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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Midwest Files

Oilers arrive in St. Louis, discuss the road trip experience, injury updates & more

Wednesday, 23.03.2011 / 6:05 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Midwest Files
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23

MIDWEST FILES

Following the team’s seventh consecutive loss last night in Nashville, the Oilers hopped on the charter and traveled to the equally as warm and sunny St. Louis, Missouri.

Although the Oilers dropped a 3-1 decision one night ago, spirits were high as Edmonton participated in a quick one-hour practice at Scottrade Center earlier this morning.

Drills were kept short, but good times were had as the team cruised through a series of shinny games late in the session, before breaking apart to challenge each other in a shootout competition.

Recent call-ups and road trip newcomers Chris VandeVelde and Teemu Hartikainen stole the show with a number of slick moves that wowed teammates and the spectating media contingent.

A NEW EXPERIENCE

While the Oilers are still in search of some activity in the win column on this current road trip, VandeVelde and Hartkainen are both caught up in the experience of their first NHL getaway.

"Flying in the Edmonton plane and with all the guys, it's definitely different than flying commercial or taking a seven-hour bus trip, so obviously that's a perk of being up here," said a smiling VandeVelde.

"In college, we had a few short bus trips but we flew pretty much everywhere else. Then again, it was commercial and we get a little spoiled up here with our own plane. It's nice. You get all kinds of food on there and we get meals and everything's free. It's definitely a privilege and I don't take it for granted."

Fellow call-up and current linemate Hartikainen agreed with VandeVelde’s take on the upscale travel arrangements.

"It's so much better. The airplane is so good and hotels are better."

THE GROWTH PATTERN

While VandeVelde is certainly making the most of his opportunity to travel with the big club, his on-ice play continues to be the primary focus as the 24-year-old rookie establishes an NHL role.

"Obviously it was a dream come true to be up here and I think I've come a long way since the start of the season when I was down in the 'A' where I had a slow start," VandeVelde said. "But the last 20 games have been really good for me. I'm here now and it's an exciting time for me and hopefully I can stay up here for a while."

Chris VandeVelde
When asked about the reason for this recent uprising at the professional level, VandeVelde was eager to credit the collective work with the coaches in Oklahoma City, along with his personal desire to improve and become a better player.

"All three of the coaches down [in Oklahoma City] have been real good to me and have taught me a lot of things. I think I've kind of taught myself some things, too, just from learning and playing 60-some games down there or whatever it was. Obviously that's a huge help. You learn things as you go."

Like a true professional, VandeVelde understands that this is only the beginning of a long development process. This new phase requires a strong conclusion to the 2010-11 season in Edmonton in order to establish a footing within the organization.

"You've just got to play hard and leave your impression. I think I've done that so far and hopefully I can elevate my game a little more."

WALKING WOUNDED

In the 3-1 setback to Nashville, the Oilers appeared to be on the receiving end of the injury bug once again. Jordan Eberle’s right foot was cranked with a Jeff Petry slapshot in the opening period. The talented rookie skated off the ice in noticeable pain, but was able to complete the game under his own power before being assessed by the medical staff prior to departure.

Although Eberle exited Bridgestone Arena last night wearing a walking boot, the 20-year-old winger was able to skate this morning and looks to be ready for tomorrow’s matchup against the Blues.

"It was obviously pretty sore; pretty swollen and bruised. Luckily it's not broken. I think the fact that we took care of it right after the game and got ice on it and pressure, and trying to get all the swelling out contributed to why I got to skate this morning.

Jordan Eberle
It was pretty sore in the skate, but I think the fact that there's pressure in the skate and blood flow helps it."

Moments later in the game vs. Nashville, Petry again wired a slapshot into the Nashville end from the neutral zone. A leaping Eberle avoided another collision with the puck, potentially saving him from further injury.

"It was real close," laughed Eberle. " But that's part of the game and you've got to battle through that."

With all the action surrounding the incident, Eberle had no doubt that he will be included on tomorrow’s lineup card.

"Yeah, it will be good for tomorrow. Hopefully I'll be even better tomorrow."

Although Eberle was able to escape something more serious, defenceman Kurtis Foster was not as fortunate. With 30 seconds remaining in the game last night, Foster went back in own zone to retrieve the puck. Caught off balance and in a vulnerable position relative to the corner-boards, a steaming David Legwand sent the veteran rearguard awkwardly into the wall.

Foster hit his on the boards and stayed down for several minutes while Head Athletic Therapist T.D. Forss provided a medical assessment. Foster was unable to skate this morning, but he believes his condition has improved significantly since arriving in St. Louis 14 hours ago.

"I'm feeling a lot better today. Last night I definitely didn't feel too well. I had a little bit of a stick stomach and had a little bit of a headache. I woke up today and felt pretty good so I didn't try to do anything too hard and hopefully if I feel good today, I can get some exercise tomorrow."

Given his proximity to the boards and unfortunate collision with the Predators veteran, Foster says that the experience was most certainly a scary one.

"I've had a couple bangs to the head but nothing too significant. Last night there for a couple seconds I didn't really know where I was. That was a little scary," Foster said.

"I went in, saw the doctor and did all the new protocol they've got to do. Last time was a little tough with the flying, but as soon as I turned the lights off and went to bed I definitely felt a lot better. It definitely feels much better today."

GIROUX ASSIGNED

Shortly following today's practice, it was announced that forward Alex Giroux had been assigned to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons. The 29-year-old winger had recorded one goal and one assist in his eight games with the big club this season.

  READ THE PRESS RELEASE

As a result, it is expected that Colin Fraser or J-F Jacques may be available to play tomorrow evening.


ONE-ON-ONE

Chris VandeVelde

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Joseph of Red Deer, AB submitted a question for Chris VandeVelde.

JOSEPH: "With this being your first NHL road trip and all, what do you like to do on the bus or plane to pass time?"

CHRIS: "I listen to a lot of music on the iPod and stuff. I listen to everything. Country, techno, rap, everything. There's not really anything I don't like. You name it, I listen to it.

I'm not a big reader so I also like to watch movies and stuff. I like to play games on my phone, too. Just basically anything you can to relax and pass the time."

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

TUESDAY, MARCH 22

OILERS at PREDATORS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

The Oilers’ game-day morning began with a short walk to the exceptionally close-by Bridgestone Arena for the morning skate. The beautifully warm Tennessee weather put everyone in good spirits, as the Oilers completed the 20-minute skate with smiles and good vibes despite battling through a six-game winless skid.

The optimism was warranted, mind you. In the past two months, Edmonton and Nashville have met twice, with the Oilers coming away victorious in both. The team’s last visit to Bridgestone Arena saw the Oilers skate away with a commanding 4-0 win on Feb. 7.

STICK TO THE PLAN

Although the Oilers have managed to have some success against the Predators in recent meetings, the visitors understand that Nashville is a talented club in the midst of a heated post-season race.

"I don't think it factors in at all," Ryan O’Marra said when asked about Nashville’s position in the NHL’s Western Conference standings.

"I think we've just got to go out there and play the game-plan that Tom Renney has outlined for us. That's how we'll be successful. We can't be too concerned about where they are in the standings based on the fact that we're in a certain position in the standings."

"Obviously we want to rebound with the two losses and come out with a big win here. They've played well, they've split the season-series so far, so we're looking to come out and put in a good effort and come out with two points."

Fellow energy forward Ryan Jones agreed, adding that Nashville’s success over the years can be credited to their dedicated structure.

"I don't think that Nashville has changed [in the last 11 years]," said Jones. They've had the same system, they've had the same coach, the same guys to tell you the truth -- Legwand is still around. He can attest to the fact that they just work as hard as they can, they stick within the system well and they don't do anything outside of their game and that's how they manage to work their way into the playoffs every year."

Although the mantra of hard work is traditionally seen as a hockey cliche, Jones emphasizes that the key to success will be reliant on that this evening.

"I think we have to outwork them and then limit our turnovers. They're like us: a good transitional team, and if we can get more pucks behind them so they can't turn against us, then I think we're going to give ourselves a chance to win."

Head Coach Tom Renney echoed Jones’ "outworking" mentality, as he described the required elements for a successful evening.

"We'll just work, that's all. We'll protect ourselves by playing hard within our structure and within our system of play. [Nashville is] a team continues to be very, very hungry and playing well for points."

"We want to make sure we have a solid foundation of how we play without the puck, we want to make sure we've got a backend that's solid and strong and can defend as well as advance the puck. And with the forward group, be that as it may, the big thing for us is to try and play strong within our structure," Renney continued.

"Nashville could become frustrated by that. That's our objective tonight."

IN THE BIG LEAGUES

Recent call-up Chris VandeVelde is making his inaugural NHL road trip this week. After spending the last few seasons at the University of North Dakota, and most of the season riding busses with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, the NHL travel plan has most certainly been an upgrade.

"It's been a lot of fun," said a smiling VandeVelde. "Traveling on the team's plane and with all the guys and just kind of hanging out and having some laughs. It's quite a bit different than traveling on a bus for seven hours. So far it's been a great experience."

"It's definitely a dream come true and hopefully we can just go out there and play our game and we'll have a good opportunity to win it."

Although the big league experience is growing for VandeVelde and others, Renney believes that his newcomers will succeed under the circumstances tonight in Nashville.

"I am looking forward to seeing how they play. It's an important opportunity for them to step up and contribute to our needs," Renney said of the call-ups.

"We want to make sure that the five skaters on the ice are doing things together and stay connected, quite honestly. If we don't get disconnected by how Nashville chooses to play, those guys will at least be protected by the numbers, obviously."

BETWEEN THE PIPES

Devan Dubnyk returns to the crease tonight following a two-game break that saw fellow masked man Nikolai Khabibulin tend the pipes. Having won in his last visit to Nashville -- his first career shutout in a 4-0 victory -- Dubnyk sees an opportunity to continue his Midwest success.

"It's only been one game, but I certainly can't complain. I just try to take some things that made me feel good from last time here into tonight. I've got to make sure I'm ready to make it happen."

"I've tried to grow and establish myself a little bit at this level. That's important this year to learn how to play and learn how to consistently play every game and give the guys a chance to win every night."

PREDATORS 3 - OILERS 1

Nashville scored twice in the opening period, while goaltender Pekka Rinne frustrated Oilers shooters with 19 saves on the night, as the Predators defeated the Oilers 3-1 at Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night.

Jordan Eberle scored Edmonton's lone goal of the evening, while Devan Dubnyk recorded 27 saves in the loss.

Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com

 
SUNDAY, MARCH 20

ASSESSMENT SUNDAY

Following Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the division rival Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers returned to Rexall place bright and early Sunday morning to prepare for the upcoming two-game road trip.

Although the venue was the same, the afternoon practice took on a much different look as thousands of season seat holders packed the stands at Rexall Place to view the on-ice training.

Leading the charge and embracing the atmosphere was Oilers bench boss, Tom Renney, who instructed his players and interacted with fans with a microphone.

"I’ve been known to talk a lot and I've had the odd player tell me that," Renney said with a smile. "When you spend your life describing things to people, it's not that hard."

Defenceman Theo Peckham added that his commentary was a nice addition to the regular practice routine.

"It was interesting to see some of the little phrases he was coming up with. It was cool and it was a lot of fun to get the fans involved. On both sides, I think we really appreciated it."

Renney spoke highly of the event and was pleased to see the fans having fun.

"It was great. I think anytime you get a chance to connect with your fans and give them a chance to see us do our job as we prepare to play, it's always good. It's good for our guys. They like the energy they draw from it. Certainly from a fan perspective, it's a whole new opportunity to see their team work."

Peckham agreed with his coach’s assessment, adding that the players in the locker room are incredibly appreciative of the fan support in Oil Country.

"Those are the fans we need. Those are the ones that are sticking behind us.  The fans that are still out here having a good time and supporting us. We're trying; we're doing our best. Obviously the wins aren't coming but that will come in time."

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Following a quick two-game homestand, the Oilers will now head back on the road, making stops in Nashville and St. Louis before returning back to Edmonton later this week. Although the Oilers went winless on the homestand and are now riding a six-game losing skid, Renney believes the past two games have provided the groundwork for positive results in the near future.

"Primarily, we want to win. There's no question about that. I want to make sure that the guys that put the jersey on get an opportunity to play and show us what they're capable of; to learn a little bit more about them, but also them about us and our system of play."

"Every time we go into Nashville, we wonder how we're going to beat these guys because they're very systematic," Renney added. "They know how they want to play and they've played that way ever since [Barry Trotz] has been there, which is forever."

Although the Predators certainly stand as a challenging opponent, Renney believes his club needs to remain focused on their own game.
Head Coach Tom Renney

"What we have to do is go in there, as the underdog again, and pay attention to what we need to do to have success. That's really and truly playing a shift at a time, not allowing them to feel too good about their game."

"I think a big part of our success there is our start."

Renney was also complimentary of his team’s recent efforts, considering the lineup challenges and an early elimination from playoff contention.

"I'm proud of our guys. It sounds corny for a 30th place coach to say that, but I am. We've had adversity for quite some time now and we've dealt with it as professionals; we've dealt with it as men," Renney explained.

"I know they're working at it and they're giving it everything they have. We have all year. This is a really important process to go through. A year from now, I’m hoping that we've had enough experience with this that they know how to deal with it and turn these things into wins."

CALL-UP KEEPERS

Although the Oilers have now lost 202 man games due to injury, recent call-ups have performed well and are making an impression on the coaching staff, as well as veteran teammates.

"They've been great," noted Kurtis Foster. "They're really playing the way we want to play as a team. It's been fun. It's a little different than I think Oilers fans are used to; maybe not as much speed and skill, but I think it's a different game. Getting it in deep, banging bodies, and showing that there's a lot of hope for the future. It's definitely been fun to be a part of it."

Fellow defenceman Theo Peckham agreed, adding that the transition has likely been challenging given the circumstances.
Theo Peckham

"They're playing hard. That's all you can ask. It's definitely tough to come into an NHL atmosphere and perform the way they have. They've carried a huge load for us, and all the power to them. They've been great."

Coach Renney also praised the work of his call-ups, noting that Teemu Hartikainen has been a tremendous addition to his struggling Oilers squad.

"I like the upside there. I love the grit that he plays with and he certainly has the passion to play. He knows that the net is the end point."

"All of that being said on the offensive side of the puck, none of that is lost on his effort coming back and understanding the defensive job. He just needs more exposure to the NHL level and to the coaching that he would face as well as get," Renney added.

According to the coach, Hartikainen’s uprising was somewhat unexpected given his sixth-round selection at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. With more development time and proper coaching, Renney sees a full-time NHL position in the not too distant future.

"He's legitimate in my mind. If we're patient with him and again, keep our objectives for him realistic and work with him on a daily basis here and in Oklahoma City where I think the guys have done an outstanding job, I think the NHL isn't too far away for this young fella."

PROGNOSIS POSITIVE

Injured defenceman Taylor Chorney participated in his first full practice today after having missed the previous 12 games with a knee problem. Although his condition is still graded as week-to-week, positive steps are happening and the smooth-skating blueliner will be traveling with the team this week to continue his on-ice rehab.

"It's been healing faster than I've expected and the trainers as well," Chorney noted.

"Hopefully I can get back for at least a handful [of games]. I don't think there's a full timeline. We've kind of been taking it week by week, and the last couple weeks have been really good and it's been feeling a lot better. I felt pretty good on the ice today."

In addition to Chorney’s improving condition, Colin Fraser and J-F Jacques look to be on the mend as well. Both will be traveling with the team this week, with a chance that they could return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday in Nashville.

"They could be ready as early as Tuesday, but we'll see," Renney said.

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

 

 

Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com
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