THE TEAM TODAY: Back at it
Oilers return to practice at Rexall Place with Saturday's Battle of Alberta next up
BACK AT ITEDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers took part in a full practice on Thursday at Rexall Place with the team holding a couple of practices prior to Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada Battle of Alberta against the Calgary Flames.
The practice came off the heels of a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday that has put the Oilers' backs up against the wall in the Western Conference Playoff Race.
"It was a tough game for us. It was a must-win for our team and we came up short," said Taylor Hall. "It's really tough as a line, too, to not score in four games. It makes it really hard on our team and it's hard not to feel pressure from that."
Hall added that the team now must focus on moving forward with eight games remaining and six at home.
"That loss really puts a damper in our playoff hopes and that's a tough thing to wake up to. Now it's just about doing the best we can and focusing game-to-game. We have a big game on Saturday night that we can look forward to - Hockey Night in Canada games and Saturday night games are always fun. Even with last night's loss, it's still a good day to wake up and come to the rink and see the guys."
Hall showed some frustration on Wednesday near the end of the game when he slashed Coyotes defenceman Zbynek Michalek.
"He was kind of holding my stick and I meant to slash him on the back of the legs and I just slashed him a little bit harder than I would have wanted to," he said. "It's just one of those things where in the heat of the battle we're down 2-1 and I was just really pressing out there. Sometimes you just make mistakes and go a little bit harder than you would have liked to. I'm lucky I didn't get a penalty."
While he didn't condone the slash, Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger said he liked to see Hall -- and all his players -- playing with an edge as it's the type of hockey you see down the stretch and in the postseason.
"We're asking all of the players, whether they're the ones that you expect the aggressiveness," said Krueger. "Every player in the lineups of the playoff teams is doing this regularly. For Taylor to take a lead position there or anybody who's seen as more of an attacking offensive player, that's important for us as we go forward there.
"We need to show that it's not okay when the score is 0-2. We have to show it sometimes in ways that don't have to do with offence and handling the puck. It has to do with aggressiveness defensively, looking for physical opportunities whether it's in front of the net or in the corner. We like to see that edge and I believe that we can add to that edge as we move forward here, from all players right through the lineup."
YAKUPOV ON FIRE
With seven points in his last six games, Nail Yakupov is playing some of the best hockey of the season. Krueger was asked about the possibility of moving him up to a more offensive line.
"We plugged him in there at the end. He got some shifts with Gags and Hemmer. But Yak right now, he just accepts wherever and I thought that line was one of our most effective in the third period -- Smytty, Horc and Yak -- and had the most scoring chances out of all the lines in the third period."
The head coach didn't tip his hand on what he might do with the lines on Saturday.
"That was good to see that we potentially had three lines rolling against Calgary if we leave the lines the same way. I really didn't think about it last night or this morning. It was about having a good work session today and now I'm going to go over the game this afternoon."
NOTES FROM PRACTICE
Ales Hemsky, Ladislav Smid and Jordan Eberle were the only skaters absent from the practice.
"Laddy is a maintenance and Jordan Eberle, there's an illness in the family that he's attending to today," said Krueger.
Krueger also confirmed that Ales Hemsky's absence was related to the foot injury that's had him in and out of the lineup this past week.
"For Hemmer, it's management of the foot injury."
Anton Lander was assigned to Oklahoma City (AHL) prior to the start of practice today.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com