THE TEAM TODAY: Dealing with Frustration
Oilers practice at Rexall Place on the heels of Coach Tom Renney's post-game rant
DEALING WITH FRUSTRATIONEdmonton, AB - Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney had some strong words for his squad following Monday's 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Rexall Place — a game in which the home side never led and was out-shot 33-22. It was Edmonton's fifth consecutive defeat on home ice, and the bench boss was evidently frustrated.
"We've got a few people who have to look in the mirror here, because this is unacceptable," Renney said post-game. The coach also mentioned his players' level of appreciation for having the opportunity to compete in the NHL. "Suck it up and play hockey."
The message was certainly received by the players at practice on Tuesday. There was no bag skate, as one might anticipate following a frustrating loss, but the Oilers had a spirited workout and then discussed the current state of the team as they prepare to host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.
"Everyone in here heard it, and I think we should all be a little embarrassed," defenceman Ryan Whitney said of his coach's comments. "He makes good points. We can't just try to finish out a season and not play hard. A finish to a year can lead to a lot of good things next year. It's a ways away, but it can make a difference. There's a level of pride we have to have. It's about growing and doing what's best for the team."
"He said what needed to be said, and message taken," winger Ryan Jones added. "Tom doesn't say that kind of thing very often, so when he does you really look at it and start to evaluate what you need to do to change. Everyone in this room is competitive and everyone wants to win. We're going to go out and push harder tomorrow and play for each other."
Captain Shawn Horcoff admitted the team experienced some internal squabbling during and after the game last night, but they have since discussed the issues at hand and are united as they embark on the final three games of their four-game homestand.
"Frustration is going to happen, especially when you're the 29th-place team and feel like you're better than where you're at," Horcoff said. "We met as a team today and talked about it, and it's a matter of sticking together. If frustration didn't happen at this point, we'd have a problem. We've got guys who care and want to do better, individually and team-wise. We addressed everything today and regrouped. We look forward to coming out with a better effort tomorrow against Columbus."
A different, more assertive attitude towards tomorrow's game will lead to a much more satisfied head coach, Renney said.
"My frustration is that we don't play to our potential. We can be a real good hockey club. Last night we went out and played not to lose. Go play. Appreciate the experience and the opportunity. Play on your toes and not your heels. You can't play in fear … you've got to go play hard. There's a genuine desire to win here, especially in front of our home fans."
A major bright spot for the Oilers in the tough loss to the Sharks was the play of sophomore defenceman Jeff Petry. The 24-year-old logged the second-most ice time on the team at 21:39 (Ryan Whitney played 22:22) and finished with a +1 rating, four hits, two takeaways and a blocked shot.
"Outstanding," Renney said post-game when asked about Petry's performance. "This kid's a player. And he's just going to get better. He's got lots to learn, no question about that. He needs to learn how to assert himself even more. He's a good player and he was very good for us tonight."
The Michigan native has two goals and 16 assists in 62 games this season after scoring five points in 35 games as a rookie last year. While his skating ability and offensive upside have never been in question, Petry has been showcasing his physicality more as of late, adding another element to his increasingly versatile game.
"I'm feeling good as of late and yesterday was one of my stronger games," the soft-spoken Petry said. "It's something that's been mentioned to me by the coaches to play a little more physical and take that extra half-second away from the other team's skilled guys. It wears on those top lines and makes them hesitate about going into the corners, giving us more time to make a play."
The blueliner admits physicality hasn't been a major part of his game during his development years, his NCAA career with the Michigan State Spartans and his early time with the Oilers organization. But the coaching staff has shown Petry video of his effectiveness when he uses his body, which has given the up-and-coming rearguard more confidence.
"You do the battle drills in practice. You show him where he's had success through video, show him where he's been able to over-power an opponent," Renney said. "That just breeds confidence, and as he starts to have success, and you continue to encourage that as a coach, it starts to build. And that's where he is now. He's getting better as he gets stronger."
It's been a tough week for Oilers winger Ben Eager. The power forward missed last Thursday's game against Montreal and Saturday's matchup in Colorado with the flu. Eager returned to the lineup Monday against San Jose, but he was forced to leave Tuesday's practice early with back spasms. His status for Wednesday's game against Columbus is uncertain.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com