THE TEAM TODAY: California Continuance
Oilers hold team workout and optional practice near Long Beach in preparation for Monday's game against the Ducks
CALIFORNIA CONTINUANCELAKEWOOD, CA - Following Saturday's afternoon loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the Edmonton Oilers boarded a bus for Anaheim where they will play the Ducks on Monday night.
Sunday was a day for the team to hold a workout and optional skate at one of the Ducks practice facilities near Long Beach. With two straight losses, it was an opportunity to reflect on the playoff race and what the team needs to do to win the tough games and get back into the eighth spot.
"I think the games in Calgary were almost a detriment to us. In a lot of ways, offensively, things came too easy and then we stepped into a President's Trophy winner last year in Vancouver and the reigning Stanley Cup champs and it snapped us back to reality, the type of game we're going to need to play in order to be successful," Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff began.
Horcoff added that being in this position and ultimately converting the opportunity into a playoff position is something that is part of the young team's development.
"It's a process. We've talked about it all year long. We've done a good job getting ourselves in position to have really meaningful games and put ourselves into a position where we're actually getting teams like Vancouver, Anaheim and L.A.'s best game. It's been years since that. These teams have played us the last three or four years and not been as intense as they normally would because they wouldn't have to be."
The captain also talked about the team's energy level and how that needs to be better on Monday against the Ducks.
"Three games in three-and-a-half days, really, with travel was a little bit tough but everyone goes through that, it's not really an excuse. Today we just had a real workout. There were a few guys skating and we're going to try and get that (energy) back."
The Oilers schedule starts to ease up after Monday's game with the team playing Wednesday, Saturday and Tuesday before a quick one-game trip to Colorado the following Friday.
"It'll be real nice for us to be able to get a big win tomorrow and that situates us with a game against Phoenix (Wednesday) and Calgary (Saturday). Two teams that we need to absolutely beat in order to get a chance," Horcoff remarked. "We're not looking too far ahead. I think our focus right now is just on how we need to play individually, making sure that we're ready and intense and the standings will take care of themselves if we go out and do our thing."
And the Oilers did get some help on the scoreboard on Sunday with Detroit losing in regulation to St. Louis. The Red Wings sit four points ahead of the Oilers but Edmonton does have a game in hand.
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger echoed the comments of his captain and the team's energy level the past few games.
"The way we want to play is pretty clear right now. We did go through ups and downs and growth spurts during the season but these losses are not connected at all to a misunderstanding of how we need to play. We didn't feel there were structural weaknesses in the game. We felt that we didn't bring the energy and the back peddle in certain one-on-one situations in little pieces of the game that made parts of the puzzle fall out and we really had difficulty matching that level."
The playoff chase has required an energy from the club that they haven't seen in recent years, having not been in a meaningful position to grab a playoff spot down the stretch since the 2008-09 season.
"It's a level that we haven't seen for the years that I've been here that we're learning to get to," Krueger continued. "The hunger to get there quickly -- tomorrow -- against Anaheim is big, I have to say. It was three games in a short period of time, we all know that, but other teams are doing that too and we've got to learn to deal with it and learn to bring it at that level in that period of time. That's something that was lacking but that we're hungry to respond to."
FISTRIC RETURNS MONDAY
Coach Krueger noted that Mark Fistric is likely to make his return to the lineup on Monday against the Ducks after being a healthy extra the past seven games.
"We're definitely considering changing our look," said Krueger. "The plan to bring Mark Fistric in is there and you will see him in the lineup. How the rest of it falls out I'd rather not say today but it's Mark coming in to be a player uncomfortable to play against and make sure that he is a special player in that role."
Fistric last played on March 25 in Nashville against the Predators. He went minus-one with a shot on goal in 15:44 of ice time and three hits.
"We look forward to seeing Mark back in the lineup."
SCHULTZ RETURNS TO ANAHEIM
Another storyline for Monday is Justin Schultz's first game in Anaheim against the Ducks, the team he was drafted by.
"I've thought about it," Schultz said about his return to Southern California. "Obviously, we've played a lot of games before this so I don't really know what's going to happen. Being able to get into the League and play a lot of games instead of coming here first -- that would have been a lot tougher. I've played a lot of games so it might make it a little bit easier."
Schultz added that he feels that his game has improved considerably playing at the NHL level versus the AHL which is where he started the year due to the lockout.
"It's a lot bigger challenge defensively (in the NHL). Guys are a lot bigger and faster. In the AHL, I didn't really get that challenge too much. It's been good. I'm really trying to improve in that area of my game and I think I have."
An Anaheim reporter asked Schultz about his reasons for joining the Oilers and Schultz reiterated that he was happy with the decision he ultimately made.
"It was me having the option to be a free agent and choose where I wanted to play and I saw an opportunity in Edmonton. I don't regret making that decision."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com with files from Bob Stauffer