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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Off to St. Louis

Oilers skate in Leduc prior to a departure for St. Louis to kick off three-game trip

Thursday, 03.02.2011 / 1:52 PM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Off to St. Louis
 
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3

PRACTICE IN LEDUC

Prior to departing on a flight for St. Louis, the Edmonton Oilers held a practice at the Leduc Recreation Centre on Thursday morning.

Notably absent from the skate were both head coach Tom Renney and forward Linus Omark.

Associate Coach Ralph Krueger  mentioned that Renney will accompany the team to St. Louis. The Oilers head coach missed yesterday's morning skate due to the passing of his father but was behind the bench at the game last night.

"Tom is coming on the trip. Everything is business as usual. His family hasn't made final plans yet for the memorial or funeral," Renney said. "Those will be falling in the next few days but at the moment Tom is on board and it's business as usual."


Omark was off the ice for what was being called a "maintenance day".

"Linus will be fine. He didn't have any residual effects of headaches this morning," noted Krueger.

With Omark not on the ice, the team took the opportunity to shuffle up each of the lines. This is what they skated with:

Hall - Horcoff - Hemsky
Paajarvi - Gagner - Eberle
Penner - Cogliano - Jones
Jacques - Fraser - Reddox

Peckham - Gilbert
Smid - Petry
Foster - Vandermeer

EBERLE GETTING CLOSER

Taylor Hall (left) and Jordan Eberle

As mentioned, Eberle skated on a regular line in Omark's place alongside Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner. He will almost certainly see action on this upcoming trip barring a setback.

"Jordan has a really good chance of coming in the lineup here," said Krueger.

Having been out of the lineup since January 1, Eberle is itching to get back in game action. An ankle injury at that time, followed having to get his appendix removed due to appendicitis resulted in a longer recovery time than initially expected.

"It's tough to watch hockey and not be out there trying to help contribute," Eberle said after practice on Thursday.

Eberle didn't quite pass Renney's fitness test on the first attempt but he's since been given the green light.

"We did another (fitness test) after and I passed it," Eberle continued "I know he feels I'm ready now. I felt good in practice today but it's the coaches decision."

Taylor Hall was also uplifted to see his roommate join the team on this road trip.

"He's been really down lately, not being able to play the games so you can see his spirits are a little bit lifted right now and he can't wait to get back. I think our whole team can't wait to have him back as well," said Hall.

Krueger mentioned that there's going to be some roster decisions that need to be made when Eberle returns to the lineup.

"Where it's going to end up and where the cards are going to fall, we're going to spend a couple hours talking about that on the plane."

PLAYING THE SPOILER

20 points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 30 games left, it's no secret that the Oilers are out there trying to play the spoiler role. However, though Krueger acknowledged this he also said that at the end of the day it's still about the Oilers and building towards something great.

"We'd love to make other teams upset here down the stretch but more than anything it's about us." "It's about our game, it's about building on a game that gives us a lot of confidence going forward."

Krueger continued with his assessment of the Kings game.

"We're working on our game one day at a time. Of course, we want to be very, very difficult to play against and get points against us. I thought L.A. really had to step up and play hard for their points.

"We've lost it on details and we need to clean those up to be spoilers."


ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Tyrel Cunningham of High Prairie, Alberta submitted a question for Magnus Paajarvi.

Magnus Paajarvi

TYREL: "You're already having an amazing rookie year, how do you think you will get better over the off season and are you already looking forward to next season?"

MAGNUS: "Obviously I'm going to get help from our physical trainer but I've got a great physical trainer back home who helped me a lot last summer."

"I started with him last summer. We've been sitting down talking about what I want to do and I think we've done that so far. I think we're going to keep developing. Also, I want to get faster and I want to be a more offensive threat for sure."

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

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2

OILERS vs. KINGS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

Following a week-long break, the Oilers were back in game-day mode Wednesday morning. After missing two weeks due to a concussion, Ales Hemsky has rejoined the active line-up and will skate on the team's top line.

The line combinations at morning skate were as follows:

Hall - Horcoff - Hemsky
Paajarvi - Gagner - Omark
Penner - Cogliano - Jones
Jacques - Fraser - Reddox

Hemsky is eager to put the injury behind him and contribute on the ice.

"I started skating before the All Star break a couple times and I was feeling better and better. I took those four days off and just felt better," he recalled.

"I'm just happy I can play again. It's been a tough two weeks for me and I'm just glad to be back and be fine to play."

Hemsky's return should boost Edmonton's offense, assistant coach Steve Smith said.

"It certainly adds speed, it adds some veteran presence to the locker room, and we look forward to him coming back," he said. "He's a guy that can score at any time during the course of the game and gives you that competitive nature each and every shift he's out there."

Hemsky's addition isn't the only change in the Oilers forward lines. After skating with Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Hall for the past two weeks, Dustin Penner will battle the Kings alongside Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Jones. The big forward is embracing the change.

"I've played with Cogs a lot over my four-year tenure here. We work well together, and Jones is a similar type player, where he's strong on the puck and obviously he's got quite a few goals this year, so I think we could potentially be a pretty good line," Penner said.

"We're a third line so we have to maybe play a little bit more defensively, and depending on who we get matched up with, more specifically on the road than at home, will depict how we play."

Fans should also note that rookie Jordan Eberle will not play tonight but is expected to make his return during this weekend's road trip.

"At the moment he still has a little bit of a conditioning deficit and I think it also had to do with the operation he went through, so he had no physicality there for a stretch with the appendicitis," associate coach Ralph Krueger explained. "It's a little bit different than just a bone or muscle or tendon, so I think that's why it's better we ease him back in. "

TOPPLING THE KINGS

Tonight, the Oilers are looking for a strong start to snap them back into game mode.

"Coming out of the All Star break, it's always difficult your first period in, to get back in, and [the Kings have] got that out of the way so they're game-ready," Krueger said. "We need to find our game quickly so the first period will be critical for us. It's been a weak period for us too often this season, but today more than anything we need to be real game-ready off the bat."

The players are anticipating an exciting game.

"They always tend to be pretty good games with the Kings, pretty high-paced and close ones too, so it should be exciting and it's exciting for the guys in this room to have a lot of healthy bodies back in the line-up and to ice a full team," Penner said.

"The biggest thing for us is continuing to play with pace," Sam Gagner added. "I think you look at the first game we played against them, it really could have gone either way, and we played with a lot of pace.

"We're continuing to push them and really skate and when we're skating we're a tough team to beat, so I think that's got to be our mindset and hopefully it helps tonight."

Nikolai Khabibulin is expected to get the start for the Oilers in net.

KINGS 3 - OILERS 1

Despite dominating the first period and outshooting their opponent 33-26 through 60 minutes, the Oilers were unable to top the Kings where it counts and suffered a 3-1 loss Wednesday night. Magnus Paajarvi scored Edmonton's lone goal early in the second period, while Nikolai Khabibulin finished with 23 saves at the opposite end of the ice.

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

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1

COMING & GOING

Tuesday's practice at Rexall Place featured a few items of interest, including a line-up addition, subtraction, and question mark.

The addition was Ales Hemsky, who participated in his first full practice after staying off the ice for two weeks due to a concussion.

The forward explained that the injury crept up on him.

"I got a puck in the neck in the Vancouver game (Jan. 7), then in San Jose (Jan. 13) I got hit in my nose, kind of in my face, and I felt it pretty good. The next morning I didn't feel really good but the next day I felt okay to play, and I played two games.

"I just wasn't into it, I didn't feel that good. The next day I came again, I told them I've got some issues and stuff like that, but I had a cold too so I was thinking it was the cold," Hemsky continued. "The next game against Minnesota (Jan. 18) I figured it's probably the headaches, I didn't feel good, so they just pulled me out and we treated it like a concussion."

According to head coach Tom Renney, the lengthy ordeal will likely come to an end tomorrow.

"I think Ales is right there to play," the coach said.  "He had a good skate again today, he did really well on the test, so I think we're going to play him."

UNSURE ABOUT EBERLE

Also approaching return is Jordan Eberle, but he remains a question mark for Wednesday's game vs. Los Angeles.

The star rookie completed Renney's mandatory post-injury skating test prior to practice, but the coach wasn't thrilled with the results.

"I'm weighing that one out. I'm not sure. I wasn't completely sold on the test," Renney admitted.

Because Eberle's appearance tomorrow is questionable, he alternated with Jean-Francois Jacques in the practice drills. The complete line combinations were as follows:

Dustin Penner - Shawn Horcoff - Ales Hemsky
Taylor Hall - Andrew Cogliano - Ryan Jones
Magnus Paajarvi - Sam Gagner - Linus Omark
Liam Reddox - Colin Fraser - Jordan Eberle / JF Jacques

STORTINI SENT DOWN

Based on the line combinations, you'll notice that two forwards were absent from practice: Gilbert Brule and Zack Stortini. Adding to his list of ailments, Brule is suffering from the flu and remains on the team's injured reserve. Stortini, on the other hand, was placed on waivers with the purpose of being assigned to Oklahoma City.

According to GM Steve Tambellini, the decision to assign Stortini wasn't easy but necessary.

"We have too many players for too few spots and it's competitive inside. That's what we've been trying to establish or reestablish in the organization, the competition for jobs," he said. "It's a hard part of the game but it's the reality of it. There's only so many spots."

Both Tambellini and Renney had nothing but good things to say about Stortini.

"He's everything that a coach wants in terms of his character, his coachability, he's a great teammate, he's tough, he's got terrific hockey sense," Renney emphasized. "There are aspects of his game that I'm not going to go into that I think pose a bit of difficulty for him, but the fact of the matter is other people have put themselves in a position to get a real serious opportunity here.

"This is a good man, he's an Oiler. He's a very, very proud guy and he has every reason to be, quite honestly, because when you ask for commitment and manning-up, Zack does it," the coach continued. "It's just one of those things where we evolve into what we're going to be and unfortunately that's the way the game works and this is probably not the last guy that's going to watch this happen."

RETURN TO ACTION WEDNESDAY

Fans will be able to catch Hemsky -- and possibly Eberle -- in action as the Oilers take on the Kings Wednesday, Feb. 2 at Rexall Place. Limited tickets are available for the 7:30 game.

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE TICKETS

ONE-ON-ONE

Andrew Cogliano

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Amanda L. of Edmonton submitted a question for Andrew Cogliano.

AMANDA: "How did you spend your all-star break?"

BRANDON: "I was in California. I went down there to golf and just relax, I had some friends down there. I think it was very important, more relaxing than anything, so it was definitely a good thing."

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

 
MONDAY, JANUARY 31

BACK TO WORK

After spending an extended weekend catching up with friends and family over All Star break, the Oilers got down to business with an hour-long practice at Rexall Place Monday afternoon.

Edmonton's lone representative at the All Star festivities, Taylor Hall, was travelling back from Raleigh and thus not present at practice.

Although the Oilers' star rookie was absent, another rookie assumed the spotlight. After ringing in the New Year with an ankle injury, Jordan Eberle participated in his first full team practice today.

"I feel good," he said after the skate. "I probably could have played last week, but I think with the way that the schedule was, it made sense to stay back and rehab, get a five-day break over the All Star break. Just that extra time hopefully will help, and when I do come back, it won't re-injure."

Fellow sick bay resident Ales Hemsky also took to the ice, albeit wearing a red no-contact jersey.

Head coach Tom Renney said further assessment is required before either player takes to the ice for a game.

"I'll see how they're doing tomorrow morning," he said. "I think they've made significant improvements. I don't want to call it day-to-day yet, but I might be telling you that tomorrow."

After missing the past 12 games, Eberle hopes to play Wednesday night vs. Los Angeles.

"It's tough when you have to watch your team out there. You want to be out there bad and help contribute. I've never really had the experience where I've had to miss games, and now that's happened and it's over with, I'm definitely anxious and excited to get back," he said.

"Obviously I think Tom (Renney) wants to make sure I'm in game shape. He has a little skating test, so hopefully everything goes well there. I'm definitely trying to push to play Wednesday."

49 DOWN, 33 TO GO

Eberle, Hemsky and their other well-rested teammates will enjoy another day of practice before beginning their push for post-All Star success. Players and coaches are feeling good about the 33-game road ahead.

"It was a good few days off. We needed it, we needed to recharge," defenceman Theo Peckham said.

"I think it's good to get your mind off things, obviously to get the physical break but get the mental break too and regroup and relax a little bit," Colin Fraser added. "Four days was nice, but back to work today and I think everybody's excited and rejuvenated to get going again.

Renney wants to see a renewed focus and fervour from his team.

"We're ready, we're fresh, I think we can really make some noise in the Western Conference," he stated. "Slowly but surely we're getting some respect. At the end of the day, you're going to have to win to get the ultimate respect from your opponents, we know that, so part of our mantra I think will just be to go out and play hard and just try to make a mess of things out here.

"If we really lock into this way we want to play, I think we have a really good shot of winning a good portion of our games, at least, moving forward."

ONE-ON-ONE

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Amanda L. of Edmonton submitted a question for Theo Peckham.

Theo Peckham & Ryan Jones

AMANDA: "You were on Off the Record the other day. Great interview by the way. How do you manage to stay so positive all the time and always smiling?"

THEO: "I think that's just the way I am. I'm kind of a goof ball. Until I get onto the ice, I don't really take things too seriously. That's definitely the way my personality is. Guys get used to dealing with me in here. They get kind of annoyed at it, I think, sometimes. I'm always kind of goofing around and smiling.

It's tough to play the game that we play -- there are so many ups and downs, and I just take it one day at a time and keep smiling; take them as they come. I try to game-face it a little bit more on the ice. On occasion, I smile a little bit. But it's more of a 'I'm gonna get you' smile, not a 'I'm just happy having a good time' smile."

BONUS QUESTION!

Because it was too good to pass up, we also asked Ryan Jones a question submitted by Moose Jaw's Joanna Smith:

JOANNA: "Do you know the difference between an alpaca and a llama?"

RYAN: "Actually, I do know the difference between an alpaca and a llama, because I saw that kids cartoon, where it was like that king llama guy. I think that llamas spit in your face when they get mad -- that gross spit that they have -- and alpacas don't.

Other than that, no."

(Editor's note: Ryan is incorrect. Both animals spit when agitated. To find out the real difference between alpacas & llamas, CLICK HERE.)

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

 
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 26

OILERS at STARS:
PRE-GAME

After arriving at their hotel in Dallas at 2:30 a.m. following last night’s last-minute 4-3 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Edmonton Oilers opted to not skate this morning and instead congregated for lunch at the hotel at noon followed by a brief team meeting.

“You need to know what excellence looks like and feels like,” Oilers head coach Tom Renney said about last night’s game. “I thought we were as close to that as we’ve been, even though we fell behind.”

It was a game that the Oilers battled in throughout and eventually became the first team this season to defeat the Coyotes in regulation despite trailing after 40 minutes.

“You have to be able to get yourself back into a game, and we did that and pushed it right over the top and actually won because of that type of effort.”

The team will not be making any lineup changes save for one in goal – Nikolai Khabibulin gets the start tonight.

“We’re going to go with Khabby tonight and give Devan a break. (Devan) played very well. I just liked the look of him last night,” Renney remarked.

The game marks Khabibulin’s first start since January 20 against Dallas. He also missed the Skills Competition and had several practices off as he’s attempted to rest some nagging injuries.

“He’s been off for a little while here, just sort of maintenance time. We’ve got to make sure that he’s ready to go as well so going into the break we wanted him to get one in.”

Renney contemplated making some other lineup changes but instead decided to go with the 18 skaters that impressed him so much in Phoenix last night.

“I always fight with this – as all coaches do – to make sure guys aren’t out too long. That’s number one and number two is what’s the opponent going to bring that you might want to counter with,” he said. “(However,) I did like our performance last night. My intention is to go with the same lineup.”

HALL OF A LINE

The trio of Shawn Horcoff, Taylor Hall and Dustin Penner has been together for several games now and if last night is any indication, they are starting to hit their stride.

“Horcoff’s distribution of the puck is important because, on one end of it you have Taylor with speed and strength and is fearless going to the net. On the other side you have just a big man that’s so hard to knock off the puck that your puck possession time improves because of that,” Renney noted.

The line combined for five points last night, including the dramatic winner with 22 seconds left to play. Horcoff had two assists.

“I think it helps Shawn’s game. These guys can distribute it as well so it’s not just him who has to be the playmaker. I think you’ll find over time if we can keep this group together that they should have some real success because of their ability – all three – to manage the puck.”

Hall, who had a goal and an assist, talked about the benefits of playing with Horcoff.

“He’s definitely a really good centre to play with. He’s really good in his own end so we don’t spend a lot of time there and you can have good transition, make sure we’re playing on offence because that’s what we want to do,” Hall noted. “Coming back from injury is not easy but he’s done a great job”

Dustin Penner agreed with the rookie winger.

“I think last game – other than that one goal that they scored against us – I think every other shift was in their zone. I thought we created a lot of chances,” Penner said.


STARS 3 - OILERS 1

The Dallas Stars raced out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back as the Edmonton Oilers fell 3-1 to the Stars in their final game before the all-star break at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Dustin Penner scored the lone Oilers goal.

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

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