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THE TEAM TODAY: On the Road Again

Oilers look ahead to monstrous road trip after Sunday's practice in Leduc

Sunday, 24.02.2013 / 3:33 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
   SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 24

NINE GAMES IN 17 DAYS

EDMONTON - Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago (again) and Denver.

Over the next 17 days, the Oilers will make separate stops in each city and will return home in two-and-a-half weeks' time with a clearer picture of where they stand with less than half the season to play.

"We're feeling really good about it," said Head Coach Ralph Krueger after wrapping up a 45-minute practice at the Leduc Recreation Centre Sunday morning. "You can feel the energy here. Everybody's excited.

"We need to keep the picture really, really small and take very good care of our bodies and our minds.

"We need to work really, really intelligently together on conserving our energy, on the nutrition, on the times we go on the ice, how long that's going to be, our sleep patterns -- we're staying over on three nights that we wouldn't have done in the past. All kinds of details have been taken care of by the staff. Our nutrition on the airplane will be as good as ever and all these little details will help us to have the energy and the focus to help us perform the way we want to on any given night."

"I think you have to take it one game at a time," added winger Ryan Jones, who made his season debut Saturday vs. Phoenix. "When you look at the whole road trip all together, it's going to be a bit overwhelming. If you approach every game as it is, it's going to be a lot easier.

"The plane, as comfortable as it is, is not like being at home."

Stop 1 on the Road Trip From Hell is the Windy City where the 7-7-3 Oilers will face off against the League's best team, the Chicago Blackhawks. With a 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks Friday night, the Blackhawks set a new NHL record after earning at least a point in each of their first 17 games (14-0-3).

"The start that they've had is insane," said Jones. "It's something that we have to work ourselves up for. They score by committee and are extremely hard to play against at home because it's so loud in that building."

"To play the best team in the National Hockey League right off the bat is exciting," added Krueger. "It will be a great measuring stick not only for our defensive play, but also for our offensive potential. We feel extremely confident that we're going to give them a difficult night and we're going to do everything we can to win. It would be more than an honour to end that streak."

Highlighted by a pair of lopsided victories (9-2 and 8-4), the Oilers went 3-1-0 against the Blackhawks last season.

"Our fans didn't do us any favours by chanting, ‘We want 10,'" laughed Jones.

"I don't know what it is. There are those teams that you play good against and every team seems to have one. When I was with Nashville, our team was Detroit. It seemed like we would win the series every year against those guys. I don't know if it's our system that matches up well with theirs or, if in the room, we collectively get up a little more to play against those guys, but we've had success."

"It's a great measuring stick for us," added Ryan Smyth, who played a season-high 22:35 Saturday afternoon and has now recorded four points in his last four games after  being a healthy scratch. "They're playing really well and haven't lost in regulation. Sure, we'd like to give it to them (their first loss)."

Smyth continued to practice on a line with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins due to the suspension to Taylor Hall.

"We caught Chicago off guard both times (last year) and they played very, very soft defensively," said Krueger. "We got quick leads -- big, quick leads and they never recovered. It was our good starts and their lack of defence that opened it up for us. We were opportunists."

Still, it's a new season and Krueger wants his team to understand that. While the Oilers have struggled to produce 5-on-5 this year, Chicago certainly hasn't. The Blackhawks sit fourth in the NHL with 36 5-on-5 goals, while the Oilers are dead last with only 18.

And that's only one element of what makes them dangerous. Needless to say, it's quite the litmus test.

"Everything that happened last year is irrelevant," said Krueger. "We're completely in this season, as is Chicago. I know they're going to respect us and our team is on the path to grow and to emulate what Chicago has done.

"It's a special game for us to come up against an experienced group of players who were once like we are now."

ONE DOWN, ONE MORE TO SERVE

Following an open-ice, knee-on-thigh hit on Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck Thursday, Taylor Hall was suspended for two games. The 21-year-old has one game left to serve after sitting out for Saturday's win over the Coyotes.

"It's tough to take," said Hall. "It really sucks being out of the lineup and it's really weird being out of the lineup when you're not hurt.

"But I respect the League's decision. You have a couple minutes to explain your side of the story and (Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's Vice President of Hockey/Business Development and head disciplinarian) explains what he saw. The video was kind of damning. It looked bad, so I can understand where he was coming from on some parts. On others, we disagreed."

The incident occurred late in the third period Thursday when Hall anticipated a bouncing puck would be corralled by Clutterbuck in the neutral zone. It wasn't and, with little time to react and change course, Hall made contact with Clutterbuck's exposed left thigh.

"I anticipated him getting full possession of the puck, but it bounced away in a weird way," said Hall. "I thought the puck hit his skate at one point.

"I felt bad seeing him on the ice and certainly feel bad for him having to miss games, but I'm still going to play clean and play physical for our team when I get back."

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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