THE TEAM TODAY: Highs & Lows
Oilers comment on emotion, excitement & depleted D corps at Friday's practice
HIGHS & LOWSEdmonton, AB - Following a disappointing 5-2 loss one night ago to the Ottawa Senators, the Oilers returned to Rexall Place ice Friday morning, skating in an up-tempo one-hour practice in preparation for tomorrow's rematch with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The orange and blue trailed 3-0 after one period and showed a whimper in the team's 40-minute comeback quest, scoring once but allowing another en route to a 4-1 deficit with only 20 minutes to go.
Each team mustered only three shots on goal in that middle period, too. It was a return home to Rexall Place spoiled by an uninspired attack, which led to a loss (again, the Oilers' fourth straight) buoyed by void emotion.
"I thought we came out pretty well, to be honest," said Ben Eager, who played 10:40 and dished out two hits in yesterday's contest. "But when we get scored on, we have to bounce back and come out with an even better effort.
"When you're down 2-0 in this league, the game is far from over; we had to keep battling and sticking with our game plan, and we didn't do that. We've got to be better for sure."
Eager, 27, has played 14 games this season, averaging 7:18 per game and doling 11 hits in 2011-12. He knows he needs to be better, but he also understands he's not alone in accepting blame for the team's recent skid.
"I think guys have to get excited to play," he said. "It's no one else; you can't look to other people to get excited to play the game. You've got to do whatever it takes to get going. We're all men here and we've got to get our work boots on.
"There are 82 games and you've got to be ready to play every one, otherwise you get exposed like we did last night. I've played 14 games now. I've started to get my legs and a better opportunity here. I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help the team; bring energy and do what got me here, really."
Head Coach Tom Renney agreed, adding that, while the team needs to bring more energy in closing the gap on the scoreboard, a calculated response in other areas must bear equal importance.
"That's a good point," he explained. "Staying engaged in the game, making sure that the next shift has importance, has value to it. There's a great saying that only the opponent knows when the knockout punch is coming. For us, we have to play our opponent that way. They need to know that we're going to keep coming and coming and coming.
"That's developing that level of maturity for your team, that you're relentless. You want to make sure that it's incumbent with your reputation."
In last night's game, the Oilers' injured list grew substantially.
Andy Sutton skated in the warm-up, came out for the pre-game introductions, but headed back to the locker room prior to the national anthem with a groin issue.
Corey Potter also went down late in the second period when he collided with a Senator; he completed his shift, but skated to the bench with an obvious limp. It was later determined that Potter had endured a sprained ankle.
Both players are scheduled to have MRIs today; neither is likely to be available for tomorrow's game vs. Chicago. As such, the Oilers recalled a pair from the farm: Taylor Chorney and Colten Teubert.
Chorney was waived by the Oilers on Oct. 10 and was claimed by the St. Louis Blues. He spent a little over a month in Missouri, skating in two games before he was assigned and placed back on the waiver-wire. Chorney has played in 56 career games with the Oilers and will get another chance tomorrow night.
Teubert, meanwhile, played in two games on the Oilers' recent six-game road swing, but was sent down once Cam Barker had been cleared to return and Andy Sutton's suspension expired.
With Barker and Sutton down once more, in addition to Ryan Whitney's ongoing absence and budding call-ups looking to impress, the Oilers' existing corps will be counted on to step up.
"Any time a player goes down, it's an unfortunate situation," said Jeff Petry, who ranked third on the Oilers with an average TOI of 20:35 per game. "It's tough, but you've got to continue to push forward. I've got to tweak [my game] a little bit. I don't want to change it too much."
"There will probably be more responsibility," Tom Gilbert added. "We've lost some key guys, so we'll have some younger guys in the lineup, and it's great for them to get experience. But I've got to make sure I step up."
You bet. That applies to everyone.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
SENATORS 5 - OILERS 2Goals by Ottawa's Colin Greening and Kaspars Daugavins nine seconds apart in the opening period spurred the Senators attack, propelling the enemies to an early 2-0 lead; three more were added as the visitors cruised to a commanding 5-2 win over the Oilers Thursday night.
Nikolai Khabibulin got the start in goal, posting four saves on seven shots. Devan Dubnyk played the remaining two periods, making seven saves on nine shots. Anton Lander registered his first-career NHL goal, while the Oilers' other tally was potted by Ryan Jones.
AT THE MORNING SKATE
Edmonton, AB – In the building where the Oilers are 6-1-1, the orange and blue returned home to Rexall Place for a 20-minute morning skate in preparation for tonight's battle with the Ottawa Senators.
The Oilers' last game at Rexall Place was played on Oct. 30 when the St. Louis were dropped by a 4-2 score; 18 days later, they're back and ready to win. Since that game, however, the home side went 2-4-0, dropping three straight to conclude the team's marathon six-game road trip.
Attention at this morning's practice was keyed on how to continue the Oilers' hot streak at home.
"We have to come back to what's been good to us with respect to being sound defensively, hounding the puck, reloading hard, making sure there are passing options right away and pushing the pace," Head Coach Tom Renney explained during his pre-game interview at Rexall Place.
"We had a tough road trip, but we're 6-4 in our last 10," Eric Belanger added. "If we win tonight, we're right back where we want to be. We have to stay positive, because Ottawa's playing well right now, so we need to make sure we're ready to go."
Belanger, 33, is still without a goal in the 2011-12 season, but has had his share of chances, hitting several goal-posts in his quest to dent the twine. He's come close, sure, but with a mere two assists this season, he needs to be better.
"For sure," he agreed. "I would like to get more goals, no question. You go through stretches like this in a season, and I'm going through it right now; but I know when I score one, I'll get a bunch in a row. You've got to stay positive and keep working at it. We're still in good shape here, so I'm not panicking."
With the Oilers' counted-upon scorers generating the bulk this season, including Ryan Smyth, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and, to a lesser degree, Taylor Hall, the need is there. They've contributed to over 50-percent of the orange and blue's totals, while assistance has been scarce.
"I don't see frustration, but to determine that you'd have to ask him," Renney said of Belanger. "He's worked very, very hard this year for us in every aspect of the game. I like how complete he is as a player. You'd like that good intention and hard work to translate into goals, but it doesn't happen all the time.
"The most important thing is that it happens in a timely fashion, and we could certainly use scoring from a number of people, Eric included, but he's not alone."
In helping to ease the load, Hall, RNH and Eberle will be reunited once more. The trio has combined to lead the Oilers' scoring attack and will be put in a position to do it again tonight against the up-and-coming Senators.
"There's a strategy between how we use our personnel," Renney said. "If there's synergy and a complementary synergy between players, you don't like to change that. At the same time, you sometimes have to change your roster according to your opponent and what they've done lately, and who's hot for them."
"There are going to be ups and downs throughout the year," said Taylor Hall, who's gone eight straight games without a goal. "Your season is determined by how you get out of your slumps and how get back from that, so that's what I'm trying to do now."
Sam Gagner missed yesterday's practice with a sore back and did not skate again today at Rexall Place. The 22-year-old has missed six games this season, and has now working on his sixth without registering a point. He will sit out and his status is undetermined for future games; Magnus Paajarvi will likely slot into Gagner's spot, perhaps down the middle.
"I need to go out there and play good hockey," he said. "I'm the same person and the same player. I need to go out there and do a couple things right; not focusing too much or thinking too much.
"Good teams don't lose too many in a row," No. 91 added. "It's a really good opportunity to get pumped for the fans and get a win here. That would be huge for us."
Nikolai Khabibulin (7-2-2), along with his 1.52 goals-against average and .945 save percentage, makes his 12th start of the season tonight.
Tom Renney revealed at this morning's press conference that D man Cam Barker would miss up to three months, requiring surgery on his ankle.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
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