The mood was upbeat during an up-tempo Oilers practice at Rexall Place late Wednesday morning.
Following a 4-1 victory over Dallas the night before, head coach Tom Renney preserved the line combinations, meaning forwards Steve MacIntyre, Colin Fraser, and Gilbert Brule, as well as defenceman Jason Strudwick, were the odd men out.
Renney admitted his tendency is to "stand pat" with line combinations after a win but added changes are possible for Thursday's game against Montreal.
"I'll sleep on it tonight and make a decision tomorrow morning about what we're going to do," he said.
BRULE BACK SOON
A player who could shake up the forward lines is Brule. The 24-year-old centerman has missed 22 games due to illness this season but, after practicing with the team for over a week, is nearly ready to return to the line-up.
"We wanted to make sure there was some good physical contact in his practice this morning and get some feedback with him on that and how he feels," Renney said. "His times are really good in the testing that I do, but when you really add the bumping and grinding, which he hasn't had much of, that's important feedback to get from him."
To stay within their numbers, the Oilers will have to assign a player when Brule is activated from the injured reserve. Renney said the team will cross that bridge when it comes.
"We'll make the tough decisions when we have to, but we'll do it based on an intelligent decision when a guy is ready or not," the coach stated. "[Brule] needs to play. He needs to find his sea legs again and get going and at least culminate this season, as tough as it's been for him, with at least having played."
Brule and defenceman Ryan Whitney (ankle) are the only Oilers left in sick bay, a marked improvement from late December when seven players were on the injured reserve. Thankfully, the team has received strong contributions from young call-ups, including Linus Omark, Liam Reddox, and most-recently Taylor Chorney.
One day after being recalled for the second time this season, Chorney earned his first career NHL goal vs. Anaheim last night.
"It was pretty exciting," he said today. "To get it at home and get it in a win, it's a pretty good feeling around the room, and to get to enjoy it a little bit like that definitely made it pretty special."
The 23-year-old blueliner credits his success to a renewed focus on personal development.
"It's kind of cliche but it's true -- just try to improve at things -- and I think that's really paid off this year. I feel more consistent and I think this time around, even as opposed to last time, I feel a little bit more confident. Getting that goal last night, that helps a lot too, so hopefully I can just keep taking baby steps towards becoming as best player as I can," he said.
Coach Renney values the call-up contributions and hopes the young players can find permanent positions within the NHL club.
"We hope that that trend continues to the point where, beyond just that game or that series of games, the people that are here get an obvious chance to stay at some point in time and really add to our culture as a team, obviously, and our success on the ice," he said.
GOING FOR TWO
Buoyed from Tuesday's victory, Edmonton is looking to start a winning streak by defeating Montreal Thursday night.
"We can't be a one-off team," Renney stated. "Like I've said many times before, we almost have to overcome ourselves in order to win successively, and so we have to make sure that the priority tomorrow night is to play a complete game."
Habs fans are famous for flocking to their team, and Renney expects a festive affair tomorrow.
"It's certainly a bipartisan crowd, there's no two ways about that, and there'll be lots of noise either way, no question. But it is a fun environment and that's the way it should be," he said. "You'd love to see that in every single rink because the game is that popular and everyone has allegiances or alliances to different teams. But certainly the original six seem to do that to everybody."
On the ice, the Oilers are expecting some fierce competition.
"The way Montreal comes at you, and they can in waves, they're quick and they counterattack with the best of them," Renney added. "We have to make sure that we bring everything of ourselves in order to be successful."
In the latest edition of our fan question series, Corey McDonald of Edmonton submitted a question for Sam Gagner.
COREY: "What was your favourite minor hockey memory growing up?"
SAM: "The last two years I played minor hockey we won the Ontario championship. I played with Johnny (Tavares) and a bunch of other guys that are either pretty close to the NHL or playing NCAA or something like that, so we had a pretty good team.
"We had played together for so long that when you make it to that final tournament and you're able to win it, it's such a good feeling. That's something I'll always remember."
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