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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: The Morning After

Injury updates on Hemsky & Hordichuk plus RNH & Potter reflect on last night

Sunday, 16.10.2011 / 2:41 PM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: The Morning After

  SUNDAY, OCTOBER 16

THE MORNING AFTER

With Selena Gomez setting up shop at Rexall Place, the ice wasn't available for the Oilers. However, instead of skating at Millennium Place, the team took it as an opportunity to get some dryland training in on the heels of a 4-3 setback versus the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

It also gave the team some time to reflect on what was an entertaining night, albeit one that saw the Oilers come away with zero points.

"I was curious about the couple thousand Vancouver Canucks fans, who got the memo that if we (throw hats on the ice) again there would be a minor penalty to the Edmonton Oilers. I was sure there was going to be another couple thousand hats on the ice," laughed Oilers head coach Tom Renney.

"That said, it was a good night for Ryan - no question of that. Outside of the outcome I thought it was a pretty good night for us. That's basically what I tried to dwell on, was our team game."

When the hats rained down while play was going on, it was quite a moment for the team on Hockey Night in Canada. Renney talked about the moment.

"I don't do it justice by suggesting I didn't get caught up in the moment but quite honestly I tried not to. I'm trying to coach the team to a win."

Reflecting on the event the morning after, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins talked about missing out on the victory first and foremost.

"It was all very exciting," said Nugent-Hopkins. "but it's disappointing that we didn't get the win."

With six games left before the team has to make a decision on whether to send him back to junior, Nugent-Hopkins is keeping a grounded point of view despite having scored four of the team's five goals this season so far.

"There's a lot of other little things I need to do to get a definite spot on the team. I'm going to be working as hard as I can at both ends of the ice."

NO SURGERY FOR HEMSKY

Ales Hemsky addressed the media on Sunday to talk about his shoulder injury for the first time since getting an MRI.

"I'm feeling pretty good, actually," said Hemsky. "I had an MRI yesterday and it didn't show anything from the surgery. The labrum is fine, I'm just a little weak."

"It's a little sore, I'm a little weaker. I just have to get a little stronger and then I'll be okay."

Hemsky was at a loss to explain exactly what happened on the ice in Minnesota to lead to his injury.

"Nothing really happened," he said. "If I play with it I can get hurt again so I just need to get some strength in it and I'll be fine."

He added that this injury does not necessarily mean a setback to the shoulder injury which ended his season last year.

"I have a little pain, I have to get rid of it. I'm a little weaker than I was. That's my only main concern right now. My shoulder is solid."

The prognosis for Hemsky is good and he's very likely to be back in the lineup before the end of the month.

"It could take five to seven days to get rid of the pain and then I just have to get stronger. It could take five days, could take seven, nothing really major," he said. "I don't want to be hurt again and miss six months of the season. That's the only main concern."

The Czech winger added that he could start skating again in five to seven days.

HORDICHUK OUT, EAGER IN?

Another player adding his name to the injury list was Darcy Hordichuk. Hordichuk injured his right knee following a collision with Vancouver's Keith Ballard.

"I thought he was making a pass and looking away, then when I went to finish the hit he kind of stuck his hip out and caught my knee in an awkward position," stated Hordichuk.

The rough-and-tumble fourth liner added that he's already starting to feel better.

"It's just a matter of getting the swelling down," he said. "I think we're going to do an MRI and see where it stands."

Injuring a knee is nothing new for Hordichuk, who experienced something similar several years ago.

"I tweaked it a couple years ago. It doesn't seem too too bad. It's getting better and better as we ice it. It's just one of those things."

If Hordichuk is out for the next week or more, Renney has an easy solution in terms of a replacement as Ben Eager looks to be nearly ready to return.

"Ben's come a long way here in the last week. We've, as usual, been prudent with that type of injury and I think we're in a real good position to get him going here."

Renney added that Eager skated at Millennium Place this morning and will skate again with the team during Monday's morning skate.

With only 11 healthy forwards not including Eager, if he can't go the team will likely skate seven defencemen.

WHITNEY GETTING CLOSER

One of those seven defencemen could potentially be Ryan Whitney, who's getting closer.

"He could be," said Renney. "I'll talk to him after he skates today and he'll skate again in the morning."

The head coach added that while Eager has passed his fitness test, Whitney has not yet been tested.

"As you know, there's a little bit of a protocol I like to do with guys before they get back in the lineup. I haven't been able to do that with Whit yet."

Renney did point out that just because he hasn't does not rule Whitney out for either Monday or Tuesday.

"There are ways that I can look at it quickly but there's no better situation to do that then out on the ice so we'll take look at it in the morning."

POTTER PERFORMS

Corey Potter played his first game of the season last night and performed quite well with an assist in nearly 20 minutes of ice-time. Renney was happy with what he saw from the 27-year-old rearguard. 

"I thought Corey was real steady. As I said before, he's got a real adult, mature look to his game and doesn't get too rattled. He delivers the puck with precision," Renney said. "I liked his game. We'll see where it goes from here moving forward but I thought he brought an element to our back-end that we required and that was good puck movement and good presence on the defensive side."

Having been Vice President of Player Development as well as head coach of the New York Rangers between 2002 and 2009, Renney was very familiar with 2003 Rangers draft pick Potter.

"I have some history with him. I didn't just hope for this, I expected it."

Potter added that the familiarity has helped him here in training camp.

"I've been playing power play in the past. When Tom was in New York I was a little bit of a power play player there. I was familiar with that and we practiced it so I was ready for it."

The blueliner pointed out that the team pushed hard to bring him in last summer, too.

"There was a little bit of interest last summer to come here but I chose to go a different route," he said. "This was definitely my first option (this summer)."

-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com

  SATURDAY, OCTOBER 15

CANUCKS 4 - OILERS 3

GAME ESSENTIALS
 GAME DAY
 POST-GAME VIDEO
 POST-GAME AUDIO
 THREE STARS
1. R. Nugent-Hopkins - EDM
2. Sami Salo - VAN
3. Chris Higgins - VAN
 UPDATE
With the loss, the Oilers' record drops to 1-1-1.
 WHAT'S NEXT
The Oilers conclude a quick two-game homestand as the Nashville Predators visit Rexall Place on Ryan Smyth bobblehead night.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recorded his first career NHL hat trick, but the Canucks stayed step-for-step, besting the Oilers 4-3 in a highly-entertaining Saturday night tilt at Rexall Place.

Devan Dubnyk got the start in goal, posting 22 saves in the loss.

AT THE MORNING SKATE

There were eight days between the Oilers' pre-season schedule and regular season opener vs. Pittsburgh; another three followed, but now the team's 2011-12 slate has reached a more normal rotation.

The Oilers have collected three of a possible four points and a 1-0-1 record to this point, and will be looking to improve upon that in the next four days when three games vs. Vancouver, Nashville and Calgary dominate the schedule.

Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin have split the ‘tending duties to this point, each recording a 0.92 goals-against average and .971 save percentage in 65 minutes.

Dubnyk, 25, will get the nod between the pipes tonight. The sophomore netminder has played a career 292 minutes vs. Vancouver, notching a 2-1-1 record, 1.85 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

  Current Line Combinations

The starting goalie isn't the only lineup change heading into this evening's matchup, either. Linus Omark will make his return in place of Ales Hemsky, whose sore shoulder will keep him out.

"You don't want to sit in the press box," Omark explained. "I'm going to be ready tonight and do my best out there. We beat [Vancouver] twice last season near the end, so we know what to expect.

"They're a really good team, but we are too. It's going to be a tough game, but we'll go hard from the beginning and try to score some goals."

Corey Potter will also slot in, lining up with 14-year veteran Andy Sutton on the team's third pairing; Jeff Petry is the odd man out.

Potter spent the 2010-11 season with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, playing in 75 games and recording seven goals and 37 points. The 27-year-old potted one assist in two pre-season games.

THE DIVISION RIVAL

Darcy Hordichuk played two seasons and 129 games with the Canucks from 2008-2010. The 31-year-old tough-guy is eagerly anticipating going head-to-head against his former team.

Back when he signed on Jul. 1 to a one-year, $825,000 deal, Hordichuk wasn't shy to voice his intentions:

"Hopefully Vancouver's going out and getting a tough guy right now, because I'll definitely be going after some of their key players."

The message is the same three months later, but his approach was much more reserved.

"Every time you play one of your old teams, there's always some excitement," he said at the team's morning skate. "It should be a great game tonight, so we'll see what happens. I'll go out there and do what I do best: bang some bodies.

"I think [Vancouver's] got a lot of skill up there, so we've got to make sure we're being physical and being hard on our checks. We've got a similar team that they did a couple years ago with a lot of young, skilled players that skate pretty well. I think we've got to get pucks on Luongo early and see what happens."

On Thursday in Minnesota, Edmonton struggled to keep up for 35 minutes, surrendering 25 shots in the second in third periods, while producing only eight on Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom.

"We understand the mistakes that we were making," Hordichuk said. "We weren't getting pucks deep and were trying to get too fancy; that's all part of maturing as a team. I think going into tonight we have a better understanding of what needs to be done to have success."

Taylor Hall, who will be skating on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle tonight, agreed with No. 16's assessment.

"Our consistency," he said about what needed to improve vs. Vancouver. "We played sub-bar periods [vs. Pittsburgh]. In Minnesota we played very well in the opening period, but then our second and third periods weren't very good.

Hall is naturally excited about playing on Nugent-Hopkins' wing, which helped register some pre-season (and early-season) success.

"He got the big goal at the end, and everyone was cheering for him and chanting his name. That was pretty cool for me to be out there for that.

"We did play pretty well for a couple games in the pre-season; but it was the pre-season and we've got to take whatever we can from that. We've got to focus on doing the right things tonight and limit the time in our end and we'll do good."

-- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

  FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14

STORY ON SPECIAL TEAMS

14 hours removed from a 17th straight loss at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN, the Oilers returned home to Rexall Place for an up-tempo one-hour practice.

28-year-old winger Ales Hemsky did not emerge, leaving only 25 players on the ice and allowing Head Coach Tom Renney to assemble new line combinations:

  View Line Combinations

Hemsky will have an MRI on his sore right shoulder later today and will be re-assessed tomorrow. The Oilers’ bench boss did not rule him out for tomorrow’s game vs. Vancouver.

"We'll have a better idea [tomorrow] morning," Renney explained. "It's good that we can do this as quickly as we can to help ease everybody's mind quick."

Hemsky played only 5:28 last night before leaving late in the opening period. While the veteran has struggled with crippling hits in the past, his latest ailment came under an unusual circumstance – a simple dump-in, even.

"I didn't get a chance to talk with him at all through the course of the game," Renney said. "I knew that he was out at a point in time, and in talking to him later it had settled down. He had a good night and it had settled down even more.

"I think it was a sweeping motion with the puck; making a pass or making a play."

PENALTY KILL PROWESS

The Oilers have collected three of a possible four points in 2011-12, and much of that early-season success can be credited to the team’s superb work on the penalty-kill.

Having killed 10 power-plays on 11 chances, the Oilers are ranked eighth in the NHL with a 91.7-percent success rate. The team’s captain has played an integral role, playing over 12 minutes shorthanded through two games.

"It's got us points in both games and given us a chance to get the win," Horcoff said. "We take pride in it. We're showing some real good signs out there. Special teams are a huge part of the game.

"We've changed some things. We've got six guys that are comfortable with each other. We're having success on faceoffs out there, too, which is a huge part of the PK. It's early so we don't need to talk about too much too soon."

Ladislav Smid, who has averaged over 20 minutes in both games so far, has blocked nine shots on the season and has taken on an increased role across the board; particularly on the penalty-kill and with the deduction of Ryan Whitney, his game has been a pleasant surprise.

"I like it," he said. "Obviously we really miss Ryan and hopefully he's going to be back soon, but for me it's a good chance. I'm trying to prove to my teammates and coaches that I'm capable of handling it."

Smid also commented on the team’s blistering success on the man-disadvantage.

"I think we've got a bunch of hard-working guys on the PK," he said. "You've got to show some pride. You have to do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net: play smart, have good positioning game and block some shots.

"For sure," he added when asked about his ever-increasing plate. "I don't really try to over-think things. When I'm out there I don't want any shots to get through."

"You've got to show some character. We've got lots of character in this room. As a group, we've been stepping up and we've got to keep it going."

SPUTTERING POWER-PLAY

Along with Detroit, Anaheim, New York, Columbus and Winnipeg, Edmonton is still without a power-play goal. The Oilers have had six chances, all unsuccessful, and are eager to right the ship in that regard.

"It's always easy watching from the press box or on the bench," No. 10 explained. "We've gone against two teams that can kill penalties pretty well, too, so we've got to give them credit where credit is due.

"I think when it's struggling, you've got to get pucks to the point, get to open lanes, get pucks on net and get into some out-manned situations."

Super sophomore Taylor Hall will, in all likelihood, be playing on a new line vs. Vancouver. Joined by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, he’s looking to step up to a higher level in another crucial divisional matchup.

"No matter who you're playing with, it's the same principles that you have to work with," the 19-year-old explained. "That's a huge thing for our line. [Vancouver is] a good team. They played very well against Detroit last night. They're very close to the team they were in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last year."

Stepping up and improving the team’s 0.0-percent power-play should help.

"I'm not sure," Hall said when asked about what needed to improve. "We really didn't get in a whole lot on Minnesota; we weren't coming out together on the breakout. It's tough to score goals that way."

The Oilers have been shorthanded 11 times, but have only been up a man on six occasions early this season. Hall believes his club can do better in securing their own opportunities.

"That might be a good point," he said. "We created so many penalties with our speed and puck possession [vs. Pittsburgh]."

-- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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