lone goal of Saturday’s Battle of Alberta, in addition to his 17:40 of ice-time and three blocked shots.

Renney was sure to compliment Jones’ recent efforts, and said that additional offensive responsibilities may arise with futher lineup adjustments.

"I certainly thought about him a lot," Renney said of Jones’ potential addition to the powerplay. "It’s something that we’ll look at again for him. He seems to have a touch, he goes to the net, he’s a greasy sort of player – and every powerplay needs that sort of presence, too."

Renney commented further on the powerplay, citing its recent ineffectiveness to over-complication.

"Sometimes we want to paint a masterpiece and that’s not required."

The Oilers will now reconvene at Rexall Place tomorrow morning for a full practice as the team prepares for the Detroit Red Wings. To be sure, it will be a busy day focused on a number of the topics covered this morning by the head coach.


ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Vanessa of Sherwood Park submitted a question for Ladislav Smid.

VANESSA: "Do you feel more pressure to be a role model and step up as one of the Oilers leading defencemen?"

Ladislav Smid
LADISLAV: "There's always pressure, so I don't really feel more pressure. You obviously want to win every game, but I do think it's a good opportunity for other guys to step up and show what they've got. For me, I just try to keep my game simple, do what I normally do as a leader, and not try to over-think what I'm doing on the ice. That's really the way I always try to play."

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

 
SATURDAY, JANUARY 1

OILERS vs. FLAMES:
AT THE MORNING SKATE


Tonight the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames engage in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta as 2011 ignites in style. The Oilers took to the ice this morning at Rexall Place for one final tune-up before the late evening battle commences.

Although the team’s current injury situation has been a disappointing addition to five-game losing streak, a battered blueliner was present for this morning’s session despite missing yesterday’s practice. Tom Gilbert emerged from the locker room and participated, as did Jim Vandermeer and recent call-up Shawn Belle.

LINEUP DECISIONS

Even with the attendance of these three defencemen, Head Coach Tom Renney was non-committal about his decisions regarding his team’s lineup on the backend.

"I’ve still got some roster decisions to make there," said Renney. "Quite honestly, it depends. It depends on who’s in. I’m still making a couple of decisions there."

Defenceman Shawn Belle, who was recalled from the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons Friday afternoon, will be a game-time decision with the nightly assignments still in the minds of the coaching staff.

"When you’re up here, you want to make an impression and get the coaches’ confidence so you can play more," Belle said of the opportunity.

Belle will likely take part in the warm-up before the final lineup decision is made.

While there was some uncertainty with the rearguards, there was confirmation of change in another area. Rookie forward Magnus Paajarvi will be watching tonight’s game from the press box, as he will become a healthy scratch for the first time in his young NHL career.

Paajarvi, while disappointed, was professional in his comments as he sees the situation as a challenge moving forward.

"I’m just going to work harder and do the things I need to do to get back into the lineup," said a soft-spoken Paajarvi. "I definitely think you can learn from looking upstairs; just to see the game from a whole different perspective for sure. If you get that opportunity, you can learn a lot."

"You deserve your ice-time and I guess I don’t deserve it today. I’m going to work harder we’ll go from there."

Paajarvi also commented on the support  and open lines of communication provided by his coach.

"Tom is reasonable. I think he makes good coaching decisions. I trust him and hopefully he trusts me."

Renney believes that the decision to scratch Paajarvi will have a positive effect, both on the team and for the skilled Swede moving forward.

"For a rookie it is [a benefit], to see this game from up above," Renney said of Paajarvi’s lineup exclusion. "Especially with some of the things – and I’m not going to get into the details – some of the little things that we think he needs to do to apply himself with more success at this level. So I think it gives him a chance to look at that and see how it functions with other people and invite that from him moving forward."

"He’s had to try and overcome a couple of things from the get-go, really, and now we’re going to deal with it."

EXTINGUISHING THE FLAMES

Following a tussle with the flu bug, forward Gilbert Brule returned to the lineup Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche after missing four games. Brule performed well in his return and is looking forward to carrying his solid performance into tonight’s matchup with the Flames.

"I thought I was moving my legs well. I think that’s what I need to do. It’s key for me to keep my feet moving all the time, protecting the puck and playing the body, playing mean."

Brule, who scored the Oilers’ first goal of the season back when the Flames made their previous visit to Rexall place on October 7th, is looking forward to another battle.

"They’ve (Calgary) been playing better as of late, so we’re expecting a very hard game from them," Brule explained. "They have four solid lines who play a heavy checking game, so we’re going to have to get on the body tonight and be prepared for a physical game"

"They played a tough game last night and they got in late here, so we’re definitely going to have to get on right away. The first 10 minutes is going to be key for us. If we’re getting pucks deep and making them work and getting their d-men turning, it’s going to be a hard night for them."

Jordan Eberle agreed, but cautioned that the group needs to remain focused and not get caught up in the atmosphere.

"We’ve got to stick to our game and get pucks in and try to wear down their team," Eberle said. "But for us, this is more of a game where we have to worry about ourselves. Obviously it’s a pretty big rivalry between the two teams, and there’s going to be a lot of energy, but we have to try and stick to our own game try and full a full 60 minutes."

KEYS TO THE GAME

With the Oilers currently mired in a five-game losing skid, Head Coach Tom Renney says that his group needs to to be aggressor on this night, as the Flames’ upbeat confidence will have to be shelved by the home side.

"I think we’ve got to come out strong here," said Renney. "They played last night. Obviously they played well and they feel good about themselves. If we allow them to come out and sort of control the game and feel good again, then we might have a tiger by the tail, so we’ve got to have a really good start."

"I think we’re going to have to go through four lines of forwards in order to have success, so we have to make sure that we’re efficient, that we push the issue and press the envelope from that point of view, naturally, and that we really out-change this team and continue to push the pace off the bench."

FLAMES 2 - OILERS 1

A slow start, lack of shots, and injury to star rookie Jordan Eberle did little to help the Oilers open the New Year on a positive note, resulting in a 2-1 loss to the Flames in Saturday night's game, presented by TELUS. Ryan Jones scored Edmonton's lone goal midway through the game, while Nikolai Khabibulin earned second-star honours for his 28-save performance.

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

 
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31

SHINNY SHUFFLE

After skating away with a single point on the back of a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche one night ago, the Oilers returned to Rexall Place Friday morning for an upbeat practice to help quell the negative vibes surrounding the team’s fifth consecutive loss.

The team took to the ice at noon with smiles and an energetic attitude as a series of drills were completed in the session’s opening 15-minutes. After engaging the players with tactics designed to test precision passing and playmaking, Head Coach Tom Renney politely ordered his players to one end of the rink to begin a cross-ice three-on-three shinny game.

Sam Gagner, who has now recorded 13 points in his last 15 games after tallying another assist against the Avalanche, says that the different approach was good for the collective mentality of the players.

"We want to keep a loose atmosphere in here," Gagner said. "We felt like we battled pretty hard last night and could have come out with the win. At the end of the day, it's about winning and we want to stay focused and stay on the job. But I think part of turning this around is about being positive and making sure we're focusing on the right things."

"Today was a good day for that and hopefully we can build off it."

Although today’s practice provided both a mental and physical break, Gagner was keen to explain the workmanlike attitude being shown by the team in the midst of the current five-game losing streak.

"I think [Head Coach Tom Renney] understands that we're not losing because we're not trying. It's not a case of that. I think everyone is pushing themselves in here and focusing on doing the right things, and Tom's doing a great job of giving us the resources to try and help us get better."

"We feel like we've played some good hockey and we haven't been fortunate to come out with wins, but we're going to continue to push forward here and continue to try and get better and things are going to turn around."

"Guys want to win for him," Gagner said of his coach.

REARGUARD REVOLUTION

Compounding the frustration of a five-game losing streak is the fact that the team is currently experiencing a myriad of injuries, particularly on the backend.

With Ryan Whitney’s injury expected to be long-term, Tom Gilbert had assumed control of the defence corps. Last night, Gilbert played 26:27 but was noticeably absent from the overtime period. As such, Gilbert’s absence carried over into today as the 27-year old blueliner was not present for this afternoon’s skate.

Head Coach Tom Renney
"Today is basically a maintenance day for him," explained Renney. "He was just out of gas and he has a couple of things that are nagging and that we thought we'd take care of as we could. We got ourselves back in the hockey game. We felt that we had a good enough roll going where we could do that at Tom's expense, quite honestly."

While Gilbert took the afternoon off to recover, defenceman Jim Vandermeer continued his road to recovery as he heals from a nagging ankle injury. In addition to participating in the full practice, Vandermeer skated for 30-minutes prior with Renney as the two pushed his ankle and conditioning levels through some intense skating drills.

"Every day it's getting better. It's something that we'll take an extra game here and there to make sure I'm back in for the rest of the year. Ankles are kind of funny -- you can kind of tweak them real easy. We're just trying to be real careful with it."

"I don't think it takes a whole lot of time, but I think you definitely need a couple of full practices where everybody's going full speed. Right now, I've had a couple of full practices and we'll just take it a day at a time."

Regardless of the ongoing injury battle, Renney remains firm in his approach to dealing with the adversity.

"Injuries are a part of the game. This is a full-body contact sport and those things are going to happen. If we felt otherwise, then we probably shouldn't be in this game as coaches or players."

While the injury situation has certainly created voids, it has also opened the window of opportunity. Specifically, rookie Jeff Petry looks poised to take on a greater role with absence of Whitney and the uncertainly of Gilbert’s status for tomorrow night.

Jeff Petry
"It's never good when somebody goes down, especially a player like Whitney, but it's a great opportunity for me to step in and get some games in and hopefully succeed," said Petry.

"The learning process is quick. It's kind of similar to the systems that we're running down in Oklahoma; but definitely the speed and the depth of each team is a difference. It's been great just learning from the coaches and picking guys like Strudwick and Whitney's brains."

Like any young player making his NHL debut, Petry admits that there were some early nerves associated with his first game. Since then, however, they seem to have subsided.

"They've definitely settled from the game-to-game. I felt a lot more comfortable on the ice yesterday and I think each game is going to continue to go away."

THE BELLE TOLLS

The Oilers will be getting some additional help on the blueline with the uncertainly regarding Tom Gilbert's status for tomorrow night. Later in the day, it was announced that defenceman Shawn Belle had been recalled from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons.

OMARK TO OKC

After watching Thursday night’s game from the press box at Rexall Place, Linus Omark was sent down to the Oklahoma City Barons this morning.

As the bench boss described, the decision had a lot to do with circumstances considering the injury shuffle.

"He's one of those guys that can go. I don't have many of them, obviously," Renney explained.

"The most important thing under circumstances like this is that guy has certainly proven that he can play in this league. What we want him to be able to do is do that over the long haul, naturally. That's up to us to provide that opportunity, but it's also up to him to make sure that he garners that chance. He's done a good job here and I don't think we've seen the last of him."

Renney further commented on the relationship between the organization and their talented prospect, as the pair continues to work on an open line of communication.

"He certainly took it as a professional and as an Oiler -- and as a guy that cares about this organization. I think the dialogue that we had made it very clear that we care about him, too."

"Often times when you're sent to the minors or whatever, you don't get an opportunity to make sure that's in place; that there's a genuine care and appreciation for what a guy's all about and what he's trying to do. Certainly today we were able to describe that to him and I think that helped things."

BRING ON 2011

With the provincial rival Calgary Flames set to visit Rexall Place tomorrow night, the Oilers hope the infusion of energy in the first game of 2011 will help to set a new bar and leave the losing streak in the old calendar.

"You just keep working. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to accept our circumstances as they are. You can overcome a lot of things when you work hard. I think the big thing for us is that we've done that."

"What we've got to do is string three periods of hockey together to get wins."

ONE-ON-ONE

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

JEFF: "How have you found the travel schedule this year compared to what your travel was like playing in junior in the OHL last season?"

Taylor Hall
TAYLOR: "It's a little different and little more extended. You're on the road for 12 days at a time, and then you're at home a lot. It's tough playing on the road, but it's been a lot of fun going to cities like Chicago and New York and LA. It's been really cool.

The plane's awesome. The only thing we don't have is to be able to use your phones to text and stuff. It's certainly been nice. It's a lot better having the bus in junior and the eight hour rides on a cramped bus. "

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 Jen Sharpe & Tom Gazzola

 

Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com

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