THE TEAM TODAY: Capital Grind
Oilers arrive in Ottawa, look back on loss to Red Wings & hold up-tempo practice
CAPITAL GRINDOttawa, ON - "We gave a very good team -- maybe, if not the best club team in the world, one of them -- an opportunity to come right at us and control the game from the get-go. The way in which we responded to coming back and getting ourselves tied was almost fool's gold."
That was how Head Coach Tom Renney described yesterday's listless 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
In what was originally scheduled to be a complete off day, the Oilers changed their minds and scheduled an hour-long session at the Bell Sensplex in Kanata, ON.
Prior to the practice's start and with no time to play around with pucks as they usually do, Renney held a 10-minute long meeting with his troops at centre ice. With the schedule's balance needing more conviction down the stretch, games like last night can't happen.
As such, the group listened and responded with the season's most intense, up-tempo and physically demanding practice. For 65 minutes, the Oilers challenged each other in heavy-hitting one-on-one drills, heart-pumping skating motions and a concerted effort to improve the club's special teams, which struggled mightily in yesterday's three-goal setback.
"It's good to get out there and kind of forget about it (last night's game) and get back on the ice," said Theo Peckham, who's inching closer to a return to the lineup. "For me, also, it's good to get there and get a couple bumps in. You don't want to go a couple easy practices in and then have somebody's 240-pound tough guy take a run at you in a game."
Peckham, 24, has been out since Feb. 2 when he was clipped with a puck during practice at Rexall Place. The 6'2", 235-pound rearguard required six stitches to close a wound on the bridge of his nose; and, while it was thought to have also caused a concussion, the reason for No. 24's absence is being described as a "sinus issue."
"We weren't too sure with all that happened," he explained. "I wasn't feeling too well. I've had concussions before, but this was different. We did a couple tests, the neuropsych test for concussions, and I actually scored higher than I did on my baseline.
"I feel good on the ice and am as close to 100 percent as you're going to be."
We've all seen what Sam Gagner has done lately: eight goals, six assists and 14 points in his past four games. Some would argue that the 22-year-old's season took a turn when he tilted with Nashville's Matt Halischuk back on Nov. 22. He was struggling to score, so he found a way to contribute in other areas.
Perhaps Ryan Jones' effort in last night's game will produce a similar turnaround. No. 28 is mired in a 19-game goalless drought, but crunched Detroit's Ian White with a clean, open-ice check that sparked a spirited melee. Jones dropped the mitts with Justin Abdelkader and cleanly pounded the Red Wing to the ice in an easily awarded decision.
"Just a little bit of frustration," he said. "It's been a tough few weeks as far as production goes, so I'm just trying to find a way to contribute to the team. I saw White coming up the middle and it's my job to hit him; and if I don't, then I probably won't have a job here that long."
Jones added an assist on Gagner's breakaway goal in the second period, capping a productive evening in which ice-time was sparse; with 11 minor penalties called, the rugged winger carved the Joe Louis sheet for only 8:54.
It's the metamorphosis that Jones hopes will not only translate to his game, but to the entire team's as well. Having had a successful string at home in recent weeks, the Oilers continue to struggle on the road, producing a 6-20-2 record overall. If the club hopes to make up ground in the season's waning moments, improvement away from Rexall Place is vital.
""The best road teams are the teams that keep it really simple," Jones explained. "We always talk about it, getting pucks out and getting pucks in and throwing them at the net. When we've lost, it's what we've shied away from is. We've tried to pass them into the net instead of shooting and putting bodies there.
Those inadequacies certainly carried over into the power-play, too, where the Oilers squandered a 1:14-long 5-on-3 chance, going 1-for-6 on the night overall. But there's no panic in that or the team's game in general, as practice, as illustrated today, was designed to help everyone move on and improve.
"We've got a bunch of great hockey players out there, so I'm sure we'll see better next game," Jones said. "We've got to get back rolling."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick