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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Spirit of St. Louis

Oilers road trip continues with a stop in St. Louis on Wednesday

Wednesday, 04.01.2012 / 1:28 PM / The Team Today
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Spirit of St. Louis

  WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 4

SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS

St. Louis, MO - The Oilers' monster road trip continues with a stop in St. Louis.

The team immediately departed Buffalo following Tuesday night's 4-3 loss and arrived in The Gateway City late last night. On the heels of back-to-back outings, the Oilers elected to skip their schedule on-ice session in favour of an off-ice workout at the team's hotel.

As has been a common refrain for the team over the past few weeks, Oilers head coach Tom Renney felt the the team deserved more than the zero points in the standings they received last night.

"I thought we played well. If there ever is such a thing as a bitter fate that was the case last night. Coming off a strong performance against Chicago, you never know what to expect from your team the next night," Renney began.

"Certainly, it speaks to our character and our ability to go after wins and play anybody. We have to continue to embrace that if we're going to try and get back into this playoff race."

TOUGH NIGHT FOR CALL-UPS

Recent call-ups Josh Green and Teemu Hartikainen had a tough go of it on Tuesday. Green was a -4 and Hartikainen was a -3.

"You can look at numbers and identify with a tough night," said Renney. "But they were part of a group of guys that really went after a hockey game last night and really went after two points."

For Hartikainen, it was his fourth game in four nights in four different cities. He suited up for the Barons in Oklahoma City on New Year's Eve against San Antonio then travelled to Houston the following night before joining the Oilers for their games in Chicago and Buffalo.

"You can't help but think the guy's tired," Renney said of Hartikainen. "But at the same time, you try to give him minutes and an opportunity to play -- and impact our game with his physical presence. Those are tools that you have in your tool box. You use those."

"You've got to find your way when you play a lot. Sometimes take it easy in some places," said Hartikainen, pointing you that he's still trying to make the most of the opportunity despite difficult circumstances.

"It means a second chance for me. I could be playing better but, like I said, I played a few games in Oklahoma and a lot of minutes in those games. I'm going to get my rest today then get my legs going. You're going to see a whole different Teemu Hartikainen (tomorrow)."

Green played down the middle with Horcoff and Hartikainen. The Oilers captain being on the left side hinted to some discomfort as Renney noted he was physically unable to take draws last night. He did take one, winning against Paul Gaustad.

However, Green did acquit himself well, going 63% in the dot.

"He did a great job on the dot and certainly his presence up the middle helped us," said Renney.

WORLD JUNIOR MEMORIES

Both Renney and Jordan Eberle have some great memories from their time spent in the World Junior Hockey Championship and on the heels of last night's thrilling 6-5 Canadian semifinal loss to the Russians, they did some reflecting.

Renney was coach of the Canadian side in both 1992 and 1999 -- coming up with the Silver Medal in the '99 Winnipeg tournament.

"(1999) in Winnipeg. A great hockey city. It was a great tournament for us. It was one of those times you don't get the pick of the litter -- we had seven or eight eligible players not with us as Canada has every year," said Renney.

"We found a way to build a tournament and accept that responsibility of being Canada's team for a couple of weeks. Roberto (Luongo) was the cornerstone with a real good back-end and good forwards that have done some things in the National Hockey League as well."

The Canadian team that year lost out to Russia in overtime of the Gold Medal Game. By contrast, in 1992, Canada finished in 6th place.

"It's always a great experience and Germany (in 1992) was the 180 to that. It was a real important experience for Hockey Canada. I think it helped everyone to sharpen their pencil after that."

Eberle's two tournaments were also very different, winning Gold in 2009 thanks in large part to his last-second heroics against the Russians.

"When we played the Russians, we would score then they would come back with another one. They buried one with about four minutes to go to take the lead and we battled back. The rest is history," said Eberle. "We had a great tournament. We didn't play our best hockey until the final. Taking the Russians to overtime was the turning point then we buried Sweden (in the Gold Medal Game)."

Canada tried to come back once again in 2010 against the Americans -- both Eberle and Taylor Hall were on that team -- but they were just short, losing in overtime of the Gold Medal Game.

"That was a crazy game. The Americans were a fast team. We found a way to tie it and overtime four-on-four is tough. You give up an odd-man rush like we did and they come in and score."

Canada has gone without Gold for three years now. A fact that doesn't surprise Eberle, given the nature of the tournament.

"It's not an easy tournament, it's like the Super Bowl," Eberle remarked. "You get one game and if you lose, you're done. Especially when you do it on your home soil, it's tougher."

RNH UPDATE

At the end of his availability, Renney talked briefly about the status of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do with him. I have to check with (trainer) T.D. (Forss) here. He's feeling better but I don't see him playing on the rest of this trip."

-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
  TUESDAY, JANUARY 3

SABRES 4 - OILERS 3

GAME ESSENTIALS
 GAME DAY
 POST-GAME VIDEO
 POST-GAME AUDIO
 THREE STARS
1. Drew Stafford, BUF
2. Nathan Gerbe, BUF
3. Taylor Hall, EDM
 UPDATE
With the loss, the Oilers record falls to 16-20-3.
 WHAT'S NEXT
The Oilers travel to St. Louis where they will face off against the Blues Thursday night. Game time is 6:30 p.m. MST and it can be seen on Sportsnet Oilers.
The Buffalo Sabres picked up two goals in the final five minutes to break a 2-2 tie then held on to defeat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Tuesday night.

Ales Hemsky picked up two assists while Sam Gagner had a goal and an assist to help lead the way for the visitors.

AT THE HOTEL AVAILABILITY

Buffalo, NY - The Edmonton Oilers play their second game in as many nights tonight when they take on the Buffalo Sabres. It's a game that the team will have to play without arguably their best forward and best defenceman -- both injured last night in Chicago.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lost an edge and tumbled into the boards, injuring his shoulder while Tom Gilbert was taken into the end boards by Dan Carcillo, injuring his knee.

"It's just a little sore today," said Gilbert. "Hoping tomorrow it's going to feel a lot better."

Gilbert knew he was going into the boards with Carcillo, a player with a history of this type of behaviour, but felt he should have been more aware of it.

"It was one of those plays, you just try to brace yourself. It's just unfortunate the way I went into the boards," said Gilbert. "I knew who it was coming after me, I guess you just have to be more aware of who's coming after you. He's had hits like that before."

Oilers head coach Tom Renney said that Gilbert will skate lightly tomorrow morning in St. Louis and be reassessed at that point.

As for Nugent-Hopkins, he was unavailable to the media but Renney touched on his costly injury.

"He wiped out, he just caught an edge," said Renney of RNH.

"He has a sore shoulder. Until we really get the medical information I hate to speculate. He's hurting, he's not going to play here for the next couple of games for sure. It could go beyond that without a doubt. He wants to play," Renney continued, adding that the team may send him back to Edmonton if it's determined that he's done for the trip. "We'll do the right thing with him, without a doubt."

With the injury talk out of the way, getting lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Edmonton Oilers have a hockey game tonight. Coming off a huge victory against the best team in the League, the Oilers have an opportunity to make it two in a row against a struggling Sabres squad that's also had its share of injuries.

"There's maybe an advantage in the fact that the other team might take you for granted and underestimate your competitiveness so we have to live up to that. We have to make sure we compete. We have a very recent reference point in terms of how hard we have to play," said Renney. "Oftentimes, back-to-back games can be good to you if you're ready and willing to do what it takes to win."

The head coach wasn't sugar coating the fact that the team still needs points in the standings in a big way.

"Our status in the standings suggests we'd better man up tonight and get to the rink and play hard. We're getting some help from some good players in the American League, we'll ice a full team and get after it."

HELP FROM THE FARM

Josh Green and Colten Teubert both arrived from Oklahoma City this morning and took part in the team meeting at the hotel. Both players were excited to get back to the NHL -- for Green it will be his first time back with the Oilers since 2002-03.

"It's exciting to be back. I got the call late last night and hopped on a flight this morning. I have fond memories of my first time around and excited to be back again," said Green.

"The excitement level is pretty high. This is the league you want to play in. OKC is a great place to play, one of the best minor league cities out there but everyone down there wants to play in the best league in the world. Hopefully I can make an impact."

Colten Teubert rejoins the team on this road trip, replacing Tom Gilbert.

"It's part of the job, I'm not going to complain. I'm back in the NHL. I just want to play solid tonight and help the boys get a win."

-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
  MONDAY, JANUARY 2

OILERS 4 - BLACKHAWKS 3

GAME ESSENTIALS
 GAME DAY
 POST-GAME VIDEO
 POST-GAME AUDIO
 THREE STARS
1. Devan Dubnyk, EDM
2. Taylor Hall, EDM
3. Jonathan Toews, EDM
 UPDATE
Win the win, the Oilers improve to 16-19-3.
 WHAT'S NEXT
The Oilers go to Buffalo immediately following the game where they will play the Sabres Tuesday. Game time is 5:00 p.m. MST and it can be seen on Sportsnet Oilers.
Taylor Hall had a goal and an assist while Jordan Eberle had two helpers to help lead the Edmonton Oilers to a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Monday night.

Devan Dubnyk made 39 saves, including 22 in the third period alone to help lift Edmonton to victory.

AT THE MORNING SKATE

Chicago, IL - Winless in three games to start this seven-game road trip, the Edmonton Oilers face a stiff test tonight in Chicago when they face a Blackhawks team that not only has the League's best record but also is in the mood for some revenge.

Last time these two teams met, the Oilers throttled the Blackhawks to the tune of 9-2 at Rexall Place. Chicago is determined to not have that happen again and Oilers head coach Tom Renney says that's a good thing.

"Let's go right to the acid test. If we're going to grow up and be a competitive team we have to take responsibility for our performance, when they're good and bad," stated the head coach.

"We had a strong game against these guys last time we saw them and we know that they're way better than a seven-goal spread. We're going to have to bring our A game from top to bottom tonight."

Last time the Oilers played the Blackhawks they went with some very different line combinations -- combos that Renney hinted could be used again tonight.

"We're looking at that," Renney said of using the same lines as November 19. "I think that's a good possibility. We want a good balance to our lineup too, I guess you could call it road balance."

In that game, the Oilers went with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins alongside Jordan Eberle and Ryan Smyth as the top line. Sam Gagner skated with Ales Hemsky and Taylor Hall on the second unit. The third line was Anton Lander, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Jones.

"We want to roll four and push the pace ourselves to a responsible two-way game. We also want to look at the offence we were able to create the last time we played these guys."

Taylor Hall agreed that the team needs to be at its best to better the Blackhawks tonight.

"It's been quite some time since then but I'm sure they haven't forgot. We've been beaten like that by teams and we certainly don't forget," he said. 

There was some discussion in the Blackhawks room about the Oilers running up the score on that night, but Hall was adamant that wasn't the case.

"There was no conversation about going for 10 or anything. I could hear the fans chanting 'we want 10'  which was interesting because I was hearing from the guys that in the previous couple of years when Chicago was beating them with 9 goals the fans were also chanting the same thing," he said, adding "we didn't want to develop bad habits."

HARTIKAINEN ARRIVES

With the arrival of Teemu Hartikainen, who missed the morning skate but got to the team's hotel around 1:00 p.m., the fourth line will obviously be different from that 9-2 win against the 'Hawks in November. Hartikainen is likely to play with Ben Eager and Eric Belanger.

"He's a type of player who can probably play one through four. As long as he does what he does well for us. He's a heavy body, goes to the net well and he's a feisty guy," said Renney when asked what could be expected of the Finnish winger tonight.

Hartikainen was strong down the stretch last season for the Oilers, picking up three goals and five points in 12 games. However, coach Renney said it wasn't too difficult a decision to send him back to OKC at the end of training camp for some more seasoning.

"I thought he needed to be better coming out of camp. I thought he just missed it. He needed to be a little bit better and he probably would have gave himself a chance," Renney began. "I thought to myself at training camp, I did have higher expectations for him -- not from a scoring perspective -- just the wherewithal to play hard under all circumstances for a guy who was really trying to crack the lineup. He left me kind of hanging a little bit."

After missing a month due to injury, Hartikainen finally returned to action with the Barons on December 27. He has picked up two assists in four games since his return -- one in each of the last two games he's played.

DUBNYK GOES AGAIN

Despite what Renney offered up as a sub-standard performance on New Year's Eve against the Islanders, the head coach has decided to go with Devan Dubnyk once again tonight against the Blackhawks.

"He wasn't strong to start with (against the Islanders) and sometimes you've got to give a guy the opportunity to bounce back," Renney said. "It's a function of a guy who can clearly play the position and play it well. He needs to know that as well as skaters, goalies too should get a second chance."

This will be Dubnyk's first game of the season against Chicago with Khabibulin having played the previous two outings.

JONES SORE BUT READY

Near the end of Saturday's game, Ryan Jones took a shot off the ankle and limped off the ice causing some concern that he may miss some action but when x-rays came back negative, Jones was good to go.

"It's sore, obviously, but lucky enough it's not in a place where I push off in my skating stride. It's one of those things where if it's not going to do anymore damage no sense sitting out."

Jones has 12 goals in 37 games for the Oilers, having not missed a game this season so far.

-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com



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