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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Off-Ice Workout

OIlers gather at Rexall Place for an off-ice workout Tuesday afternoon

Tuesday, 08.02.2011 / 6:05 PM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa & Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Off-Ice Workout
 
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8

OFF-ICE WORKOUT

After arriving from Nashville in the early hours of the morning, the Edmonton Oilers gathered at Rexall Place at noon on Tuesday for an off-ice workout in preparation for a date with the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

It was announced that for Wednesday's game and Saturday's game, head coach Tom Renney will not be behind the bench. Instead, it will be Associate Coach Ralph Krueger manning the bench for the first two NHL games of his coaching career.

"It's an opportunity," said a smiling Krueger. "Under the circumstances, Tom's leadership allows people to take responsibility. For me to do this is not a change in scenery because he's given us all that. It's an honour for me that Tom has the trust in me to do this."

Being the head bench boss is nothing new for Krueger, who had never been an Assistant or Associate at any level before this season.

"I began head coaching in 1989 and was club head coach for nine years (two years in Germany, seven years in Austria) and then (Swiss) national head coach for 13 years."

Krueger's last game as head coach was nearly a year ago at the Olympics in Vancouver. The Swiss lost 2-0 (with an empty-netter) against the eventual Silver-Medalist United States squad.

OMARK ON THE MARK

One player who truly opened some eyes on this past road trip was winger Linus Omark.

Omark picked up three points in the three games -- all assists -- which included a couple of beautiful highlight-reel passes.

"I told him before to go there," Omark said of the no-look passes to Paajarvi. "The first time, I saw him when I was behind the net and believed he was there. It was a good play. I've done that with my Swedish buddy in Sweden for a couple years and it always worked."

Omark’s recent offensive production could very well be attributed to his comfort level with the North American game. It took some time, but Omark believes that was to be expected.

"I feel a little more comfortable and I'm not nervous anymore, so that's why I'm feeling better."

"It was tough in the AHL in the beginning also, and it was tough in Russia in the beginning. It just takes a few games for me to feel good."

Associate Coach Ralph Krueger talked about his strong play on the offensive side of the puck.

"He uses leverage very well. When you look at him off-ice you wouldn't expect him to be quite so strong. A lot of it has to do with technique. You can find defencemen that are 5'10" that seem to be able to control any player at any team. That's a technical skill, but also a talent and he has that offensively."

Omark has also done a great job drawing penalties. It's his use of leverage that makes him so strong at this, Krueger notes.

"The way he positions himself, the way he protects the puck and the way he uses his angles, they almost have to take penalties to bump him off," he said. "Once people start to understand his skill and the way he finds time and space and creates opportunity, where Magnus and Sam are getting better and better at leading off that.

Perhaps the key to the Oilers improving their power play lies with Omark, Krueger continues.

"The great players seem to attract one or two penalty killers and then they know when to make the play, then the openings come and we score goals. Once get gets to that level where he can get not one, but two players to come to him and he can dish it off, things will start to happen away from him. I think that's where Linus is going to be very exciting as he moves forward."

Of course, the trip didn't go without its hiccups as Omark was turned inside out on the winning goal, leaving that as the prevailing memory and not the two assists he picked up in 16:08 of icetime.

"There was a lot of pain for him after what happened in Columbus, he wasn't happy with the end of that game. He wants to get better, he gets angry in the right way. He's a good teammate," said Kreuger.

DUBNYK DELIVERS

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk earned his first career NHL shutout on Monday against Nashville, where he posted 37 saves to lead the Oilers to a commanding 4-0 victory.

"It was great to get the first one out of the way," Dubnyk said. "Been close a couple times but I think most importantly, obviously, to get the win. As soon as you get up three-four goals, it's kind of tough not to think about [the shutout] as the game winds down."

"I felt good start to finish. I've certainly felt that way in other games, too. It was a good game. I got a few bounces off posts which always helps. When you've got to keep them to zero, usually you need one or two of those in a game."

With Nikolai Khabibulin currently mired in a personal 13-game losing streak, the increased role appears to have opened a greater opportunity for Dubnyk to make an impact as he eyes the number one job.

When asked how many games he envisions himself starting down the stretch, Dubnyk remained on an even keel.

"I'm not sure. We'll see how it goes. Maybe 10-15. Maybe more, maybe less."

"I think as this goes and I feel better with each game I play still, I just want to not start to let thoughts creep into my head about how many games I'm going to play; just realize that I'm still a young goalie -- I think I've only got 38 games or something in the league -- so I still need to be earning my ice-time every time I get out there.

"Until you kind of establish yourself, that's just want I'm going to try to continue to do."

Associate Coach Ralph Krueger has noted the improvement in Dubnyk’s game, and he credits that accomplishment to the collective work of a committed player and dedicated coaching staff.

"He's had some ups and downs during the season too, like the whole team, but things are developing nicely. He's a big future goaltender, working very hard every day and working together with Khabi and Frederic Chabot in his development."

"You have to like the way he's developing, the way he's using his size, the way he's getting more comfortable at this level on a consistent basis."

Krueger, having coached for 13 seasons with the Swiss National Team, is familiar with the ability of another NHL goaltender that has turned some heads this season.

Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, a native of Felben Wellhausen, Switzerland, plays a style that Krueger believes draws similarities to the path of Dubnyk’s recent development curve.

"There's a lot of similarities, the way they close the bottom of the ice. With the size advantage and with good angles.

"There's not a lot of space when these type of goalies learn to play aggressive.

"The picture is really, really small," said Krueger. "Including the goaltending situation. What's the situation that's right for the team right now? Both goaltenders are going to have their opportunities to be strong in the small picture and maintain that."

BRULE NEARING RETURN
 
While most of the team was busy working out in the Oilers fitness room, one took to the ice as he eyes a return in the near future. Gilbert Brule, who has been sidelined for the past 14 games with ankle and illness ailments, participated in a number of intense skating drills with Skating and Skills Coach, Steve Serdachny.

Following the session, Brule spoke of his illness and touched on his timeline for a return to the lineup.

"I had one thing after the other with the ankle injury and then kind of getting the flu over the All-Star break took me out for a little bit longer," said a frustrated Brule.

"It's the flu. I think that's passed. I'm just trying to get my conditioning up, because I didn't skate for a week while I was sick there, basically."

"I've been rehabbing and working out every day, doing bike work, lifting, skating -- it's pretty tough to get back into the lineup, but it's the work I have to do to get back in."

After being sidelined with the flu several times in the past two seasons, Brule believes a medicinal approach may be in order for next year.

"Well, I think next year I'm going to get my flu shot. Usually I don't because I don't really believe in those shots, but every year I seem to get the flu. I'll probably be getting one next year for sure.”

Brule was non-committal about a potential date for his return, but he was hopeful that it would be sometime in the near future.

"It's only my second skate in a week today, so I'm hoping sometime next week hopefully."

TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE

Tomorrow night the Oilers return to Rexall Place to kick off a three-game homestand vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. Limited tickets are still available, so act now before they sell out!

Click here to purchase tickets online

Author: Marc Ciampa & Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7

OILERS at PREDATORS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

Taking a break from sticks and pucks Sunday, the Oilers were back on the ice for morning skate at Bridgestone Arena Monday. 

Tonight's line-up will look different from the line-up that faced the Blue Jackets Saturday night: after sitting out the last contest, Kurtis Foster, Colin Fraser, and Ryan Jones will don their game jerseys tonight vs. the Predators. To balance out the numbers, Steve MacIntyre, Jean-Francois Jacques, and Jason Strudwick will watch from the press box. Devan Dubnyk is slated to get the start in net.

Foster admitted he wasn't pleased about being a healthy scratch but said he respects head coach Tom Renney's decision.

"Last game was a bit of a surprise for me," he said. "I haven't talked to Tom yet about what exactly it was about, but I know he will come to me and I'll know what's ahead of me tonight.

"It's frustrating, but at the end of the day, it's part of the game. It's coach's decision who's on the ice for games and you've got to make sure that he wants you in every night."

When addressing the media, Renney explained the scratches were "performance-based" but wouldn't elaborate further.

"Certainly I liked the look of our team the other night, the size and strength that we had and sort of that persona that we projected," he said. "Tonight we have a little different look again. I think we can play to certain strengths that this line-up provides us as well."

CAPTAIN'S COMMENTS

At the end of morning skate, captain Shawn Horcoff assembled and addressed the players at one end of the ice. Foster shed some light on the peptalk:

"Basically (Horcoff said) that we have 30 games left. We've been playing okay hockey but okay is not good enough anymore. We've got to win some games. Last game I thought and a lot of guys in the room think that we kind of got nervous having the lead in the third period. We've got to do a better job of pulling out those wins.

"I think he just kind of reiterated that, you know, Tom's been pretty good to us," Foster continued. "They gave us a lot of help on all the things we need from a coaching stand, and now it's up to us to get some wins for this team."

Renney echoed Foster's sentiments.

"At the end of the day, after the equals sign you want to see wins," the coach said. "I can tell you right now that these guys have got a great attitude, and that's a testimony to their leadership, to say the least, and also their ability to keep their eye on the ball and realize they're going to be part of something that's a bigger picture at the end of the day.

"Our goals are maybe a little different than a lot of teams in this league. We're going to be spoiler, we're going to upset people, we want to make sure that we can make a mess of things out there and feel good about our game at the same time," he added. "We just have to make sure that we put ourselves in a position to win every night and if we continue to do that, we'll get our wins."

The quest for two points continues tonight vs. the Predators, and Foster is expecting a solid effort from the opposition.

"If you look at their line-up, they don't have guys that are going to scare you when you go out there, but they all play a solid hockey, a good two-way hockey," he explained. "I think that we've got to come out tonight and kind of get in their face, make sure they know it's going to be a tough game and going to be a good skating game, use our speed and try to get as many shots on (Pekka) Rinne as we can."

OILERS 4 - PREDATORS 0

Despite being out-shot by a 13-3 margin in the game's opening 10 minutes, Devan Dubnyk provided his team with a chance to improve as the night progressed. Andrew Cogliano's first period goal turned the tide, as the offensive showcase got underway. The Oilers would add an additional three markers in the final two periods, while Dubnyk was equal to the Predators' 37 shots, recording his first career NHL shutout in a 4-0 victory.

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

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 5

OILERS at BLUE JACKETS:
GAMEDAY MORNING

After landing late in Columbus, the Oilers opted out of a morning skate and instead held a team meeting and addressed the media at the hotel.

Not surprisingly, the morning's discussions centered on the previous night's 5-3 loss to St. Louis and how to ensure a better result tonight.

"We did a lot of good things," Shawn Horcoff said. "I think our biggest thing right now is we've managed to kind of turn our starts around and we come out, especially the last few games, with some really good first periods. We just have to be able to get the lead from it.

"If we're dominating the first period and we get down a goal, we get a little bit frustrated and change our game a bit," he continued. "We have to find ways to battle through that and do a lot of the same things. We're really creating a lot of good chances out there and I think it's just a matter of trying to get a few more."

Head coach Tom Renney agreed.

"I look at our last eight or ten games, and with the exception of one, we've out-chanced every team we've played. You take solace in that for sure because when you're getting out-chanced you're getting out-played," he added.

"Certainly last night I don't think the score suggests exactly what happened but it does suggest once again our specialty teams were a bit of a problem for us and that certainly can be a difference maker, no question."

PENNER FEELING BETTER

Edmonton will hope to get some spark from forward Dustin Penner, who missed Friday night's contest due to the flu. Renney said he intends to play the big winger alongside Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

"I'd like to have done that a couple of games ago, actually, but I decided to try something a little different," the coach explained. "From a coaching perspective we'll make sure we put Horcoff, Hemsky and Penner together and let them take us forward."

The Oilers will also rely on continued offensive contributions from the line of Taylor Hall, Andrew Cogliano, and Jordan Eberle.

"I thought that they really put some life into our hockey team from an attack perspective and allowed us to start to feel real good about ourselves, getting ourselves back into a game," Renney said.

Cogliano enjoys skating with the rookies.

"They're such good players, high-end players that you get in the right spots, do the little things for them. As a centerman, just play a good two-way game and make sure you're on the right side of the puck, and give it to them when you get the chance, and last night it worked good," he recalled.

"You get them in the right spot, they just beat the defencemen and take it to the net, so I'll continue to do that. For myself, when I end up giving it to them wide and I see them going to the net, just try to meet them there because there might be rebounds."

BATTLE THE BLUE JACKETS

Another strong start, speedy attacks, and improved specialty teams will be key to a win tonight, Renney explained.

"We have to come out strong. I think Columbus plays, with no disrespect intended, they play a simple game but they play it hard, and because of that they play it well," he said.

"What we have to do is make sure that we don't give up too much, naturally. Limit the odd-man rushes, number one. Number two, we have to make sure that we go after this team. They played last night too and I think maybe it's an advantage for us with teams underestimating our work habits and our ability to step into games and play hard, especially on the road."

After Devan Dubnyk manned the pipes Friday night, Nikolai Khabibulin will close out this back-to-back for the Oilers.

OILERS 3 - BLUE JACKETS 4

Despite jumping ahead to an early 2-0 lead and carrying a 3-2 lead into the final 10 minutes of regulation, the Oilers lost their grip on the win and suffered a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets Saturday night. The line of Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, and Sam Gagner produced two of Edmonton's goals, while Nikolai Khabibulin finished with 30 saves.


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


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