THE TEAM TODAY: In the Race
After Saturday's win, Oilers find themselves one point out of a playoff spot as the NHL's trade deadline approaches
IN THE RACEEDMONTON - After a huge win at home against the Vancouver Canucks last night, the Oilers were back on the ice at Rexall Place on Easter Sunday in preparation for a home-and-home series against the Calgary Flames.
It was a full practice with the exception of Ales Hemsky, who was off the ice for a maintenance day. The team ran the same line combinations and defence pairings as they had on Saturday with assistant coach Kelly Buchberger filling in for Hemsky on a line with Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner.
The team was in good spirits following they impressive 4-0 victory that saw Taylor Hall score a franchise record three goals in the game's opening 7:53.
"It was definitely a fun night. Any time you can break a record like that and have a win most importantly against a team like Vancouver, is awesome," said Taylor Hall following practice, adding that the early-season struggles for his line are simply part of the game.
"That's hockey. You just keep working and working. You have to be confident in yourself and your abilities. I'm playing with guys like Nuge and Ebs who make plays on a consistent basis and it's a lot of fun to play with them when we're on. You just try to get as many shots as you can towards the net."
Hall added that the upcoming home-and-home against the Flames is crucial with the Oilers in a logjam of four times tied with 35 points -- one back of the St. Louis Blues.
"You win one, you lose one it's pretty hard to make the playoffs like that," Hall stated. "We've won three games in a row for the first time this year, we need to make it four. We need to keep winning. We're still not in the playoffs yet. We have a good chance in front of us and we're playing well. Games against Calgary -- we play them back-to-back -- if we had two wins here it would be huge for our team. I think you could really tell in the building last night, the fans could sense we're close and you want to give them that."
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger said that he likes what he's been seeing from Hall and his line mates confidence-wise lately and it's been a matter of breaking some habits which formed in Oklahoma City.
"As much as everybody was exciting about the younger players playing together in the American League, there were also bad habits developing there as that went on with the time and space that they had," he said. "I think there was a transition back into doing the things that need to be done in the NHL to score. You can see it evolving in all three of them. Taylor especially, has that injury that he'd been working off of. He had time in the American League and he had time now. Those injuries don't just come back to 100% overnight. I think physically he's feeling as good as he has in years and you can see it in his legs."
ARRIVAL OF THE OFFENCE
Coach Krueger talked about how the team has been able to have success five-on-five as of late and it has helped lead to the team's first three-game winning streak of the season.
"I think when you look at the shortened season, everything needed to happen so much quicker than a regular 82-game schedule. It's one of the things where we knew there was a lot of work to do. We had difficulty scoring five-on-five in the past or on the road we had difficulties with offensive opportunities scoring five-on-five. We were so dependent on our power play."
All three wins have come in regulation for the Oilers as well and it has come at a key time with all the teams around them gaining points also.
"We've just been working on it very consistently. A lot of video work. A lot of conversations about the need to do certain things, the habits that are necessary to score at this level. And the habits are coming through. You can see more and more players driving to the net. You can see more shots from non-scoring areas. It's no magic, it's just really hard work and it's sacrificial work that's paying off for us."
THE ANTON HAS LANDERED
The Oilers announced that they have recalled Anton Lander from Oklahoma City of the AHL. It comes one night after Lander had the best pro game of his career with three goals and three assists for six points in leading the Barons to a 7-3 win over Rockford.
"I think it's really important that we have a 13th forward in the fold," said Krueger. "Belanger's injury looks to be lingering and looks to be going on for awhile. We can't sit back on the 12 forwards. We need somebody else ready to be able to jump in."
Krueger said that the addition of Lander as their 13th forward helps give the team some versatility.
"Anton is the logical insert because I don't see one spot in the lineup, whether on wing or at centre, whether on the top or bottom, that Anton wouldn't be able to fill in right now. He's really our most multi-skilled and talented player. We love his personality. We know he's got a real competitive spirit in him which is needed right now in the race."
The head coach added that the playoff race for the eighth and final playoff spot that is expected to occur over the next four weeks will require players such as Lander.
"We're going to need players that can roll up their sleeves and take bumps and bruises and play through injuries and Anton has shown that kind of resilience. We're pleased to have him join the fold."
Krueger also remarked that the team will stay with the current line combinations but having the extra skater will be a benefit.
"It puts pressure on the lineup," he said. "It keeps the 12 forwards honest and he's a good depth player. Six points in one game yesterday didn't hurt, either."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com