THE TEAM TODAY: Home for a Day
Oilers return home for one day, practice in Leduc before returning to the road
HOME FOR A DAYLeduc, AB - Following a loss in Vancouver on Boxing Day to kick off a seven-game road swing, the Edmonton Oilers immediately returned home.
With the World Juniors taking up both their home ice at Rexall Place and their usual practice facility in Sherwood Park -- Millennium Place -- the club practiced in Leduc today and will do so again tomorrow before departing for Minnesota and beginning the remaining six games on their road trip.
In terms of forwards, the team ran the same lines as last night's game. Ryan Whitney, Ales Hemsky and Alex Plante all did not skate.
Renney noted that both Whitney and Hemsky are improving and Hemsky will skate tomorrow morning to test his balance after a sinus infection has continued to cause him dizziness.
The Oilers head coach made a point of saying that the team can't use injuries as an excuse for poor performance.
"We've gotta step up and deal with it, control our own destiny. 30 teams have 82 opportunities to control the game and control their destiny, we're no different. No one is going to feel sorry for us, so lets not start on ourselves. Let's keep plowing ahead."
FRUSTRATION FOR WHITNEY
This season has been a constant source of frustration for Ryan Whitney. It has taken him a long time to get his strength back after surgery on his ankle.
"I had a really uncommon injury last year, and the surgery obviously, it went well as a success but it still doesn't happen very often so there's obviously some question marks but I had an MRI and the surgery looks good but my ankle is just so weak right now and because of that it's pretty unstable and tough to skate," said the Oilers blueliner, noting that a full recovery is still expected at some point.
"They seem to think it'll definitely happen so that's a good sign but until that stops my foot will always fall in and that puts pressure on that tendon that causes tendonitis," he continued. "The unfortunate thing for me is i haven't been able to skate, i don't feel right out there"
Renney made a point of saying how important Whitney is to the team but also how important it is for him to be 100% -- or at the very least healthier at this point.
"We'll get him over this little hurdle here and get him back in because we need him," stated the coach.
When asked what he'll miss most about Whitney, the list was long for Renney.
"Great passer, great view finder, great scope to the game so he can move it where it has to go, he's got a calm demeanour on the ice, helps settle us down. I like it when he jumps and joins the attack, I like him in the offensive zone for threading the needle and getting pucks where they need to go, I like his mobility and range and passing (plus) the shot on the power play."
Whitney added that he will be 100% at some point but it may not be for awhile.
"I'm not losing hope by any means, it's just physically and mentally kind of draining," he said. "I can play through it, I don't see really a time soon when i'll be 100%"
NOTHING FOR WEISE
A day after Dale Weise hammered Oilers defenceman Alex Plante, word coming down from the League is that there will be no supplemental discipline for the Canuck.
The official word on Plante is that he does have a concussion and is out indefinitely as a result. His teammate, Andy Sutton, had a few words about the play.
"If you can't hit a guy straight and if you can't hit a guy when he turns his back then we gotta define the lines a little bit," said Sutton. "We need to have a committee that's deciding these things. It's gotta be a whole group of people because there's so many discrepancies in each hit you gotta come up with a new system"
Sutton is no stranger to suspensions with both a five-gamer and an eight-gamer this season -- the latter of which he will be done serving after Thursday night's game.
"It's a man's game, it's a fast game and the guys are so much stronger than they were 15 years ago. It's a warriors game and we've gotta make sure the lines are definitive or we're going to lose the integrity of our game." .
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
CANUCKS 5 - OILERS 3The Vancouver Canucks raced out to a 3-0 lead then held on as the Edmonton Oilers attempted a valiant comeback on Boxing Day at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Monday night. Jordan Eberle, Corey Potter and Ryan Smyth got the goals for the Oilers in the defeat.
AT THE MORNING SKATE
Vancouver, BC - After a short three-day rest, the Edmonton Oilers get back to action tonight when they take on the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena in their annual Boxing Day clash.
The Oilers last played on December 22nd, a spirited effort in a 4-1 victory at Rexall Place over the Minnesota Wild. Vancouver comes into tonight's game having gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 but dropped a 3-1 decision on home ice to the Calgary Flames on December 23.
Given that the Canucks lost their last game in less-than-inspiring fashion they will certainly be amped up for a big win tonight to close out their four-game homestand but the Oilers are not simply going to roll over.
"We're not coming in here with a hat in our hand, we're coming in to win a hockey game," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "We need to be real smart here and do everything we can to stay out of the penalty box and still be firm and decisive in our own game, naturally."
This morning, the Oilers called up Alex Plante from Oklahoma City - a move made all the more convenient by the fact Plante was spending the holidays with his family in Brandon, Manitoba. The reason for the call-up was the fact that Ryan Whitney has been suffering from tendinitis in his ankle.
"It's weak and we're going to do the precautionary thing. There's no real structural damage but we're going to rest him tonight, he won't go," said Renney, adding that Whitney is likely to play Thursday as that gives him a full week of rest for his ankle.
While Whitney is with the team, he did not take the morning skate. Ales Hemsky took the morning skate but left a little early. His sinus infection has him pronounced as doubtful.
"He's having some dizziness. As you elevate the heart rate that becomes more clear so it doesn't look like he's going to go, either," Renney remarked.
PIVOTAL ROAD TRIP
With the World Juniors taking over Edmonton for the next little while, the Oilers have been pushed out on the road for the next seven games starting tonight.
With the team as of right now seven points out of a playoff spot, this is a stretch that could make or break the season.
"The upcoming trip can be the turnaround in our season. We believe in this group and we're going to do everything we can to get those wins," said Eric Belanger.
Sam Gagner remarked that the team was skating really well in the morning skate, hinting it could have been due to the recent time off.
"It's nice to get a couple days off to spend with the family and recharge," he said.
RNH RETURNS HOME
Tonight marks a homecoming for Oilers rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the Burnaby native steps on the ice in Vancouver for the first time in his NHL career for a regular season game.
"I've watched tons of games on TV from here as a kid. I'm pretty excited to step on the ice tonight," said Nugent-Hopkins.
One person who has certainly enjoyed watching Nugent-Hopkins grow up before his eyes is coach Renney. The Vancouver media was quizzing him this morning on what it is that makes Nugent-Hopkins so special.
"It helps you understand as a coach the difference between a first overall and what separates them from many and certainly this kid's got the goods," said the coach.
Nugent-Hopkins is arguably in the midst of his driest spell of the season with only two assists in his last five games and no goals in his last six but Renney was quick to point out that RNH is also elite defensively and playing well in the other facets of his game is what makes him so good.
"This is a kid that identifies his relevance to the game in other ways besides scoring. He contributes in other ways, his two-way game is very good. He's an awesome defensive player and that's pretty special," he said.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS 4 - WILD 1Jordan Eberle scored twice, while Ryan Smyth and Lennart Petrell also tallied, propelling the Oilers to a commanding lead that would never be relinquished. Minnesota's Dany Heatley scored in the third to cut the lead to three, but it wasn't enough as the Oilers got back on track with a 4-1 win over the Wild Thursday night at Rexall Place.
AT THE MORNING SKATE
Edmonton, AB - With a three-day break to celebrate the season setting the stage to a marathon seven-game road trip beginning next week, the Oilers need a win to keep pace and remain in the post-season discussion in Game 34.
"We put ourselves in a position where they're all big games," said Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff, who's mired in an 11-game goalless drought; six games without a point, too. "This one's big, the next one will be even bigger and so on. We need to dig ourselves out of it. You want to go into the break feeling good about your game. We played pretty well recently, but we haven't got the results; we've got to make sure we continue that tonight."
It's the fifth meeting between the Oilers and Wild, highlighting the season's unusual schedule; but also making note of the division's ever-important matchups as the orange and blue look to make up ground on the NHL's fourth-best team.
"We don't take [Minnesota] lightly," Horcoff said. "They're a team that we haven't had a very good record against. It's a divisional game; a four-point game and we've got to go into Christmas feeling good about ourselves before the break. It's important for us to get these two points, because that next road trip is going to be a big test.
"It's a real good time for us to break out of this slump against a team we really need to beat. It's a huge game for us."
"They work very, very hard," added Head Coach Tom Renney. "They've got one of the best power centres in the league (Mikko Koivu, who may not be in the lineup tonight), who provides great leadership. They've got other players who are having very good years, too. They've done a real good job of moving pucks north-south in a hurry and having people above the puck to make it more challenging for the opponent to come at them.
"We certainly have to check in. This is big. We have to worry about our game, because we have much to polish in that regard."
In order to do that, the Oilers need some secondary scoring. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle continue to lead the squad with an above point-per-game pace (Taylor Hall is right there, too), but the team's counted-upon veterans need to step up to help fill a void on the scoreboard.
"Ales (Hemsky) is an elite player in this league and I'm not too worried about him," the captain said of his linemate. "He's got too much skill not to break out of this, and I'm sure he will soon."
Hemsky's status is still undetermined for tonight's game. The 28-year-old missed yesterday's practice with an illness and was listed as questionable at the time. He did participate in today's morning skate, but Renney insisted that he's not yet sure if his skilled winger will be available to go.
"I met with him and T.D. (Forss, Head Athletic Therapist) following the skate," he said. "I would call him 'doubtful,' he's not feeling well. I think we've got to put a lineup on the ice that feels great. He's under the weather and it's as simple as that. We'll see how he sleeps this afternoon and what he comes back like.
"That's No. 1, you've got to commit to that," Renney added about Hemsky's practice habits. "He's one of those guys, because of his need for treatment, that it's abbreviated for him. The extra stuff is out of the equation because he's got to get his treatment. When he's out there, whatever the practice drill or circumstance might be, you're fully engaged and that's ultimately a choice the player makes."
If Hemsky is unable to play tonight, Sam Gagner or Lennart Petrell will slot in on that line. Otherwise, No. 37 will sit as Darcy Hordichuk will be in to re-engage a season-long battle with Minnesota's Brad Staubitz, policing the ice and providing the willingness to drop the mitts if need be.
Nikolai Khabibulin will get the start in goal, looking to improve on his 10-8-3 record, 2.05 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick