THE TEAM TODAY: Captain Clutch
Oilers practice at Rexall, talk Eberle's heroics with injury updates and more
CAPTAIN CLUTCHEdmonton, AB - Trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 late in the third period of Wednesday night's intense cross-country battle at Rexall Place, the Oilers needed a clutch goal, and they got it off the stick of the player everyone expected to score it — Jordan Eberle.
The sophomore right-winger has earned the nickname Captain Clutch for his uncanny ability to score timely goals. In 121 career NHL games, Eberle has scored eight game-winning goals (five last year and three this year) and countless equalizing markers like he did against the Leafs on Wednesday.
His late-game heroics didn't just start in the NHL, though, as he was also a clutch scorer with Team Canada at the 2009 and 2010 World Junior Championship tournaments. Eberle quite simply craves the puck during pressure situations, he said following Thursday's Oilers practice at Rexall.
"I've always wanted the puck on my stick at the end of the game," said the 21-year-old sniper, who fired a wrist shot from the slot top shelf on Leafs goalie James Reimer with 4:04 left in the third period to make it 3-3, sending the game to overtime.
"I try to find that extra drive to put it in. Whether it's the first goal or the last goal, you always want to be the guy to score. I just try to always give our team a chance to win. Goal scoring has everything to do with confidence, and right now I'm feeling confident. When you have that, you feel dangerous from anywhere."
Eberle has every reason to be confident right now, as he leads the Oilers in scoring with 25 goals and 30 assists in 52 games, putting him 10th in the NHL's points race. The 2012 NHL All-Star Game selection has scored five goals in his last five games and boasts a lethal shooting percentage of 20.5.
Though Tim Connolly scored in sudden death to win Wednesday's heated battle for the Leafs, the Oilers were able to fight back after an early 2-0 deficit and outshot Toronto 32-26.
"It was a fun game to be a part of," Eberle said. "We faced a lot of adversity with a lot of their fans in the building and then falling behind 2-0 early, but we did a great job battling back. They caught us off guard, but we called a timeout, calmed down and got back to our game plan."
EAGER TO CONTRIBUTE
A big reason why the Oilers were able to get back into Wednesday's game against the Leafs was the spirited play of left-winger Ben Eager, who got the team on the board and cut the gap to 2-1 with a goal 2:32 into the first period. He then earned a decisive fight victory against Mike Brown two minutes later, swinging the momentum further in Edmonton's favour.
"I thought he really made an impact on the game," Associate Coach Ralph Krueger said of Eager's play. Krueger addressed the media post-practice on Thursday as Head Coach Tom Renney continues to recover from a head injury suffered last week.
"Not only the goal, which was necessary to turn the tide of the bad start, but also the physicality he brought in, finishing hits. And the fight was really an emotional swing. We got back into the game physically, and Ben was the leader."
Despite his impactful first period performance, Eager received the least amount of time on ice of all Oilers skaters on Wednesday, finishing at 7:07. Krueger said he and the rest of the coaching staff plan to re-evaluate the power forward's playing time.
"That has to be a discussion we have after a game like that," the coach said. "Whether it's raising the ice time of the line that he's on or whether he gets spot duty in other situations, following power plays for instance. There's definitely going to be a positive reaction for him if he continues to play that way."
Eager is now on a two-game goal streak after scoring against the Senators in Ottawa last Saturday as well. He has a +1 rating during that span and his seven goals on the season ranks him eighth on the Oilers roster. The 28-year-old is also the third-most efficient shooter on the team at 15.6%.
"I believe in what I can do, so I just try to show up and make the most of the opportunities I'm given," he said. "Obviously, everyone wants to play more and have a bigger role, but I'm going to show up and keep working and see what happens. I've been feeling good for the last little while, and it certainly helps the confidence when you score a couple goals."
Rookie centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took part in practice on Thursday but wore a red non-contact jersey as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury suffered in Toronto on Feb. 6. Coach Krueger confirmed Nugent-Hopkins will not return to the lineup when the Oilers host the Avalanche tomorrow night.
"He's in a process of recovery and we're happy he was skating with us non-contact today," Krueger said. "It's one day at a time, but we have to be patient with him and wait until he's 100% ready."
Defenceman Corey Potter, who's dealing with a groin injury, also skated for the first time on Thursday, but his on-ice workout occurred before the rest of the team skated. Krueger said Potter "will need a few more days for sure."
Defenceman Theo Peckham is also working his way back in the lineup, sidelined with a sinus problem after taking a puck to the nose during practice. Peckham hasn't played since Jan. 31, but he is now taking contact in practice and said Thursday he "has been feeling good for a week or so" and his status is now up to the coaching staff.
O'MARRA DEALT TO DUCKS
The Oilers acquired defenceman Bryan Rodney from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for centre Ryan O’Marra on Thursday afternoon. The 27-year-old Rodney has played in 41 games this season with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, collecting five goals and 15 assists.
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-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com