THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Road Trip Continues

Oilers try and stay positive as match-up with the league's top team is next

Friday, 01.04.2011 / 4:07 PM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
FRIDAY, APRIL 1

ROAD TRIP CONTINUES

The Edmonton Oilers continue to search for answers in the midst of their current 11-game slide (0-8-3) and the task doesn't get any easier with the next two games being up against the best team in the NHL - the Vancouver Canucks.

Having clinched the President's Trophy for League's best record, Vancouver is first in the NHL in points  goals for, goals against, power play and penalty killing. No team has accomplished this feat in the NHL's "expansion era" since 1967.

Oilers head coach Tom Renney is well aware of the task his team has ahead of them. 

"Only on paper," Renney joked when asked if his 30th-place team would be underdogs heading into tomorrow night's game. "It's a great opportunity for us to improve ourselves, improve our reputation, to challenge ourselves in terms of our team play and expose our team to some very good hockey players and a good team."

The head coach also stressed that with the daily grind, motivation can be difficult but the most important thing was that the coaching staff continue to be upbeat and lead by example in that way.

"If we take on the appearance of being demoralized or lacking drive and ambitiion, that's contagious too," he said. "As a coaching staff, we feel the responsibilty for leading from that point of view and I have to say that our players are legitimate. It's authentic.

"You don't want to have to go through this too many times, obviously, but what they're doing with this experience and in our circumstance is pretty impressive."

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

Some of the younger players on the team have also been thrust into the role of leading by example with the influx of so many players from the Oklahoma City Barons in the past few weeks. 

Ryan Jones, 26, has only 171 NHL games under his belt but is now seen as one of those players with plenty of experience to share with the rookies.

"Those guys, I remember being in their position, you just come up and look for guys and learn from the things you do. It's just a matter of leading the way by example, there's not much that needs to be said. Everybody's a good hockey player at this point," said Jones. "If you need to calm them down or need them to relax, that's easy to do."

Jones did add that this season has been a lot more fun than last year despite the results being not much different overall.

"If there's one thing I'd like to pass on, it's that you can work hard and have fun at the same time."

Jordan Eberle mentioned that he has learned a lot from the older players on the team.

"I think a lot of it is what it takes to be a pro," he said on what he's learned this season. "If you look at some of the older guys, Gibby, Struddy, Horc and Hemmer when they weren't injured, you just see their demeanour around the rink and the way they approach the game."

On the flip side, despite only being 20 years old, Eberle is also seeing himself now in a bit of a leadership role, too. He's played more career games than six other Oilers on the current active roster.

"Most of my leading is trying to do it on the ice, making plays that will help our team win and stuff like that. That's the approach I take."


ONE-ON-ONE

Kurtis Foster

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Milan of Burnaby, BC submitted a question for Kurtis Foster.

MILAN: "If you could relive any one single moment in your hockey career (not just in the NHL) what would that be and why?"

KURTIS: "Probably my greatest hockey moment was my first year with Minnesota, within my first 20 games, we were playing Montreal at home and one of my good buddies, Mikko Koivu, it's his first game playing against Saku.

"In overtime, against Montreal, I score the OT winner on a power play. It was an amazing moment to go through but when you watch the replay and you see how excited Mikko is when he takes the puck from his brother and the puck ends up coming to me and I score, it was something I'll never forget."

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, with files from Tom Gazzola

THURSDAY, MARCH 31

OILERS vs. WILD:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

The Edmonton Oilers open a two-game road trip tonight in Minnesota, a city where the team has gone 15 consecutive games without a win. It's quite the contrast, considering that the first 15 times the Oilers met the Wild, it was Edmonton coming out on top with the exception of a lone overtime loss in 2002-03. The Oilers also picked up at least a point the first nine times the two sides met at Xcel Energy Center (7-0-1-1).

"I don't know how it happens. For some reason, some teams match up better than other teams," said tonight's starting goaltender, Nikolai Khabibulin. "Our focus is don't get down early, hopefully try to score first."

Oilers head coach Tom Renney welcomed the challenge as the Oilers try to win in Saint Paul for the first time since January of 2007.

"It is what it is and we have to accept that fact and take responsibility for the next contest, which is tonight, and go after the win," Renney began.

"Personally, I kind of like it," he continued. "We've got to have something to shoot for and it's a pretty good motivator tonight so let's not make it 16 and go for the W here."

OFFENCE NEEDED

With their injury woes, the Oilers have struggled offensively. During their recent stretch of 10 games without a win, the Oilers have only scored 11 goals - including four last Saturday night against Calgary.

"One of the things we do when we play our game is move the puck quickly so we have good puck speed. We have to take that quickness towards the net," said Renney. "You have to really access that blue paint and go beyond there."

"We're going to have to do a lot by committee anyway but certainly we won't have any chance if we don't go to the net."

BRULE BACK

One player who will help the offensive cause is Gilbert Brule, who returns to the lineup tonight.

"Bru comes in. We've got a little bit of a dinger on Colin Fraser, so the timing works out well," Renney said. "I wasn't sure what I would find this morning with Gilbert, quite honestly, but he said he felt great - as good as he's felt since he was working on getting better."

Brule also talked about being ready to go tonight.

"I'm happy to be back," said Brule. "I've just got to play my game tonight, bring energy, block shots, hit, take the puck hard to the net."

The centre also reflected on the tough season he's had, injury and illness-wise.

"It's been tough. It seems like I'm not able to get games going consistently. It's been play 20, miss 10, play four or five."

HOMECOMING FOR VANDEVELDE

Tonight marks a return by Chris VandeVelde to his home state of Minnesota as he prepares to play his first NHL game among family and friends.

"It's good for Chris," Renney remarked. "I'm happy for him. It's nice for him to be able to step up and he's really contributed. He's getting his feet wet with this NHL experience."

The Moorhead, Minnesota native - about three-and-a-half hours west of the Twin Cities area - had played games regularly at Xcel Energy Center while a member of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux in the WCHA Final Five.

"I'm very excited," said VandeVelde. "It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm familiar with the rink and I know there's a great atmosphere wih the fans and crowd. Hopefully we can come in here and steal two points."

WILD 4 - OILERS 2

Tom Gilbert had a goal and an assist and the Oilers outshot Minnesota decisively by a count of 35 to 22 but it wasn't enough as the Wild held on to defeat Edmonton 4-2 at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul on Thursday night.

Linus Omark scored the other goal for the Oilers.


Author: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com

 
TUESDAY, MARCH 29

OILERS vs. KINGS:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

It's the final game in the illustrious career of Oilers Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Rod Phillips but it's also the homecoming of a former Oiler as Dustin Penner faces his former team for the first time since being traded to the Kings less than a month ago.

Nikolai Khabibulin gets the start in goal tonight and the line combinations are expected to be the same, at least to start. Gilbert Brule and Kurtis Foster, both out with concussions, are not expected to play but are getting closer.

"They're not going to play," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney of Brule and Foster. "It's the same people. Combinations might change a little bit but the roster availability hasn't."

PENNER RETURNS

When asked if the team has any sort of plan in place to go head-to-head with the returning Dustin Penner, Renney was non-committal.

"We'll see what their lineup looks like first of all. They still have a player to integrate into their mix there. We'll see who that might be and where they end up and what that group of people look like. Then we'll determine from there whether we need to match-up," he began, noting that the Kings' injury to Anze Kopitar, out six weeks with a recently-suffered broken ankle, has thrown a wrench into what might be expected of the Kings lineup.

"There are people we have to pay attention to, and Dustin's one of them absolutely."

The departure of Dustin kicked off what ended up being a floodgate of player injuries throughout the month of March - a fact that Renney acknowledged but didn't want to use as an excuse.

"Trades are part of the game, as are injuries and all we've ever done is pay attention to the guys in our dressing room, the guys that are in front of us," he stated.

"We have respect for Pens as a teammate and as a player but we've really been paying attention to our game, our circumstance and not trying to feel sorry for ourselves or anything. We're an NHL team, we're going to prepare to pay regardless of who the opponent is. We really haven't dwelled on that."

As for Penner's initial reputation as a player when he first joined the team in 2007-08, Renney said by the time he came on board as an Associate Coach last season, Penner was a changed man.

"My first exposure to him was last year. We had a great relationship with him. Ever since I've been here, we had an appreciation for Dustin's ability to play. His physical assets were well-documented and he performed with those."

BOUNCING BACK

There were certainly some positives to take out of the Oilers' performance on Saturday night against the Flames, particularly

"We have every reason to believe we can win and we have every reason to know that we should put that effort in again."

"Our group, as much as the record suggests otherwise, have always tried to come to the rink to win a hockey game. I don't think that's going to change."

"I don't think the guys are going to struggle with the effort that's required to try to win a hockey game and hopefully the execution will be similar to what it was against Calgary, except for a couple glitches."

TALKING ROD

Tom Renney wasn't around for the majority of Rod Phillips' career but he acknowledged how special and unique the Hall of Famer truly is.

"He's a special guy, there's no question about that. You couldn't help but think at the luncheon that this is a great organization. They really take care of their people, they're proud of achievement, naturally, and they should be," Renney stated.

He went on to add that Phillips truly embodied everything Oilers. 

"Rod in his own way epitomizes what winning looks like and what commitment looks like. And loyalty," he said. "The comments that were made about him and on his behalf (at the luncheon) certainly suggests that he's outstanding at what he does. He's got his own unique signature to his work and I think that is also kind of 'Oiler'."

KINGS 2 - OILERS 0

Dustin Brown scored twice in the second period, while netminder Jonathan Bernier stopped all 32 shots he faced, as the Los Angeles Kings shut-out the Oilers 2-0 Tuesday night at Rexall Place.


Author: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com

 

 


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