THE TEAM TODAY: 'The Test'
Trio does Renney's drop-off test, Dubnyk's strong play highlight practice discussion
'THE TEST'Edmonton, AB - Taylor Hall admitted last night that the Oilers may not have had their legs throughout the 60-minute effort vs. Colorado, but it was enough to capture a win and boost the orange and blue to a 2-0-1 record in the group's last three.
For some this morning, the legs were challenged more than usual; not in a punishing way, mind you, but in a 45-second test to determine whether or not they'd be ready to return to the lineup: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Tom Gilbert (who's still not cleared to practice with contact) were all put through the paces.
"It's feeling pretty good," Nugent-Hopkins said of his shoulder, which has kept him out of the lineup since Jan. 2 when he collided into the boards at the United Center in Chicago. "I want to get out there. Today was a good test for me. I didn't get hit too much; I really didn't get hit at all. It's hard to tell from that standpoint, but for the most part, shooting and a little physicality has been pretty good.
"I think the guys might be a little cautious in trying to hit me," RNH added. "But I need to see [some contact], because it's better to happen in practice than in a game."
Prior to getting the opportunity to examine his condition with a full practice, Nugent-Hopkins took part in Renney's drop-off test; and, while the 18-year-old rookie admitted that it was a "tough" assignment, the results did the talking.
"Real good, real good," Head Coach Tom Renney said. "Almost no drop-off at all. That's pretty good.
"I'll see how he's doing in the morning. I'm very cautious. He had no pain today. I'm thinking not (playing tomorrow vs. Chicago), but we'll see."
‘The Test' simulates a 45-second shift. Players start at the goal line, race to centre, stop, turn back and burn around the net to the other side. Over and over, again and again, making tight turns and leg-burning stops and starts all the way through.
"With the schedule, the way it worked and when I was ready, it was tough to get the test in, because we were playing a bunch of back-to-backs, but we needed to get it in," said Jordan Eberle, who has been back in the lineup since Jan. 19. "We were trying to get a time to get it done. If you're in shape, it's not too bad to pass, but if you're out of shape, it really shows. It's a good test.
"I passed. I did really well, actually. I expected to, since I've been playing for a couple weeks now."
It was a unique circumstance, no doubt. While most players have had to complete the test before being allowed to return, Eberle was granted a hall pass.
"Oh no," Renney laughed. "He knew he was going to do it. When we were on the road and was coming back, we made a deal. Doesn't matter how many games you play between now and when it happens, but you're doing it. It got him."
"Every guy's got to do it," Eberle added. "No one is ahead the team. It's a good thing I passed, or else I don't know what would have happened."
True enough. No. 14 scored last night. Would the Oilers' bench boss make a bold move and scratch his skilled sophomore if the results were poor?
"It's possible," Eberle chuckled.
The Oilers came out strong in yesterday's contest, scoring a pair and peppering Colorado's Semyon Varlamov with 11 shots in the opening period. The home side gathered only 12 in the remaining 40 minutes as the Avalanche made a surge, but Devan Dubnyk was exceptional; in stopping 31 shots in the Oilers' 3-2 win, the 25-year-old has now turned aside 108 of his last 113 attempts, good enough for a dominant. .956 save percentage in his past three starts.
They've all come in succession, too, racking up a 2-0-1 record in games vs. San Jose, Vancouver and Colorado.
"That's what I want to be," No. 40 said. "That's what I wanted to be as soon as they said they were going to be rebuilding this team. I wanted to grow with the team and become the starting goaltender. I've been auditioning for three years now. I can't look at a few games in a row as making it or looking at my chance to earn a 10-year contract or anything, but I'm just going to play and have fun.
"Everybody's talking like there's some giant change and metamorphosis in my game that's allowed me to get to play three good ones here, but nothing's really changed for me here," he added with a laugh. "I've just got to keep my nose down and realize what's made be successful over the last couple games and keep doing it."
With Nikolai Khabibulin winless in his past eight starts (his last one came on Dec. 22 vs. Minnesota) – not playing poorly, but not getting the results, either – along with Renney's ‘win and you're in' philosophy, it's an especially vital time for the young netminder to make good on his opportunity.
"There was a point in time when Nik (Khabibulin) was playing really well and you go, 'oh boy, when's my chance?,'" Renney explained. "You've got to stay competitive, you've got to stay driven, you've got to persevere, you've got to really work; and not that (Dubnyk) was not any of that, but to the level where you're just ready to go and nail it, maybe there's a lesson there. I think what he's done now is he's dialed in. He's really dialed in and he's played well as a competitor."
Along with a surge in secondary scoring, Dubnyk's efforts have propelled the Oilers to points and a pair of wins in the team's last three outings. Not lost on an emotional Renney, he sees value in that across the board, no matter how the season has gone.
"This has been hard," he said. "There's no question about it. We wanted to be better. Anything can happen; anything can happen and we all embrace that.
"They're valuable points. We did it. We got points. We can critique ourselves to death, and believe me, we do that almost to a standstill. You have to grow up as a team and take responsibility for every single day. Boy, sometimes it hurts to learn the hard way. Hopefully the pain is enough, where he have enough people in the locker room that want to put that to an end."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick