THE TEAM TODAY: Re-Focus
Oilers return home, practice at Millennium Place & look back on six-game trip
RE-FOCUSSherwood Park, AB - Following a six-game road trip in which the Oilers returned home sporting a 2-4-0 record, including a three-game losing skid to wrap things up, the orange and blue opted to rest up yesterday prior to returning to the ice today in Sherwood Park.
Head Coach Tom Renney, eager to push the pace and demand the best from his squad this morning, commented on the club's current, less-than-desired streak.
"You're probably accurate," he said when asked about his team getting a wake-up call from the losses to Boston, Detroit and Chicago. "The bottom line is that we had a good start; and we had a good start because we were all on the same page and we placed a premium on what we did without the puck together.
"We weren't working together to get it back, to support it, to move it up the ice together. There was a real disconnection, but we believe we can come back to it. We've had enough good success, now, where I think we've got a good reference point on what our time has to look like in order to succeed."
"You could see it coming as the trip went on," he added.
The Oilers began the trip with a convincing, 60-minute game in which they toppled the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 back on Nov. 3 at Staples Center. A loss to Phoenix and another win vs. Montreal followed, but then the trip hit the skids; being on the wrong side of 6-3, 3-0 and 6-3 scores to close the roadie.
Ryan Smyth, 35, however, did his part to help his club come out on the winning side. The veteran winger scored seven points in six games, propelling his totals to a 10-7-17 stat line in 17 games this season.
"I look at every game as an opportunity," Smyth explained. "It's a blessing to play the game and I want to go out and contribute to the hockey club as best as I can. I've been around a little while and I want to show the experience that I've gained over the years."
While Smyth was (is) having a good run, others have been struggling. 20-year-old Taylor Hall has gone eight games without a goal and has amassed only three on the season (10 points in 16 games).
"Everybody goes through their ups and downs," No. 94 said. "You don't want to drag out your downs too long. It's about opportunity and when you get it, you need to take full advantage of it and run with it.
"You've got to come and compete."
In addition to his goalless drought, Hall recorded a mere assist, highlighted by a -5 rating on the Oilers' road trip. Smyth says that, while the talented sophomore has been mired in a dry spell, he doesn't sense that he or anyone else has started to show signs of disappointment.
"I don't see that creeping in," Smyth said about his teammates' irritation. "We're getting a little bit away from our game plan. The last little bit on the trip we played good teams, but we have great potential to keep up with those teams and we believe it in our locker room. It's a matter of executing the game plan, sticking to it and we'll get the end result."
HALL IN FOCUS
"We had a meeting this morning and it's all positive," Hall added. "We were looking at what we did wrong, especially in the Chicago game. We've got a couple practice days, which is probably good for our team.
"We have a good opponent coming in on Thursday (Ottawa) and we're trying to correct everything that we did wrong in the last couple games in our road trip, and we feel good about that."
Hall commented on his own game, but was mum in his approach. Overall, he wants to improve and understand it's a necessity; a team's counted-upon superstar has to come through with expected production, particularly when the group struggles to maintain a sound attack.
"No, I don't think so," he said about gripping his stick too tight. "It's tough to think like that. I know, eventually, it's going to turn around. I've got 65 more games to go in the season and that's the number of games I played last season, so I know that there's a long time to go."
Having seen what Hall can do in short order, scoring 22 goals and 42 points last season, Renney isn't concerned about No. 4's early-season slump.
"Taylor's always at his best when he's attacking," he said. "The bottom is line is you've got to come to the puck if you want it. You've got to put yourself in a good position to support the puck. You've also got to have your feet moving and anticipate. We have to make sure we get to pucks quick."
It's a message cast across the locker room as the Oilers look to get back on track.
"It's about making sure you don't let this experience of losing, the experience of fatigue, interrupt the way you have to play in order to have success."
THIS & THAT
While the Oilers were patrolling the north sheet at Millennium Place today, Ryan Whitney opted to take some time on the south-side with Skating & Skills Coach Steve Serdachny.
Whitney is still about 10 days away from returning to the lineup.
Cam Barker, who returned to Edmonton following the Oilers' loss to the Bruins with an ankle problem, will be out for up to four weeks.
Darcy Hordichuk began practicing with the Oilers in Montreal and is nearing a return.
"I got cleared by the doctor yesterday," he said to the media. "It's about getting some practices in with the guys and getting the game speed going. I'm hoping to come into the lineup, create some energy, bang some bodies and maybe drop the gloves."
With the need for additional scoring and chemistry to develop, the Oilers also debuted new line combinations today (click here to view them) - check this page daily to stay up-to-date on the lines.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
BLACKHAWKS 6 - OILERS 3The Oilers and Blackhawks traded goals in the game's remaining 55 minutes, but a pair of early tallies from the home side pushed Chicago to a two-goal advantage, and then some, that could never be overwritten; the Oilers dropped a 6-3 score to the Blackhawks Sunday night in Illinois.
AT THE MORNING SKATE
Chicago, IL – 12 nights, six cities, six games and seven flights: the Oilers' marathon road trip is about to come to a close. With a 20-minute morning skate at Chicago's United Center, the orange and blue are primed and prepared to take on the Blackhawks in an effort to end the swing with a 3-3, .500 record.
Following losses to the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and an equally skilled Detroit Red Wings squad in a back-to-back set, Head Coach Tom Renney wants to see a more balanced 60-minute attack vs. Chicago.
"We have to play our game," he explained. "I think what's happened, however, is that it vaporizes a little bit on us. We've got to stay with it and understand that if it's nothing-nothing going into the third, that's a good thing. If it's 1-1, that's fine.
"We've got to make sure that we play 60 minutes of hockey, understand who we are and play to our strengths. We want to learn more from winning now."
Theo Peckham, who played 18:05 the other night in Detroit while recording a -1 rating, agreed with his coach's assessment and commented on the team's need to bear down on more high-quality scoring chances.
"I don't think we're too happy with our performance [in Detroit]. The score indicated the game more so than the shot totals (30-24 Red Wings). For us it's about getting those quality scoring chances and not just shooting them in from the outside and keeping the shots close.
"It's about getting more net-drive and being more gritty in front of the net, and getting those nasty goals instead of looking for the pretty plays."
Against a team like the Blackhawks, who have scored 56 goals in 2011-12 to place second in the league's goals-for rankings, it's especially important.
"I think we need to make sure we're doing the simple things right," Peckham added. "Getting pucks out, getting pucks in; I know it's a cliché, but they're also true. It's what you have to do to win in this league."
QUEST FOR .500
The Oilers have gone 2-3-0 on the trip so far and have the chance to split the win-loss ratio with a victory in Chicago. The orange and blue are, at the moment, riding a two-game losing skid and are up against one of the NHL's most potent scoring attacks tonight.
"It's a big game," Ryan Jones said at the Oilers' morning skate. The 27-year-old winger has scored three goals and three assists this season, including one of each on the current trip. "Anytime you can go .500 on the road is usually a success; and especially a road trip like this when you're facing the caliber of the teams that we have on this trip.
"When we started out, .500 wasn't exactly our goal. I think we were aiming a little higher than that, but the situation that we're in right now is something we can't control."
Jones has scored one career goal vs. Chicago in 12 games and has had a good start to the season. With a chance to end the road trip on a strong note, the Chatham, ON native is well prepared for an expected challenge against one of the league's elite teams.
"One thing they do well is that they throw everybody at you," he said. "They'll have guys up on the rush, but at the same time they'll track back quick; you have a lot of back pressure. We have to keep our game simple, put it deep and force their D to play in their own end, and I think we'll have success.
"You're going to see a more simple game from us tonight."
WHO'S IN & WHO'S OUT
Ben Eager, who missed Friday's game in Detroit as a scratch, will be re-inserted vs. his former team. The 27-year-old played parts of three seasons with the Blackhawks, scoring 18 goals and 15 assists, while racking up 308 PIM in 144 regular season games.
According to the coach, No. 55 will play for sure, but the player in which he'll replace is still up in the air.
"I've got a game-time decision to make on that," Renney explained. "Ben will play; as to who comes out, I'm not sure yet. We'll see how it goes.
"I've got to make sure people are playing. I don't want guys out too long. We've got a good, young team here and people have to play. The bottom line is that it's not so much about a guy might not be doing on the ice, it's who's out and needing to get them back in."
It's expected that Anton Lander will be the odd-man out.
Also, Nikolai Khabibulin, 7-1-2, and his 1.18 goals-against average and .957 save percentage will return to the crease as the 38-year-old veteran gets the start against his ex-team as well.
Khabibulin played four seasons with Chicago, 202 games, posting a 90-80-24 record from 2005-2009.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
RED WINGS 3 - OILERS 0Detroit's Drew Miller, Niklas Kronwall and Valtteri Filppula each scored, while Jimmy Howard stopped all 24 attempts to blank the Oilers 3-0 Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Nikolai Khabibulin got the start in goal, posting 27 saves in his first regulation-time loss of 2011-12.
AT THE OILERS' HOTEL
Detroit, MI - Following a 6-3 loss to the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins one night ago at TD Garden, the Oilers hopped on the team's charter and darted to Detroit, landing and getting to bed at around 2:00am ET.
As such, the Oilers opted to hold a meeting at the team's downtown hotel prior to addressing the media.
BACK IN THE LINEUP
Tonight the Oilers look to rebound with a new lineup. Ben Eager, who played 6:55 last night, recording a -2 rating and zero hits, will sit out. Magnus Paajarvi, who's been a scratch in the Oilers' past two contests, will get back in to face a club (and opposing players) he grew up admiring.
"I'm excited to be back into the lineup," he said. "Just go out there and play."
That attitude is a must, considering the Oilers struggled to keep the game simple in a tough road barn last night. No. 91 is well prepared, and commented on the discussion he's been having with the group's bench boss on getting back in.
"We've been talking back and forth about small details," he said about his relationship with Head Coach Tom Renney. "It's been an ongoing dialogue, and there's always something you need to improve. It's been small details and I can't say one and I can't say 10. It's a lot of things."
Renney didn't divulge the details, but did comment on the player's obvious skill and attention to what he needs to do his better round out his game.
"He's got everything you want in a player," he said. "What needs now is an opportunity, again based on some feedback and an opportunity to watch and learn, and step up. That's all any player ever wants.
"If a player is struggling, they just want to make sure they get the opportunity to do something about it; and it's an opportunity that has to be earned."
The 20-year-old has registered a mere assist in 13 games so far this season, but agreed that his time in the press box can be considered an enlightening experience.
"It's part of the game," he explained. "I learned from last year when I was scratched. It didn't feel good at all, but this year I handled it a lot better. I know how it is and I know what it means. I feel a lot better coming into this scratch than last year for sure."
In terms of battling those goal-scoring demons, Paajarvi's approach to getting on the scoresheet tonight in Detroit is as simple as can be.
"Just do it."
The Swede's inclusion won't be the only change to tonight's roster. Andy Sutton, who was suspended back on Oct. 28 for his illegal check to the head of Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog, makes his much-anticipated return to the lineup tonight.
"It was stretched out for what seemed like a long period of time, but I'm looking forward to getting back into the lineup," the 36-year-old said.
"It's always tough to watch, especially when the team's not doing well. It was good to see us get some wins, especially early. We've get a few things slide, in my opinion, in the last couple games and we need to shore up a couple issues and come out with a better performance tonight.
"That's the main thing for me," he added about the Oilers' puck management. "We need to do a better job of getting pucks moving quickly, and getting it behind their defence and getting on the forecheck. That was the key to our success early on."
According to the NHL scoresheet, the Oilers gave the puck away seven times vs. Boston; a miscalculation, perhaps, as the orange and blue struggled to maintain possession, allowing the opponent to generate scoring chances at will as a result.
"That's huge," Renney said. "So much of our success comes from being able to manage the puck appropriately; out-numbering people when we have it, out-numbering people when we don't, quickness to it, quickness from it, all those things; putting it in the right locations.
"When you see the best teams in the league doing it, it adds to the mystique of giving it up to get it back, and I think sometimes we have to understand the value of that.
"It's not rocket science."
Detroit, on the other hand, takes great pride in puck possession and can beat their opponents with a relentless attack. The key? Don't turn it over.
"They're probably one of the best in the league at it," said Paajarvi, who had a bird's eye view of the Oilers' struggle one night ago. "Turnovers are so crucial right now. Everybody is skating back so hard and as soon as you get a turnover, you have people taking advantage. It's a big part of the game right now."
"They do have a lot of quick guys that dart around; they change lanes a lot and cross over, so we've got to have some good communication and hold our lanes and keep tight gaps, and obviously have good awareness of where guys are," Sutton added. "They're not necessarily a north-south team, so we've got to have our head on a swivel for sure.
"Everything's building towards the post-season, and you have to use the depth of your team to combat the great teams, so we're well prepared for that tonight."
Sutton will skate in Cam Barker's place, who traveled home to Edmonton this morning with an injured ankle. The 25-year-old blueliner was wearing a walking boot last night.
Nikolai Khabibulin (7-0-2, 0.98 goals-against average and .964 save percentage) gets the call between the pipes as the Oilers look to improve to 3-2-0 on the current six-game road trip.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick