THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Eager to Please

Up-tempo practice helps Oilers rebound, Eager comments on strong night & more

Thursday, 08.12.2011 / 4:00 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Eager to Please

  THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8

EAGER TO PLEASE

Edmonton, AB - He signed a three-year, $3.3 million contract with the Oilers on Jul. 1, 2011. Training camp began on a sour note, enduring a concussion when he was crunched by Kirill Tulupov in the team's annual Joey Moss Cup game.

While the bulk of the team was skating through mud in yesterday's disappointing 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Ben Eager showed up. The 27-year-old notched a goal to snap his 17-game season-long goalless drought and, while he wasn't credited with a hit on the stats sheet, his unrelenting physical presence was a welcomed addition in a game in which the orange and blue needed a boost.

"It was good," Eager said, looking back on his outing vs. Carolina. "It's been a tough start to the season, but I'm starting to get my legs under me. Last night was really good. I was feeling strong and I'm trying to build on that."

"It's always nice to get a couple chances and I think we've been working hard this year, getting some chemistry going," he added. "Landy (Anton Lander) and Lenny (Lennart Petrell), they both work hard and I try to do the same thing."

At 10:27 of the third period, Eager was assessed an erroneous charging minor when he crushed Bryan Allen with a vicious (but clean), shoulder-leading impact. No. 55 didn't agree with the call then and didn't this morning, either, but wasn't particularly surprised.

"It's tough," he explained. "I thought it was a clean hit, shoulder-to-chest; but I've seen it called before, too.

"I'll watch my mouth a bit next game," Eager added, grinning.

When the seven-year NHL veteran was escorted to the box, he wasn't shy to voice his displeasure with referee Chris Lee, which nearly cost him an extra two minutes (or more), but also showed signs of the aggressive attitude Eager can provide on a more regular basis.

UP-TEMPO

It also set the stage for an up-tempo, 35-minute practice this morning at Rexall Place to help move on and forget about a listless 60-minute outing one night ago.

"I thought it was a great practice," Eager said. "It was high-tempo, the guys were working hard, we shot a lot of pucks, skated hard; short, quick and it's good to have going into the game tomorrow night. I think a lot of people were disappointed [with the loss last night].

It was, indeed, a short skate; high-spirited, too, as Head Coach Tom Renney pushed the pace harder than he has all season, screaming at his troops to complete their assignments with energy and intensity.

"Tom's always a pretty emotional guy; that's what makes him fun to play for," said Ryan Jones, who's scored nine goals and 14 points in 28 games this season. " He wants to win, and you know that he cares about each and every guy in this locker room. I've seen him animated in some practices, but that goes to show how much he thinks of this team. If he didn't think we could win games, he wouldn't care."

"You pick your spots," Renney added with a smirk. "You can overkill real quick. [The players] have to know that, 'Oh yeah, this is the other part of Tom's makeup.' Too much of any particular style is fatal at some point in time, but they need to know that you can approach them in a number of different ways.

"That will help motivate them, inspire them, grab their attention and maybe even rattle their chain."

Having established a 4-5-1 record in the team's past 10 games, including only one win on the current six-game homestand, the Oilers know they need to return to what helped them gain some early-season success. There's still one more at home prior to another round on the road.

"You move once it's over," said Jones, who was entrenched in preparation for tomorrow's clash with the Colorado Avalanche. "You don't try to look back at wins too much, either, other than the things that got you success. When you focus on the games in the past, you forget about the task at hand. We're not going to do that; instead, we're going to move on so we can get some wins again."

STEADY PROGRESSION

Taylor Hall, who participated in yesterday's morning skate, was back at practice this morning to continue rehabbing his limped shoulder. No. 4 was donning the baby blue, non-contact sweater, however, but was looking good and said he was close to getting close to re-introducing the physical game.

"It sucks being out, knowing I could be out there helping," he said. "I can't really say what it is. It's tough to watch. I love to play this game and I want to get back as soon as I can, but I don't want to rush things."

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

  WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7

HURRICANES 5 - OILERS 3

GAME ESSENTIALS
 GAME DAY
 POST-GAME VIDEO
 POST-GAME AUDIO
 THREE STARS
1. Jeff Skinner - CAR
2. Chad Larose - CAR
3. Andy Sutton - EDM
 UPDATE
With the loss, the Oilers' record drops to 13-12-3 as the orange and blue continue to sit in 10th the NHL's West.
 WHAT'S NEXT
The Oilers' six-game homestand wraps up on Friday as the Colorado Avalanche come to town. Game time is 7:30 p.m. MDT and it can be seen on TSN.
Eric Belanger and Ben Eager each snapped season-long goalless droughts, but it wasn't enough as the Carolina Hurricanes surged ahead to overcome the Oilers with a 5-3 win Wednesday night at Rexall Place.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the other goal for the home side, while Devan Dubnyk stopped 28 shots in the loss.

AT THE MORNING SKATE

Edmonton, AB - With a 1-2-1 record on the team's current homestand, the Oilers know the next two games are vital to salvage points and respectability as one of the league's top squads at home.

Assigned with that task between the pipes will be 25-year-old sophomore Devan Dubnyk, who will be making his 10th start of the season tonight, looking to improve on his 2.90 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.

"We've been great on home ice this year, but this last little stretch hasn't been our best," said the netminder who's notched a 4-5-0 record in 10 games this year. "We've shown some signs as we usually do, but lucky for us this is a longer homestand and we really need to establish ourselves on home ice. We need to salvage this one and then be ready for when we come back."

Dubnyk began the season as the Oilers' starting goaltender, but then passed the reigns to Nikolai Khabibulin as the 38-year-old veteran stepped up with a rebound start to the 2011-12 campaign.

"It's good," Dubnyk said of his mindset heading into tonight. "For the most part all year I've been pretty good. When I've gotten the opportunity to go, I've been ready; and when you get a chance to play and win a game, you try to build on that as much as you can.

"I've been feeling good and I'm excited to get the opportunity tonight," he added. "With the schedule we have, I was looking to get in one game at least this week, and now it looks like I might get two with the back-to-backs coming up."

HURRICANE WARNING

Carolina rolled through Calgary last night, losing 7-6 in a barnburner and will be eager to back in the win column tonight. They've established an 8-17-4 record, but still possess several dangerous weapons to pose a threat to most anyone.

But they're still without a win under newly hired head coach Kirk Muller.

"We see them once a year, and they gave it to us last year in Carolina (losing 7-1 on Nov. 9, 2010)," Dubnyk said. "That was a long time ago, but we need to prepared. I know they lost last night, but they scored six goals. I played with Skinner at the Worlds and he's a hell of a player, so he's a guy we've got to be aware of and key on out there.

"They've got some weapons, but I think for the most part, we need to stick to our game; be ready for the opponent, but the best way to do that is to play our game and use our speed."

"I watched them play on TV last night in Calgary and they were working really hard," added Anton Lander, who will be back in the lineup tonight after missing the past two games with a hand injury. "They were down 6-3 and worked back into the game. We have to be ready for a hardworking team, with those skilled players they have up front.

"We have to get pucks to the net more. It all starts with solid play in our own end and when we do that, we can turn up ice and start the transition game. When you play good D, the other part of the game comes naturally. I think we've worked on these things in practice lately and we'll be good to go tonight."

Although the Hurricanes last played at Rexall Place on Feb. 1, 2010 when the Oilers came out with a 4-2 win, there's a much more vivid memory still present within the orange and blue's locker room.

The Oilers conquered three clubs en route to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, losing in Game 7 to the Hurricanes by a 3-1 count in a devastating conclusion. Ryan Smyth, who posted seven goals and 16 points in 24 post-season contests that spring, remembers the series well.

"I was talking with Horc (Shawn Horcoff) today about it on the ice," No. 94 said. "It's still in the back of our minds. It was our chance to win a Cup, but now it's all about another opportunity and nothing lies in front of us but these guys.

"It's still a bitter taste, you know," he added, with a sad smirk. "It's every hockey player's dream to win a Stanley Cup, but only one team wins it.

"We weren't the better team. They won. We move on."

Head Coach Tom Renney was invested in the series, too, as an observer.

"Just watching Carolina, I thought that they had a very good transition game and their D men were very, very active in the attack," he said. "They wanted to counter-attack and do it with speed and numbers. They had very good goaltending and so did Edmonton.

"I thought [the Oilers] really could have won the series."

LINEUP NOTES

As stated above, Anton Lander will be slotted back into the lineup tonight alongside Lennart Petrell and Ben Eager, who will also be making his return after sitting out three games with a lingering back problem.

For a complete look at the Oilers' lineup, as well as combinations/pairings, CLICK HERE.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
  TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6

SHARPENING UP

Edmonton, AB - Amid news that the NHL would be realigning for the 2012-13 season, the Oilers continued on, business as usual Tuesday morning as the orange and blue assembled for a one-hour practice at Rexall Place.

In preparation for tomorrow's game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Oilers spent the bulk of the morning session working on special teams; power-play, penalty kill and even-strength play all received equal attention, as the home town club searches for a rebound outing in tomorrow's clash.

Having endured a tough stretch in which the Oilers played six games in nine days (amassing a 2-3-1 record in the process), the men in the locker room were thrilled to have gotten the appropriate practice time to help correct lingering issues.

"We need to get back to playing with good habits, which always starts in practice," said Ladislav Smid, who's notched a pair of goals and as many assists in 27 games in 2011-12. "In the last couple weeks, we haven't had the time to practice since the schedule has been really busy."

Head Coach Tom Renney didn't want to make excuses for the Oilers' less-than-desired nine-game run, but did add that the challenges associated with a troubling schedule are very real: "In my mind it is."

"[The schedule has] had a lot to do with it," he explained. "I think it's kicked the crap out of us; and I think it's kicked the crap out of a young team, and we've got to overcome that. One of the best ways to do that is to not talk about it."

SOUND DEFENCE

Earlier in the season when Nikolai Khabibulin was sporting a goals-against average under one, and his save percentage rocketed above anyone else's, the Oilers started the campaign with a strong 9-3-1 record. The Oilers have since gone 4-8-1, giving up 39 goals in the team's nine losses for an average of 4.33 per game.

"I think we haven't been following the system the way we'd like," Smid said. "We have problems that we need to work through as a unit. It's good that we've had some practice time; a couple straight days we've worked with some one-on-one battles and D zone work, so I think it's going to help us."

23-year-old Jeff Petry blocked a shot in Saturday's Battle of Alberta and missed yesterday's practice, but will available for tomorrow's matchup vs. Carolina: "The swelling has gone down and I could get my boot on, so it's all good." He also agreed with Smid's own-zone assessment.

"I think we need to get back to having better communication out there," he said. "We've gotten away from that a little bit. We need to sharpen up with our one-on-one battles, stick our guys and not let them drive to the net. Communication will help there and I'm sure we can clean it up.

"It's huge when you're going back to the puck and your partner's talking to you, so you know where he is and where the outlet is," Petry added. "We've got a lot of speed and skill up front, so we want to make sure we're getting it up; and if the pass isn't there, we've got to burst up to the line and chip it down deep so we can start to wear on the other team."

COMMENT ON CONCUSSIONS

It was announced today that former NHL player Derek Boogaard, 28, who died from a drug overdose in May had been dealing with a chronic brain disease linked to concussions.

Veteran rearguard Andy Sutton, who's patrolled the blueline for 14 NHL seasons, commented on the NHL's desire to eliminate headshots and prevent concussions across the board.

"He was a tough guy for a long time," he said about Boogaard and the role he played. "It was his path and I'm sure my brain doesn't look too good either. You're always thinking about it. You try to manage it as best you can, but this is the career we choose.

"It's the progression of our game," he added. "The game is still great, it's faster than it's ever been. I think the skill level is higher than it's ever been, too, and if we can do our best to protect the players, that's the best thing in the long run."

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick




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