THE TEAM TODAY: Onward & Upward
THE TEAM TODAY: Onward & UpwardEDMONTON - It may have only been about 13 hours since the Red Wings came from behind to post a 3-2 overtime victory on Friday night at Rexall Place, but the tough defeat was a distant memory for the Oilers as they held a full team practice on Saturday morning.
The Oilers built a solid 2-0 lead on Detroit through 40 minutes on the strength of goals from Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner, and they also held a dominant 26-14 advantage in shots. Three Oilers penalties and Red Wings goals from Valtteri Filppula and Niklas Kronwall forced overtime, leading to Pavel Datsyuk's highlight-reel game-winner 3:39 into the extra frame.
While the decision wasn't a favourable one for the home side, especially considering they were far and away the better team through 40 minutes, they remained positive considering they are now undefeated in regulation in their last three games with a 2-0-1 record. The Oilers (10-11-6) are putting the OT loss in their rearview mirror and continuing to build positive momentum.
"We work in these best-of-three (segments) and this was our best segment of the season getting five points out of six," Head Coach Ralph Krueger said following Saturday's skate. "So after digesting the pain of the loss yesterday, today is already much more moving forward and working on the things that made us strong in that stretch. We've got points in three straight games, let's keep this point streak going."
"We were feeling good about our game, so it's tough to squander those two points, but we have to look at the positives," added veteran blueliner Nick Schultz. "Our game is coming with the last two we had on the road and last night against Detroit. We just learned that you can't let down your guard for any time or it will come back to haunt you. Our game has come a long way and now we have to keep getting points and give ourselves an opportunity to get into the top eight."
Lack of discipline with the three minor penalties and not maintaining their aggressive defensive play led to the third period lapse against the Red Wings, Coach Krueger highlighted on Saturday. The bench boss said his squad may have given Detroit too much respect in the latter stages.
"What we did lose was a bit of our defensive aggressiveness and pressure in the third period," he said. "We sat just a little bit back, and that was enough for Detroit to get into the game. The over-respect for Detroit could have been something in our heads that we're still working on. We have to release that from these teams that have been icons in the past. We need to look them in the eyes and have that swagger that maybe we don't have yet.
Coach Krueger also asserted it's not in the team's game plan to get comfortable after building a lead.
"This was a team that will never have an order to sit back," he said. "We let our foot off the gas pedal a little bit. That should never happen, no matter what the situation is. We want to stay on our toes and keep playing aggressive defence."
Ladislav Smid and Ales Hemsky were the only Oilers not participating in Saturday's practice, but Coach Krueger said they merely had a few bumps and bruises and were taking a maintenance day. The bench boss added he expects both Czech veterans to be in the lineup on Sunday against Nashville.
Eric Belanger has been on injured reserve since last weekend and told reporters today that he tweaked his groin during his last shift against the Predators in Music City on March 8. Though the centreman is close to returning, he won't play tomorrow.
"The progress is good," Belanger said. "Today was another positive day. I've been skating for three days now. It's not quite there yet, so we're going to be cautious about it. When I come back I want to be 100% and make sure I can help the team win."
It's been a tough season for the veteran in terms of injuries, as he also missed time earlier in the year with a broken toe. Belanger, who has three assists and an even rating in 21 games, isn't used to being on the shelf, having played 75 or more games in each of the past six seasons.
"I've been lucky the last six or seven years injury-wise, I haven't missed very many games," he said. "But this year with my toe and then my groin … it's frustrating. I want to be out there to help the team, but it's part of the game and the guys are playing great."
Also up front, Ryan Jones remains questionable to play against Nashville on Sunday as he recovers from the flu. He will take morning skate and his status will be evaluated. On the back end, Coach Krueger said Mark Fistric is likely to make his return from an elbow injury suffered on February 28 in Dallas.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com