THE TEAM TODAY: Mystery Match-Ups
Oilers can't solve Stars despite dominating other playoff teams
MYSTERY MATCH-UPSEdmonton, AB - There are certain teams across the NHL the Oilers have matched up very well against this season, and that has translated into season-series victories. But on the flip side, a handful of teams have certainly had Edmonton's number as well, most notably the Dallas Stars.
Wednesday night's 3-1 defeat to the Stars gave Dallas a 4-0 season-series sweep, with the Oilers scoring just one goal in each of the four games against the Lone Star State squad. Edmonton has, however, enjoyed an opposite fate against other playoff-bound teams, posting 3-1 records against Nashville and Chicago, and two wins so far over Los Angeles with two more games left to play in the coming week.
"When you're a young team like we are, still trying to find yourself and create an identity, there are teams you're going to have more success against than others," Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney said following team practice on Thursday.
"But at the same time, obviously, our objective is that it doesn't matter (who our opponent is). Dallas is a mature team that was hungry for a win. They got us to play outside our game plan, and it ultimately gave them the points."
The Oilers will look to make it three consecutive wins over the Kings this season when the southern California squad visits Rexall Place on Friday for a 7:30pm tilt. Despite Wednesday's defeat to Dallas, Edmonton is still one of the hotter teams in the league right now with a 5-2-3 record in their last 10 games.
Some of the credit for the Oilers strong play in March has to be given to the resurgence of defenceman Ryan Whitney.
Hockey is finally starting to feel comfortable again for the blueliner, who has had a roller-coaster ride since coming to the organization at the 2009-10 trade deadline. The Boston native scored 27 points and was +13 in 35 games to start 2010-11, but a season-ending right ankle injury put a halt to what could have been a phenomenal campaign.
The 29-year-old spent the entire off-season trying to get his ankle back to 100 per cent and finally returned to the Oilers lineup on October 18. He then hurt his right knee one week later, however, and his lineup presence was sporadic until after the January all-star break, as he recovered from the knee injury and still experienced pain in his repaired ankle.
Whitney has once again become an impact player for the Oilers, particularly during their recent successful stretch of games, as he boasts a +6 rating and five points in his last nine contests. Perhaps the most encouraging news, though, is that he said he is no longer playing with discomfort.
"I finally feel better," Whitney said on Thursday. "I've been pain-free since the all-star break and I've played 28 games, so that's kind of been my season, personally how I've looked at it. I've still had some off-games since then, but I have 16 points in those 28 games, which would turn out to be a pretty successful 82-game season, and that's my goal for next year."
"Real good," Renney added, when asked about Whitney's recent play. "I think he's at peace with where he is as a player. If this is the new normal for him, I'm happy with that. What he's done is calm down and settle into who he is and what he needs to do."
Just two and a half months ago in mid-January, Whitney admitted he felt as though he may never be able to play completely pain-free again. He said some small equipment adjustments have actually made a big difference.
"I started a different method of how I tie my skates and tape my shin pads," Whitney explained. That's given me some more support and helped the pain go away. The pain was prohibiting me, but those little changes gave my foot more security, and it's helped."
The former 59-point player with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006-07 said he's looking forward to continuing his strong play to close out the season, spending the summer getting back to his usual off-season workout routine, and arriving at training camp in September performing at a very high level.
"It's good to finally feel like you're contributing," Whitney said. "It's good to finally get into a groove. When you don't play for so long, and go out and come back again, you just can't get into a rhythm, but now I finally feel that way. I'm looking forward to power skating and working out this summer, since I haven't been able to train normally for two years."
The Oilers forward lines and power-play units had a different look at practice on Thursday than they did the previous night against the Stars. The top line featured Ryan Smyth joining Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, while Linus Omark skated with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky on the second trio.
Teemu Hartikainen and Ryan Jones dropped down to flank captain Shawn Horcoff, while Eric Belanger, Chris VandeVelde and Lennart Petrell practiced together, with Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager not participating in line rushes.
The power-play units on Thursday consisted of Jeff Petry, Nugent-Hopkins, Hemsky, Eberle and Horcoff in one group, with Corey Potter, Whitney, Gagner, Smyth and Omark comprising the other man-advantage crew.
"We're not finished moving people around," Renney said of the line shuffling. "We want to look at people in certain combinations and see what kind of success we can have."
Defenceman Theo Peckham remains sidelined with a concussion and did not practice. Peckham went hard into the corner boards on Sunday afternoon during the team's road trip finale in Columbus against the Blue Jackets as a result of a collision with Rick Nash.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com