THE TEAM TODAY: Return to Rexall
Oilers finally make their return to Rexall Place ice in preparation for the Sens tomorrow
UP-TEMPOThe Oilers returned to Rexall ice this afternoon for the first time in over two weeks. With the team currently mired in a three game losing streak, it was back to basics and that meant some good old-fashioned hard work.
Head Coach Tom Renney was looking to see the push-back that is a trademark of successful teams. He set the expectations high and the result was an hour-long high tempo practice.
"The frustrating part for us now is when we lose, we know we probably shouldn't have. We're beating ourselves," said Renney.
The practice included a number of drills focusing on 1-on-1 and 3-on-3 battles. The emphasis on winning those battles along the boards and in front of the net was evident in the 'compete level' of the players today. "We have to get back to working as a unit and winning the little battles all over the ice," said Renney.
One of the key learning points that the team has taken from the long road trip was that, while losses will happen, it's how you bounce back that makes a great team.
"There's not much we can control about the games that we just played, that we just lost, we can just learn from the mistakes we made and move forward," said Ryan Jones.
The Oil will now turn their attention to the Ottawa Senators as they look to get back in the win column Thursday night. With Ottawa coming off a win over Calgary on Tuesday night, the Oilers recognized that it was more important to concentrate on getting back to what they do best in today's practice.
"We take a look at the video, see their tendencies (Ottawa), but It's up to us to play our game, control the tempo and get the two points," said Theo Peckham.
The Oilers will also be looking for more secondary scoring as they enter Thursday's game against Ottawa. A few talented forwards have had a difficult time finding the scoresheet so far this season and it is starting to hurt the team. One such forward who may get their chance to make an impression in the coming games is Magnus Paajarvi.
"I just want to play good hockey right now and be out there as much as I can for the team. I'm going to do whatever it takes," said Paajarvi.
The Oilers follow up Thursday's game against Ottawa with one against Chicago Saturday night. The team will then head out on the road again to play the next four.
Oilers forward Sam Gagner is currently suffering from a stiff back that saw him miss today's practice. Gagner is questionable for tomorrow's game against the Senators although coach Renney said that he will "probably" play.
Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney was on the ice at Rexall today but wore a baby-blue non-contact jersey. Whitney skated for about 45 minutes before leaving the ice and will not be in the lineup tomorrow.
The line combinations remained mostly intact at practice today. The top line continued to see Nugent-Hopkins centering Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, with the second unit placing Horcoff between Smyth and Hemsky. The third line had Belanger centering Jones and Lander, while the fourth unit had Petrell and Paajarvi with Hordichuk and Eager rotating in.
Head Coach Tom Renney also said if Gagner can't go tomorrow, he may experiment with Paajarvi at centre.
-- Travis Knee, edmontonoilers.com
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