THE TEAM TODAY: The Captain's Lead
Shawn Horcoff comments on his rebound season, Wild expectations & more
THE CAPTAIN'S LEADEdmonton, AB - Following a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators one night ago, the Oilers returned to the ice for a spirited one-hour practice at Rexall Place.
While the Oilers have given up leads (2-1 in Colorado and 1-0 vs. Nashville) en route to two straight losses, Head Coach Tom Renney wasn't keen on putting the boots to his squad in this morning's session; it was another learning experience in which the orange and blue will recover and rebound from.
Although the Oilers dropped to a 12-10-2 record in the process, encouraging signs continued to shine amid disappointing scores. The Oilers' captain, Shawn Horcoff, played 22:52, recorded four shots on goal and lit it up in the dot, posting a 61-percent success rate to lead his team.
No. 10 has endured tough times in recent seasons, playing in only 47 games in 2010-11 as a pair of injuries limited his availability and production on the scoresheet; all told, he registered nine goals and 27 points last year.
Healthy and ever-determined, Horcoff has rebounded in 2011-12. In 24 games, he's notched seven goals and 16 points, along with a solid -2 rating in an incredible 20:20 average TOI per game.
"I feel better, I feel great," the captain said, smiling, when asked about his rebound season. "Last year was pretty good, too, but I ran into a couple tough injuries that kept me out of the lineup; it was pretty frustrating, as you can imagine.
"This season, I've got lots of energy, my legs feel good and I feel as though I'm creating a lot for this team right now, which is most important."
Not only has he reestablished his name as one of the team's most dangerous two-way centres, but he's done so in an environment where leadership reigns supreme. The Oilers' raw skill as garnered great returns to this point, but has needed a strong hand to protect tough assignments against the league's most threatening counter-attacks.
As such, the 33-year-old veteran is counted upon to lead, produce and guide the youngsters through thick and thin, both in the locker room and on the ice.
"Yeah," said an agreeable Renney, who's also seen a turnaround in No. 10's game. "I think what Horc's done is really taken the responsibility as captain of this team to lead in lots of ways. He always has such a great attitude. Compliance is the wrong word, but he really buys into coaching and systems and really appreciates the effort that other people put into becoming a winner.
"He's always worked extremely hard, but what I like about what's happening now, and I think the young guys have helped do that, is they've added some vigor."
Playing through pain is one thing, but the mental aspect of dealing with multiple (and repeated) injuries puts a ‘strain' on a player's attitude, even when his body says otherwise. Horcoff was forced to deal with that when, in 2007-08 during an all-star season in which he scored 21 goals and 50 points, a separated shoulder ended his campaign 53 games in.
"I came back from a quad contusion last season and that stuck with me for a good month," he recalled, noting the resemblance to the challenge he went head-to-head with three seasons ago. "Even though you're playing, you don't have the same pop because you've got this blood thing; a blood clot in your muscle, there, that's not allowing you to play as well you could be.
"Obviously dealing with the ankle break was tough there, too, and my season ended. It was tough last year, but it gave me a good opportunity to come back, have a good summer and really re-focus on training so I could come into the season in as best shape as I could, both mentally and physically."
WILD ONE AHEAD
For the second time in a week, the Oilers and Wild are set to do battle tomorrow night. This time, the site will be back at Rexall Place, where the home side dropped an Oct. 20 meeting 2-1 in a shootout.
"They're playing good hockey," Horcoff explained. "They're a team that's really built around good defence and we're a team that, when we're playing that way, are successful at it, too. Our biggest problem is that we get away from that a little bit and we beat ourselves as we get away from our game plan.
"Tomorrow we'll have a renewed focus. We had a good practice today, so we're going to be ready."
Minnesota has long been known as a team that's dedicated to sitting back and letting the play come to them; not forcing the issue, in order to buy time and pounce on their opponents' errors to create a strong counter-attack and, ultimately, win the game.
"You bet," the captain agreed. "And it is frustrating, but you've got to be patient. Sometimes that bodes well for us, when we're playing that style and getting pucks deep and praying on teams' turnovers, that's when we're at our best. It's going to be a good test for us tomorrow night."
Renney agreed, adding that there could be some extra motivation heading into tomorrow's clash. The Oilers led or were placed second in the NHL's Northwest Division for quite some time, but dropped to third and out of a post-season spot with yesterday's loss to Nashville.
"We don't want to relinquish any more than we already have with whatever status or respect we may have gained to this point," he said. "We really have to stay the course here and stay very, very disciplined. We've got to play the game on our toes, not on our heels.
"We should have higher expectations of ourselves," Renney added. "It bugged me this morning when I looked [at the standings] and saw 11th.
"It kind of pissed me off."
IN & OUT
Andy Sutton skated once again this morning and has been cleared to get back into the lineup. The 36-year-old has missed six games due to groin pull.
"I think I'm close," he said. "I did Tom (Renney)'s test today and I did well, so we shall see."
"We'll see how he's making out in the morning, and we'll decide on that then," added Renney.
Anton Lander ("maintenance day," described by Renney) did not skate today; nor did Ben Eager, who continues to deal with a nagging back issue.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
PREDATORS 2 - OILERS 1Jordan Eberle opened the scoring 7:07 in, but the Predators sank two unanswered, including the go-ahead goal with 7:39 to play, edging the Oilers 2-1 Monday night at Rexall Place.
Nikolai Khabibulin made his 16th start of the season, posting 29 saves on the Predators' 31 shots.
AT THE MORNING SKATE
Edmonton, AB - Following a four-game road trip in which the Oilers split the set with a .500, 2-2-0 record, the boys are back in town and read to make hay in an extended six-game homestand beginning tonight vs. the Nashville Predators.
On the heels of Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers are preparing for tonight's clash having lost more than two points in the team's last outing over the weekend.
Taylor Hall took a crunching opening-period hit from Colorado's Colin Wilson, prompting the 20-year-old to leave the game favouring his shoulder; the winger returned moments later, but received a cross-check on his next time out, sending him to the room once more with a low-hanging arm.
Hall didn't return and will be unavailable to go tonight, as he'll undergo an MRI later today to determine a timeline.
The Oilers' whispered response was a concern, but tough-guy Darcy Hordichuk promises a more robust and preventative measure tonight.
"There's no doubt that (Colin) Wilson might drop the gloves every once in a while," he recalled. "You try to get out there and engage him, but you've always got to look at the score of the game. You realize he might not always be interested, but at the same time you've got to send a message."
No. 16 was instrumental in the Oilers' 5-1 beating of the Minnesota Wild one night earlier, drawing eight minutes in penalties and getting under the skin of Brad Staubitz; which helped, too, considering the Oilers completed the game having gone 1-for-4 on the power-play.
So much of the Oilers' response is dependent on the opponent, Hordichuk explains.
"You want to do something, but at the same time, I caught him once near the end and let him know we were going to go, but I never saw him again. It's a long season and you've got to be watching the scoreboard closely, but you also want to let guys know that they can't do that.
"There needs to be a response; you want to do more and hold guys accountable, and that's I'm supposed to do out there."
Tonight the Oilers will be up against a similar opponent. Jordin Tootoo, who, in 22 games, has plastered his enemies with 46 hits this season, will be running and gunning to punish the Oilers' skilled talent. Hordichuk, along with his eager teammates, will be determined to keep him in check.
"There's no doubt that you're going to try and calm guys down like that and let them know early, but they've got a guy over there that's going to try and calm me down, too (Brian McGratton)," he said. "It's like any other game. I've got to go out there and bang some bodies, and when you do that, their guys come your way."
"You make sure you've got muscle in your lineup," Head Coach Tom Renney added, regarding the team's response to an attack. "You play the game and the spontaneity of playing when the opportunity presents itself, you play physical. Otherwise, like everyone else, you take your lumps and you keep playing."
Renney went on to comment on the Predators' unique and unrelenting style, which should pose a great challenge once again for the up-and-coming orange and blue squad.
Nashville holds an all-time 27-18-5 record vs. Edmonton, but the Oilers have won this season's battles by 3-1 (Oct. 17) and 6-2 (Nov. 22) scores, so the men donning the oil drop have some extra incentive to keep the ball rolling.
"I think [Nashville has] taught us a lot," Renney said. "We're still on the learning curve here as a team. But I think (Head Coach) Barry (Trotz) has this team competitive year-in and year-out. Here's a classic example of a team having a dip right now (1-3-1 in their last five), but you know darn well that when they come back to playing together, they'll be a good team again.
"What they've helped us learn is that you've got to stay with it," the bench boss added. "We're trying to develop a reputation here, an image, a look, a style of play that's 'Oiler.' We have to continue to try and sign our work the same way, and certainly we've learned that from Nashville.
"Are we a good matchup for them? I'd like to think we're a good matchup for any team that we're playing now that we're a little closer to what we want to be."
Ryan Jones, who spent three seasons with the Predators organization between 2008 and 2010, scoring 14 goals and 28 points in 87 NHL games with Nashville, agreed with his coach's assessment and is looking forward to tonight's challenge.
"They're a very structured team and they don't get too far outside of their system, so we've got to do the exact same," he said. "We've got to match their intensity and let our skill take over. If we play our game, we'll give ourselves a chance to win.
"We've played great games against [Nashville]. I don't know if they didn't play their best, but it doesn't really matter when we're playing that way. When we do that, we give ourselves an opportunity to beat any team in the league."
Nikolai Khabibulin (9-4-2 record, .936 save percentage and 1.87 goals-against average) will make his 16th start of the season tonight.
For a complete look at the Oilers' lineup, view the updated line combinations.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
AVALANCHE - OILERS 2Ladislav Smid scored his first goal since December 5, 2009 and Ryan Jones had two points, including his sixth goal of the year but it wasn't enough as four third period goals by the Colorado Avalanche propelled the home team to a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers in Denver on Saturday night.
AT THE OILERS' HOTEL
The Edmonton Oilers wrap up a four-game road trip today at the Pepsi Center against the Colorado Avalanche with an opportunity to come away with an ultra-successful 3-1-0 road trip.
The Avs have only won one of their last six games and have only two wins in their last 11 but they're a team, head coach Tom Renney cautions, that shouldn't be taken lightly.
"We were a team too that lost four in a row. I think we're a better team than losing four in a row and I think Joe (Sacco) and his squad here might think they're a better team than their record shows as well," said Renney. "That's a great opportunity for any team to sort of right theirselves. And I think Colorado will be looking at us that way tonight."
Renney also stated that Lennart Petrell will likely draw out in favour of Magnus Paajarvi.
Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal.
This morning, Alex Plante was recalled from Oklahoma City due to concerns about Jeff Petry's ability to play.
"We have Jeff Petry a little under the weather. We're not completely sure if he'll be out tonight but as a precaution we've got Alex coming in to help us," said Renney.
Plante played last night in Oklahoma City's 5-4 win in Grand Rapids. He was +1 in the victory. He was just sent down following the Oilers' game in Nashville on Tuesday.
The Oilers have been on a roll of late offensively. With three wins in their last four games, they have a total of 20 goals in those victories. The team's top two lines -- Taylor Hall with Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff plus Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Ryan Smyth and Jordan Eberle -- have both been firing on all cylinders.
"It's a good feeling," Hall said about the team's success, most notably last night in Minnesota. "I don't know if we were dominating them but we were playing a really good 60-minute game."
Hall started the season with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle but has found a home on his new line.
"It's always fun playing with Ales, he's so creative, and Shawn is so good on draws and good in his own end. It's really fun playing with those guys."
The Oilers have won two of the first three on the trip and defenceman Tom Gilbert was quick to point out the importance of tonight's game, in particular because the team will follow this one up with six straight on home ice.
"First and foremost, this is a divisional game. We've had a little bit of bad luck with divisional teams so far but we'd like to change the way we play teams within our division," Gilbert began.
"It would be nice to continue this winning streak. Just to be able to keep playing the same way we have been playing would be great, especially going into the six-game homestand."
The Oilers' road record is now 5-6-1 with the chance to get back to the .500 level away from Rexall Place. Edmonton's record against Northwest Division opponents improved to 3-2-2 after last night's win (victories against Vancouver, Minnesota and Colorado). The Avalanche have struggled within their division this season, going 0-6-0.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com