FINAL REMARKSEdmonton, AB - It began with such hope and promise, but 2011-12 quickly evolved into another season of gloom in which a near-the-basement ranking squashed pre-season optimism.
Well, sort of. While the Oilers' placing in the NHL's Western Conference was only bumped by single spot, improvement was made. Last season, the Oilers collected 25 wins and 62 points; but a year later, seven more W's were notched, as well as an additional 12 points, totaling 72 in 82 games.
The club's penalty kill continued to be good, the power-play spiked en route to a 20.6 percent success rate, placing behind the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks. The Oilers' young guns rose, most notably Jordan Eberle's 76-point campaign as he ended the year up by 23 points on second-place Taylor Hall (who's abbreviated season limited him to only 61 games).
Along with No. 14's Lady Byng consideration, another superstar made a case for the Calder Trophy. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 18, scored 18 goals and 52 points in 62 games as a rookie.
As such and with the success they've had, both are likely to play at the upcoming World Hockey Championship. Nugent-Hopkins has had a discussion with Steve Tambellini and will require a medical test to be approved.
"I'm pretty excited," said Eberle, who's already accepted his invitation from Oilers President of Hockey Operations (and Team Canada GM) Kevin Lowe. "Any time you get a chance to represent your country, it's an honour. I've done it a couple years now. It's a great tournament and it's nice to be playing hockey in May."
Eberle was a shoo-in, as he captured Oil Country's heart with a mind-blowing sophomore season, nearly doubling his goal-scoring total from 2010-11 and setting a near point-per-game pace.
"Going into the season, I didn't really set number-goals. I knew what to expect. I knew the rinks on the road, I knew what to expect as far as the grind of the season and it was more of a veteran team.
"You need that winning mindset," he added, noting that it wasn't easy to smile and embrace his success while the club struggled as a whole. "You've got to buy in. Whether it's in practice, working hard, or that consistency level that I'm always a big fan of. I don't want to say we took shortcuts, but we didn't have games where we played our best and others where we did."
Still, there's reason to be glad. The Oilers ended the season on an 8-3-2 run on the road, complementing their above .500 (18-17-6) home record and putting emphasis on getting wins in tough situations. That, too, is something to build and hang their hat on.
"It's tough to win on the road," Eberle said. "I think that goes to show that we're getting better as a team. We want to be a winning team. With the strides that we made this year, we're a better team this year than we were last year. It's tough to keep that positive attitude in the locker room when you're 29th, but I think we've got the core, the leadership, the young talent and the positive attitude to do it."
Former No. 1 overall picks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall both agreed, adding that there's no bar or set limit to their development. It's an ongoing process, fuelled by the desire to become one of the NHL's elite teams.
"It was a good experience for me," RNH said, looking back at his rookie season. "I learned a lot this year, got lucky coming to a team like this with a good group of young guys and older guys really helping to lead.
"I'm going to keep working on everything. I want to get stronger, make sure that I get quicker and get my shot better."
Hall had successful surgery on his shoulder last week in Cleveland, Ohio and should be ready to go when training camp hits next September.
"It went well, as well as any surgery can go," he said. "It's too bad I had to go through with that, but it was kind of our last option. I hope it went well, I hope that I repair well, heal well and feel good to start next year.
"As players, we're all maturing. In the room I want to be more vocal and try to take that next step, because I want to be here for a long time. I want to be here when we're the team that's contending and everything like that. I'm looking forward to taking that next step next year along with Ryan (Nugent-Hopkins) and Jordan (Eberle)."
NO. 1 SPOT SECURED
Devan Dubnyk began the season as the team's starting goalie. On Oct. 9, 2011, he held the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins to a single goal in a 2-1 shootout win to open the season.
Not to be outdone, Nikolai Khabibulin had an incredible 7-0-2 run that put him in the crease on a full-time basis; he didn't lose in regulation until Nov. 11 in Detroit, which also happened to be when the team's tailspin began.
But as the season wound down, Dubnyk was back where he belonged. In March, he set career highs with a monthly record of 6-2-1, a 1.95 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. With Khabibulin's struggles continuing (recording but a single win since Christmas), No. 40's spot as the starter was secured as he got the call in 12 of the Oilers' last 13 games.
"Getting a chance to play the games is an important part of it," he said. "It's not as easy when you're only playing every couple weeks. That's not an excuse to be giving up bad goals."
Those bad goals soon became a thing of the past.
"There was a point in time where I had to trust that I was capable of doing it," Dubnyk said. "I base my game off being big, relaxed and being in the right spot. It's amazing the way things go when you're tense. When you relax your body, pucks seem to stick to you instead of squeaking through those holes."
With it looking like Khabibulin will return as the backup next season, Dubnyk's role will likely expand to an expectation of 60-plus starts as the team's go-to guy.
"That's what I need to be prepared for," he said, smiling.
HIGHS TO THE LOWS
While Dubnyk, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and others had good seasons, others simply didn't. Ales Hemsky re-signed on a two-year, $10 million deal prior to the trade deadline, but his 2011-12 point-scoring totals weren't mirrored in that lucrative salary.
In total, he collected 10 goals and 36 points in 69 games, his lowest output since the 2003-04 campaign (excluding extremely-shorted seasons).
"It's been a disappointment. 29th place. There are no excuses," he said, owning up to his own play and the club's one-off-the-worst placing. We're a better team than that. We've got a lot of skilled guys, a lot of good young players and we should be better than that, so there's no excuse.
"I don't want to blame the season on my shoulder or anything like that. It's not an excuse. But it wasn't great and it was a struggle early on. In the last two months of the season, the shoulder was feeling way better.
"It's been a struggle the last couple years and going into this year," Hemsky added, citing that he'll get a full summer of training in over the offseason; something he hasn't been able to do in three years. "I'm happy that I ended (the season) better and the shoulder is getting better. This season didn't go how I wanted, but it is what it is now. I can't change that."
Hemsky is only 28 years old, in his prime and believes he "isn't done yet." As such, he's going to go over and represent the Czech Republic at the upcoming 2012 World Hockey Championship in Stockholm and Helsinki later this spring.
Considering scoring prowess, Hemsky's season wasn't nearly as disappointing as Eric Belanger's. The 34-year-old was signed on Jul. 1 to a three-year deal, hoping to provide some secondary production and help in the dot.
He did that part, securing a 55.2 percent success rate in the circle. But with only four goals, 16 points and a -13 rating in 78 games, it developed into a season of learning and new experiences.
"It's not the season I was expecting," he said. "I've done it for so many years, points-wise (16 is a career-low). It was a learning process for me.
"It's hard to point at one thing. You get off to a tough start, it's in your head and then it's hard to get out of it. I've been a 30-35 point guy my whole career and when you don't get the points, you feel like you don't contribute enough. Everything was going wrong -- (hitting) posts, missing the net."
While rumours have run rampant about Belanger's desire to stay in Edmonton, he put it bluntly about whether or not he's happy to be an Oiler:
At the moment, Head Coach Tom Renney, along with his associate Ralph Krueger and assistants Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith, don't have contracts for next season. Neither does General Manager Steve Tambellini, meaning changes could be on the way. Or not.
"I haven't had those conversations yet (about an extension)," Renney said. "We will. We needed to get a day like today out of the way, obviously. I'll work completely off Steve's timetable. I'm ready to chat anytime they want to.
"I love coaching. I love the game of hockey, I see myself continuing to coach and I want to do it here. It's a bigger version of the town I grew up in (Cranbrook, BC). I like the fact that people here care a lot. I love that we're scrutinized and I think that's completely fair. I think that's what makes Canadians and hockey special. If you're not prepared to deal with that on a daily basis as a coach, then you should try to do something else. And I'm okay with all of that.
"I believe that I can help be the solution here without a doubt. I believe strongly and I've said it a hundred times, I hope we can quit talking about a rebuild. But that certainly has been the process that we've been in for a couple years."
Renney didn't hide or dodge questions about certain moments over the past year that he'd like to have back. In particular, he referenced a game vs. Calgary in which he had his fourth line caught out on a long sequence against Jarome Iginla and the Flames' top unit.
"That was a poor coaching move," he said. "That's an example. Singular, but plural if you know what I mean.
"I don't think coaching got in the way of the team's performance this year, if you want to talk about the good stuff. If you want to talk about the bad stuff, (it's) completely my responsibility in every aspect."
While the team had a disappointing season and with uncertainty in tow heading into next, the team's goal -- on the ice and behind the bench -- is, at least, making progress. The 'rebuild' discussion so regularly brought up is valid, but the head coach is tired of it. Admittedly it may be true, but the Oilers' recent struggles could be nothing but a blip on the process' brighter blueprint.
"If you want a product in front of you that will stand the test of time, then you better suffer through the front end of that and really appreciate the good parts, because they're coming."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
THE FINAL COUNTDOWNEdmonton, AB - It appears as though a 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings and an ensuing off day was enough to stir the Oilers’ anger. In a spirited, 45-minute practice at Rexall Place Wednesday, emotions ran high the club pounded one another with an up-tempo and emotion-inducing session.
Just ask Ryan Whitney and Darcy Hordichuk. Engaging in one-on-one drills and sending each other to the ice in the process with bone-crunching hits, chirping was the norm as smiles and cheers made way for a more serious tone.
It didn’t end there either. Linus Omark, routinely healthy scratched, annoyed Andy Sutton to the point where a response was in order; it came in the way of a strong two-hander across the leg, but that was the end of it.
“It was okay,” Head Coach Tom Renney said, noting that he expects to see that level of compete on a day-in, day-out basis. “They're trying to work hard and do the right things, and every once in a while a reminder here and there from a coaching perspective. I didn't see anything extraordinary.”
It was quite appropriate, considering that no one dressed in orange and blue was happy with the team’s outing in Los Angeles. The score was one thing, but another political message was the story. Head Coach Tom Renney’s post-game press conference included a comment that cost him $10,000 to the NHL.
“I’d really like to comment on that,” he said as he addressed the media post-practice at Rexall Place. “I’d really like to comment on that, too,” he added, laughing, about getting his players to chip in a dime or two.
“I've thought about (throwing) water bottles and sticks, but I've never gone there. I stood up on the bench and ripped a referee and did all that kind of stuff (during the 1996-97 season in Vancouver). Dougie MacLean did the same on his bench, I got the severe warning and reprimand and Dougie didn't get anything. Welcome to the league. It wasn't a smart move on my part.
“I'll let it go,” Renney added about the whole situation. “It's over. We had a four-minute power-play that we didn't do a lot with.”
PETRY READY TO GO
While the Oilers were most concerned with adding a physical dimension to practice, a healthy body was able to escape unscathed as he looks to return to the lineup. Jeff Petry, who missed the team’s latest road trip with a facial contusion, was back and looking no worse for wear.
“I’m doing better now,” said the 24-year-old. “The swelling went down tremendously and I found out that I didn't have a concussion, so all he precautions turned out. It was good to know.”
With 8:21 on the clock during the second period vs. Los Angeles last week, an Anze Kopitar clearing attempt rattled off Petry’s head at the blueline. Head Athletic Therapist T.D. Forss ushered him to the locker room and to determine whether or not he was concussed. He wasn’t, but he still needed time to recover.
“Yeah it was (scary),” Petry explained. “It clipped my visor, right below the eye, so I wasn't sure if anything was fractured. It went off the glass and I couldn't get my hand up in time. We did the precautionary things, got the CT scan and everything was good. The visor helped out a little bit. If it hit directly, I don't know what the situation would have been.
“As far as I know, I'd like to be in the lineup,” he added. “Ultimately it's up to the coaching staff and trainers. I've got all my teeth still, so knock on wood. I want to make it back for these last two and have a strong end (to the season).”
“I'll talk to T.D. and see how he feels,” Renney said. “Somebody does (have to go back to the AHL). I don't think it matters who.”
While Petry is ready to go, others aren’t and likely won’t be until next season. Corey Potter (concussion), Theo Peckham (concussion) and Ladislav Smid (neck) weren’t present and, with only a pair remaining on the schedule, it’s not likely that they’ll be back.
“Status quo, I think,” Renney said. “I would question whether or not either of them will play again this year.”
BACK ON THE TOP LINE
With Ben Eager and Linus Omark looking to be healthy scratches tomorrow night -- as neither participated in line rushes today -- a re-promotion is in order. Teemu Hartikainen, who scored the Oilers’ only two goals in Anaheim on Sunday, will get another chance to skate with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
“He's a strong kid,” Renney said. “I like that he's on the body, goes to the net and plays a heavier game. He needs to use that over top of his stick for possession and puck possession -- and continuing to be strong over top of it to get it to the net, because he does have a good, heavy shot. He's certainly comfortable with what we expect out of a player of his ilk. It's arrow-up for sure.
"He's got things to work on, as they all do.
“Again, speed is an issue but it's not fatal. It's something he needs to work on. If he's got that, it's all about getting ice and creating opening for these guys by playing in the tough areas."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
KINGS 2 - OILERS 0For the second straight night, Devan Dubnyk stopped 30-plus shots and gave his team a chance to win, but it was Jonathan Quick at the other end who earned the victory on the back of his 10th shutout of the season; Slava Voynov and Dwight King each scored in the third, breaking a 0-0 tie and propelling the Los Angeles Kings to a 2-0 win over the Oilers on Monday night at the Staples Center.
AT THE MORNING SKATEComing off a 2-1 win last night over the Ducks, the Oilers enter tonight's contest with hope of extending an already impressive road run to 6-0-2. But doing so will be difficult, considering the club's hotel next to the Staples Center is currently serving as triage for the team's walking wounding.
Ales Hemsky could only manage 10:36 of ice time before leaving the game in the second period with a sore shoulder last night in Anaheim; it's "not as serious" as it was previously, mind you. As such, No. 83 will take the warm-up and should be good to go.
Corey Potter isn't as lucky. With exactly 5:00 remaining in the opening period at the Honda Center, the 28-year-old was drilled by Bobby Ryan along the side boards -- a headshot, possibly, but Potter completed the game looking no worse for wear. Regardless, he'll sit out tonight with a suspected concussion.
"(Head Athletic Therapist) T.D. (Forss) checked with him a number of times on the bench and he was adamant that he was good to go and capable of playing," Head Coach Tom Renney said. "Subsequent to that and when things settle down, speaking from experience, that's when you go, 'Whoa. Wait a second.' That's basically what happened."
In his place, Bryan Rodney has been recalled from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons.
Rodney, 27, was acquired from the Ducks in exchange for Ryan O'Marra on Feb. 16. He never did suit up for Anaheim, instead patrolling the blueline for the club's farm team in Syracuse. In 21 games with the Barons, the smooth, puck-moving rearguard has scored a goal and 18 points.
"I got a phone call late last night saying that something happened to Corey Potter and I was getting the call," he said as he addressed the media at the team's hotel in Los Angeles this morning. "It was a bit of a sleepless night, but it was full of excitement and I'm glad to be here.
"Everything's been about meeting people, not so much the Xs and Os right now. But I'm sure that'll go tonight before the game in the meetings. I'm pretty excited. I'm not sure if I'll be able to get a pre-game nap in tonight."
Rodney has 33 games of NHL experience, all with the Carolina Hurricanes. He's collected a goal and 13 points, along with 12 penalty minutes in that time. Heading into tonight, nerves aren't a problem.
"I want to make an impact," he explained. "Just try to play my game that I've played all year in the American League. The nerves aren't there as much as they were when I was younger in my early 20s. I got a chance to play in the Staples Center earlier in the pre-season this year, too, so that might help."
Rodney describes his game as "well-rounded," with extra emphasis on an up-ice attack without losing his own-end edge as anything but a liability.
"It wasn't the easiest road or the most traveled road that some of the guys in the NHL have to take, but that was the way I had to do it," Rodney said, looking back at his pro career that started in 2005-06 with the ECHL's Charlotte Checkers. "It's a cliche, but I wouldn't change any of it because it's made me who I am today."
With Ladislav Smid, Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry and now Potter all out, Rodney will help fill holes -- but so, too, will the club's remaining healthy bodies. Ryan Whitney and Nick Schultz compose the Oilers' top D unit; they're looking forward to the challenge of thwarting the Kings' attack and playing spoiler.
"Everybody stepped up and played well (last night)," said No. 15, who notched a +1 rating in the 2-1 win. "It's tough when you lose some guys, some key guys.
"It's a big opportunity to play spoiler. They're a team that plays tight, they play really good defence and this is a must-win game for them. For us, it's a big opportunity to go out against a team that's playing some good hockey and prove that we can compete and play against them."
Upon Schultz's arrival, he was used sparingly as a complementary player to the team's top pairing, but his role has since elevated -- something the 29-year-old is thriving on, as he's routinely playing upwards of 20 minutes per game now. That's extended to a leadership role as well.
"In general, all the guys on the team have done that -- even when I came in and when younger guys come in, you want them to feel comfortable and that they're part of the team."
BACK BETWEEN THE PIPES
Devan Dubnyk, who had a strong March (6-2-1, 1.95 goals-against average and .934 save percentage) began April without a hiccup. The sophomore stopped 32 shots en route to the one-goal victory a night ago. He'll get the start again tonight, looking to advance on his 20-18-2 overall record.
"Yeah, let's put him in," Renney laughed as edmontonoilers.com's Tom Gazzola prodded for the starter's name. "We'll give him another chance. It's important to play back-to-back great games. The arrow continues to point up with him and we'll give him the opportunity to do that and see what happens."
The Kings are coming off a 4-1 over the Oilers last Friday night at Rexall Place. While the club currently holds the Western Conference's third spot as Pacific Division leaders (91 points), their spot in the post-season is certainly not guaranteed.
Hot on their heels, the San Jose Sharks (90 points, eighth in the West) and Dallas Stars (89 points, ninth in the West) are both chasing a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the league's Pacific Division title at the same time.
With a mere 15 shots rifled on Jonas Hiller to the Ducks' 33 on Dubnyk one night ago, the Oilers know a better net-presence is required to come out with a win.
"That might be an idea. Shooting," Renney said. "We didn't direct enough shots at all on the night. We have to make sure we go hard to the net, put pucks there and create chaos."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com with files from Tom Gazzola - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
OILERS 2 - DUCKS 1Teemu Hartikainen scored 15 seconds in, adding another at 6:04 and providing all the offence the Oilers would need. Devan Dubnyk did the rest, stopping 32 shots -- including 15 in a hectic third period -- to propel Edmonton to a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night at the Honda Center.
AT THE MORNING SKATEAs the club's charter was boarded one day ago sans Theo Peckham (concussion), Ladislav Smid (neck) and Jeff Petry (contusion), the Oilers will be heading into tonight's game vs. Anaheim with a new (very, very new) look on D.
Colten Teubert, who's collected two goals and 10 points in 43 games with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons this season, was recalled on an emergency basis Saturday. The 22-year-old also played in 20 games with the Oilers in 2011-12, notching an assist and 18 penalty minutes, along with a -4 rating.
"We were having a pre-game meal, and I headed back up to the hotel for my nap before the game in Grand Rapids and was told that I had I had to go at 4pm," he said, looking back at Saturday's quick turnaround. "It's been pretty good (in OKC). We were struggling a bit and had to reset, but things are going well right now and we're playing pretty good hockey."
The Barons currently sit atop the AHL's Western Conference standings with a six-point lead over the second place Toronto Marlies. Overall, it's been the perfect environment for Teubert to hone his skill and help Oklahoma City establish credence as one of the league's dominant squads.
Prior to his assignment on Jan. 22, he was given some valuable advice on what needed to improve in order to stick.
"Not running around in my D zone and getting out of position," Teubert explained. "I've been working a lot on having one hand on my stick with our coaches. I always had two hands on my stick and was a bit of a cross-checker. But I didn't realize how often guys can roll off you and take it to the net; so having one hand on my stick in the battles and playing solid is really important.
"I think it's really helped my game, being on the right side of the puck at all times."
It's not the only addition, either. It's been a disappointing season for Cam Barker, as injuries and inconsistent play have limited him to only 21 games; No. 13 has missed the past 15 as a healthy scratch, during which time the Oilers had put together a 6-6-3 string.
He'll get his opportunity now with only four games to play on the team's schedule, hoping for a strong conclusion as he heads into the summer as a restricted free agent. Tonight, he'll be paired with Teubert on the club's third unit, meaning everyone will have a new role as the Ducks play host.
"Ryan (Whitney) will play more," Head Coach Tom Renney said at the team's hotel in Anaheim. "There's no question he'll play more and the others will, too. Cam's an NHL defenceman and Tubes (Teubert) is on the verge of that, so we may play them together, initially. But the big thing for us is team defence and then in transition quick from that, getting pucks team and trying to take away their attack game."
"It's great to get back in," added Barker, who hasn't played since Feb. 29 vs. St. Louis. "It's been a while, so I'm looking forward to it and the next three. It's tough not playing. You want to play, compete and help the team. I've got to keep working hard and hang in there."
"He's been caught in a numbers crunch," Renney said as he addressed the media post-game vs. Los Angeles when the need for No. 13's addition became apparent. "He's a big, strong body; good shot, good passer. If he brings his assets to the rink, it helps us in our own end with his physical attributes. We'll look forward to getting him in and getting him some hockey. He needs that.
"He has to make the best of these three games and we'll certainly give him that opportunity. It's hard when you're thinking, 'Boy, I've got three games to kind of nail down my career.' But that's pro sports and you've got to deal with that."
In other lineup news, Eric Belanger is probable to get back in. Linus Omark, who's also been riding the pine as a healthy since his recall, may be looking at another seat in the press box tonight.
"Omark is one of the guys I have to look at," Renney said. "He's been a good soldier since he's been here. He needs to continue to be that because we do have games to play."
A CAREER MONTH
Since Christmas, Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin have mostly shared the duties in the Oilers' crease. But numerically speaking, the statistics aren't close. The sophomore has posted a 15-10-2 record, while the club's 39-year-old veteran -- a Stanley Cup winner in 2004 -- has collected only two wins, 13 regulation losses and an additional four in extra time or a shootout.
Dubnyk will get the start tonight. The 25-year-old is coming off the most productive month (March) of his NHL career: 6-2-1, a 1.95 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
"It's good," he said in his usual nonchalant tone. "Doesn't really matter which games you play, any hockey player that's at this level wants to go out every time there's a game and play hard and win. You can ask anyone in here. I've always said, any opportunity for me to get on the ice, see some shots and see some new situations is good for me. I'm looking forward to getting a couple more here before the end of the season to get better.
"Everybody says it, but you actually don't look at that stuff," Dubnyk added about his exceptional of-late numbers. "It's exciting going through a month when you know things are going well, but every game is different. There's a reason why the stats look like that and why the numbers are like that, so you need to continue to go out there and do it. I know why things are working for me and I want to continue to go out there and do it.
"That's growing at each level. I've been a starting goalie at each level. You have to get to that point -- you do it junior, then you start over in pro (in the ECHL) and then you get to the American League and then the NHL. It's tougher and tougher to get to each point.
"This is certainly the best I've ever felt and I don't see any reason for it to stop."
Dubnyk will certainly be a pivotal cog if the Oilers hope to capture a win. With lethal scorers Corey Perry, who's collected 50 goals and 98 points so far this season, Teemu Selanne and others, a strong commitment to the defensive side ought to present good things to the orange and blue.
"We had a real, strong game here in one that maybe we should have won and didn't," Renney said. "We had a slow start, a very good second period and a saw-off in the third. We have to make sure that we connect the dots and play three periods of hockey really well and really understand that you have to build a game. We want to make sure that our start shows that we're ready and we're engaged."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com with files from Tom Gazzola - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
KINGS 4 - OILERS 1Anze Kopitar, Dwight King and Matt Greene all recorded multi-point nights, while the Oilers were unable to generate shots and a sustained attack, resulting a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night at Rexall Place.
Jordan Eberle scored the Oilers' lone goal of the night -- his 33rd of the season and 74th point to remain at a point-per-game pace.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - As the Edmonton Oilers' 2011-12 season winds down, opportunity has been presented to the club's strong farmhands. Recalled bright and early Friday morning, Magnus Paajarvi is back in Oil Country on his third trip up, ready to make an impact after a strong showing in Oklahoma City.
The 20-year-old has collected 22 points in 27 games with the AHL's Barons, showing glimpses of what ensconced a productive rookie campaign a season ago; then, he scored 15 goals and 34 points and didn't show any signs of slowing.
He did, but he's back once again.
No. 91 is likely to line up with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle on the Oilers' top unit, adding some much-needed speed and resurged grit to the club's skilled attack.
"Our whole package needs to be speed-oriented, anyway," Head Coach Tom Renney said, citing what the recalled sophomore can add to that line. "Certainly when he's in the lineup, it adds to it. It's a north-south speed that we require, and he can come back as well as anybody can, too."
Lineup changes won't stop there, as the recently recalled Chris VandeVelde -- who scored a goal in his only NHL action of the season last week in Columbus -- will slot back in, pivoting the fourth line alongside Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk.
That means Eric Belanger will join Linus Omark, Lennart Petrell and Cam Barker in the press box as healthy scratches as the 25-year-old VandeVelde basks in the moment.
"Down in Oklahoma, the team as a whole has played very well," he said, looking back it what earned himself a ticket to Edmonton. "My individual game was developing well, too. The last couple months have been very good to me; it's nice to have all the hard work pay off with a call-up. I think I played pretty solid in Columbus, got the goal out of the way, and now I get another chance.
"I need to make the most of it."
VandeVelde had spent all season in OKC, posting seven goals and 22 points in 65 games. It culminated with an incredibly strong showing last weekend against the Texas Stars in which he was named the game's third star, one night before getting the call and a cab ride to Will Rogers World Airport.
"There's a little been of a learning curve, but guys go hard down there (in the AHL) -- they compete. Up here they might be a little bigger or more talented, but you've just got to play the simple game that I've been playing the whole time. When I do that, add the physicality and other elements to my game that make me successful, I think I can help the team quite a bit.
"Up here I want to make sure I get in hard on the forecheck, be a physical guy and be reliable in all three zones -- all the things you need to do to be a good fourth-line centre," VandeVelde added. "I don't know how many minutes I'll get, but it doesn't matter. It's about going out there and making your opportunities count, doing the things that I've done to get to this point."
The 6'2", 190-pound centre hasn't quite seen it all when it comes to the Oilers' role as spoilers. Down in OKC, the Barons lead the AHL's Western Conference and were gearing up for a lengthy post-season run. It's been a unique challenge to adapt to.
"It's a little different," he said. "But we're really embracing the spoiler role. That's what we have to play for and we're going to play hard for it. [Los Angeles is] is really going to be pushing us hard. They're in that playoff hunt, so we're expecting them to be at their best. It's going to be a tough, physical battle out there and I know we're all ready for it."
MOVIN' ON UP
With a win on Wednesday vs. Dallas, the Oilers would have vaulted from 29th to 26th spot in the West. It didn't happen, but with a close race at the bottom still to determine April's lottery order, the orange and blue are most concerned with setting a benchmark heading into next season. Priority No. 1 is competing, night-in and night-out until the season's schedule says you can't anymore.
"It's really important," said Ryan Whitney, who's turned around his game in recent weeks. "Even though training camp next year is a long way away, you can go back on that (success) when you do get in and realize that you were a real, solid team down the stretch and beat some good teams.
"We've got be ready and play a lot better than we did the other night."
"It's valuable," Renney added, noting tonight's big-game mentality. "This is a big, heavy team (Los Angeles) that's battling tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot. I'm sure they'll do everything they possibly can to get the two points. We have to make sure that we're every bit as ready to play hard for those two points as they are. Quite honestly, if we're going to win here, we're going to have to be more ready and more prepared to man up.
"That's important because it's an acid test."
Nikolai Khabibulin, who's posted a 12-19-7 record, 2.62 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, will get the nod between the pipes. The 39-year-old hasn't recorded a win since Feb. 11 in Ottawa.
THE CALDER RACE
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sits tied with Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog in the NHL's rookie scoring race. The 18-year-old has tallied 18 goals and 49 points in only 57 games. Landeskog has equaled RNH's 49-point output, but it's taken him in additional 22 games to reach his counterpart.
On paper, Nugent-Hopkins should have the edge. But it seems as though Landeskog is a shoo-in to capture the NHL's Calder Trophy as the league's most outstanding rookie, according to various media reports around the league.
No. 93's teammates don't understand why.
"I think Landeskog is an awesome player," Whitney explained. "But I don't even really understand how it's that close. I know I'm on Nuge's team, but he's got more points than him and he's played 22 less games. I think everyone would choose to have Nuge on their team. He's such a good player and he's dominated at times as the youngest player in the league, and I think that should mean something as well.
"For me to think that he might not win it is mind-boggling."
Renney agreed, adding that his young superstar adds a certain spice to a lethal scoring attack's requirement.
"Without your centre ice men, it's like playing Scrabble without any vowels. It looks great. You've got all these big letters and some nice numbers going with them, but if you don't have somebody there that can connect all that, it's useless. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is way beyond useless. He's hugely important to this team and he has been all year long, and he should be.
"For my money, he's the Calder Trophy winner. No question."
How about Jordan Eberle for the Lady Byng? He's the club's leading scorer (11th-best in the NHL), notching a point-per-game pace through 73 (including 32 goals) and he's taken a mere four minor penalties all season long.
"Sure," Renney said. "Look at what these kids are doing. These kids are outstanding hockey players and the league is lucky they've got them. So, recognize that -- early, so they've got them for a long time."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
MYSTERY MATCH-UPSEdmonton, AB - There are certain teams across the NHL the Oilers have matched up very well against this season, and that has translated into season-series victories. But on the flip side, a handful of teams have certainly had Edmonton's number as well, most notably the Dallas Stars.
Wednesday night's 3-1 defeat to the Stars gave Dallas a 4-0 season-series sweep, with the Oilers scoring just one goal in each of the four games against the Lone Star State squad. Edmonton has, however, enjoyed an opposite fate against other playoff-bound teams, posting 3-1 records against Nashville and Chicago, and two wins so far over Los Angeles with two more games left to play in the coming week.
"When you're a young team like we are, still trying to find yourself and create an identity, there are teams you're going to have more success against than others," Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney said following team practice on Thursday.
"But at the same time, obviously, our objective is that it doesn't matter (who our opponent is). Dallas is a mature team that was hungry for a win. They got us to play outside our game plan, and it ultimately gave them the points."
The Oilers will look to make it three consecutive wins over the Kings this season when the southern California squad visits Rexall Place on Friday for a 7:30pm tilt. Despite Wednesday's defeat to Dallas, Edmonton is still one of the hotter teams in the league right now with a 5-2-3 record in their last 10 games.
Some of the credit for the Oilers strong play in March has to be given to the resurgence of defenceman Ryan Whitney.
Hockey is finally starting to feel comfortable again for the blueliner, who has had a roller-coaster ride since coming to the organization at the 2009-10 trade deadline. The Boston native scored 27 points and was +13 in 35 games to start 2010-11, but a season-ending right ankle injury put a halt to what could have been a phenomenal campaign.
The 29-year-old spent the entire off-season trying to get his ankle back to 100 per cent and finally returned to the Oilers lineup on October 18. He then hurt his right knee one week later, however, and his lineup presence was sporadic until after the January all-star break, as he recovered from the knee injury and still experienced pain in his repaired ankle.
Whitney has once again become an impact player for the Oilers, particularly during their recent successful stretch of games, as he boasts a +6 rating and five points in his last nine contests. Perhaps the most encouraging news, though, is that he said he is no longer playing with discomfort.
"I finally feel better," Whitney said on Thursday. "I've been pain-free since the all-star break and I've played 28 games, so that's kind of been my season, personally how I've looked at it. I've still had some off-games since then, but I have 16 points in those 28 games, which would turn out to be a pretty successful 82-game season, and that's my goal for next year."
"Real good," Renney added, when asked about Whitney's recent play. "I think he's at peace with where he is as a player. If this is the new normal for him, I'm happy with that. What he's done is calm down and settle into who he is and what he needs to do."
Just two and a half months ago in mid-January, Whitney admitted he felt as though he may never be able to play completely pain-free again. He said some small equipment adjustments have actually made a big difference.
"I started a different method of how I tie my skates and tape my shin pads," Whitney explained. That's given me some more support and helped the pain go away. The pain was prohibiting me, but those little changes gave my foot more security, and it's helped."
The former 59-point player with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006-07 said he's looking forward to continuing his strong play to close out the season, spending the summer getting back to his usual off-season workout routine, and arriving at training camp in September performing at a very high level.
"It's good to finally feel like you're contributing," Whitney said. "It's good to finally get into a groove. When you don't play for so long, and go out and come back again, you just can't get into a rhythm, but now I finally feel that way. I'm looking forward to power skating and working out this summer, since I haven't been able to train normally for two years."
The Oilers forward lines and power-play units had a different look at practice on Thursday than they did the previous night against the Stars. The top line featured Ryan Smyth joining Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, while Linus Omark skated with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky on the second trio.
Teemu Hartikainen and Ryan Jones dropped down to flank captain Shawn Horcoff, while Eric Belanger, Chris VandeVelde and Lennart Petrell practiced together, with Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager not participating in line rushes.
The power-play units on Thursday consisted of Jeff Petry, Nugent-Hopkins, Hemsky, Eberle and Horcoff in one group, with Corey Potter, Whitney, Gagner, Smyth and Omark comprising the other man-advantage crew.
"We're not finished moving people around," Renney said of the line shuffling. "We want to look at people in certain combinations and see what kind of success we can have."
Defenceman Theo Peckham remains sidelined with a concussion and did not practice. Peckham went hard into the corner boards on Sunday afternoon during the team's road trip finale in Columbus against the Blue Jackets as a result of a collision with Rick Nash.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
STARS 3 - OILERS 1Ales Hemsky broke the shutout 8:21 into the third, but a goal in each period by the visitors and three-point nights by Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro pushed the Dallas Stars to a 3-1 win over the Oilers on Wednesday night at Rexall Place.
Kari Lehtonen got the nod in goal for the Stars, posting 31 saves on the Oilers' 32 shots.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - Coming into Wednesday's game vs. Dallas and with six games remaining on the Oilers' 2011-12 schedule, the club is putting together a nice string to end the campaign on a high note.
Coming off a 3-0-1 road trip in which wins collected against Nashville, Florida and Columbus propelled them to a 31-36-9 record overall, good vibes reign supreme despite not being in the post-season picture.
The Oilers have already eclipsed last season's win total (25). In 2010-11, their power-play sat 27th in the league while the PK didn't look much better with a rank one spot about the NHL's last-place standing.
This year, the power-play is second-best and the penalty kill has leaped 11 spots to 18th overall. With nine more points than last season and with the possibility of being as many as 21 over their mark one year ago, there's not much to be upset about as the Oilers continue to ride an impressive wave down the stretch.
"Absolutely," Ryan Jones said, who put emphasis on the Oilers' winning ways in order to generate some momentum heading into next season. "The team that's in this room right now is pretty much the same group that's going to be back next year, so we're looking at winning as many games as we can so that we can head into the summer feeling good about our game.
"No one likes to lose, but it's even more disappointing at the end of the year. When you do that, everyone heads into the off-season with a sour taste in their mouth. We're trying to collect as many wins as we can, develop our game and build something for next season. We already know we're an improved team, so it's something where we need to use this energy we can gain down the stretch and make sure we apply it."
Jones knows about the Oilers' mid-season struggle all too well. The 27-year-old had recent stretches in which he went scoreless in a game count in the high-teens. But since then, a resurgence has been found and he's been able to bounce back, much in the same way the group has as a whole.
In No. 28's past six games, he's collected three goals and seven points -- including a three-point outing last Sunday in Columbus, which helped vault the visitors to a 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets.
"I'm feeling much better about my game," Jones explained. "I'm playing with some great players and we've been a nice complement to each others' style. "I've said it all season, it's about sticking with it and not getting too high or too low when things aren't going well. Right now things are going well for me and, again, it's a matter of sticking with it to make sure I keep it going."
Jones' game has truly been a microcosm of the team's. Which is the real Oilers? And which is the real Ryan Jones?
The team who collected a dominant early-season record and held the league's No. 1 spot as November hit, and the player whose pace in the same breath had him pegged as a shoo-in to record 20 goals -- or the club whose mid-season stumble caused a tumble to the league's basement alongside the Columbus Blue Jackets?
"You're seeing a good team now and you saw a good team back at the start of the year," Jones said. "We had some injuries to get through, as all teams do, but we didn't handle it very well. Even then, we've put together a nice stretch here and we need to keep it going, because I think everyone in this locker room believes this is the team we are; we should be in the picture contending for a playoff spot.
"We're embracing the role of playing spoiler (like tonight vs. Dallas), but honestly that's not our intention. It's simply a matter of us going out there and getting wins, no matter who they're against. That's all we're focused on in here and it's paid off in the last couple weeks."
"We want to climb [the standings]," added Head Coach Tom Renney. "That might not sound like much to most, but it sounds like a lot to us. We're certainly going to try and do that. It's a lot more fun to win than to lose, there's no question about that. Both can be contagious, but to the best we can, we're going to control our own destiny."
As the Oilers have done so, the Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild and others are within reach. A strong end to the season could mean a couple spots leapt, but it would also mean top prospects Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko could (and likely will) land elsewhere.
That's not of concern to the Oilers' rugged winger; or anyone associated with the club's iconic colours inside Rexall Place on game night.
"We've seen what (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins and (Taylor) Hall can do for a team," Jones said. "But that's not something we think about. I can honestly say that where we pick isn't a topic discussed in this locker room, ever. We're professionals, it's our job to win hockey games and that's what we set out to do each and every night."
Shawn Horcoff and Lennart Petrell both participated in a full practice yesterday, as well as today's morning skate. Both will play tonight, while recent call-up Chris VandeVelde will likely be the odd-man out (he will draw in for the warm-up, mind you).
Knowing that the Stars have kept a close eye on the Oilers' youngsters this season (targeting on destruction), Renney could potentially add some muscle to the team's top line off the bat tonight in order to set the tone.
Darcy Hordichuk may get the opportunity to play the role of protector, at least to start.
"I've thought of that," Renney said as he addressed the media post-practice at Rexall Place. "The other way [to send a message] is to say, if you're going to take a run at our skilled guy(s), we know you've got a couple too."
Do the Oilers have the personnel with the necessary gamesmanship to do it?
"Through a couple people. I'm not sure if it's throughout our lineup, but I think they've been reminded enough of it to understand that's what we're looking for."
Devan Dubnyk will get the nod between the pipes, looking to capture his fourth straight victory. The 25-year-old sophomore hasn't lost in regulation since Mar. 12 in San Jose, posting a 5-0-1 record overall in his past six games.
With an above .500 record (19-17-2) on a sub-.500 club, Dubnyk appears to have grabbed hold of the team's starting role. In total, he's notched a 2.70 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 42 games this season.
"I'm hoping so," Renney said, referencing his young netminder's arrival. "He'll play more in these last six games and we'll see. I think he's met the challenge now, whereas earlier in the year he may not have. To me that's a good sign. He's matured now, he's accepted the responsibility and the battle it needs to be to want that net and ultimately keep it. I'm not sure he was there three months ago."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
DONE FOR THE SEASONEdmonton, AB - For the second straight year, Taylor Hall's season has come to a premature close. The 20-year-old will require labral surgery, putting him out of commission for the campaign's remaining six games and up to six months leading into next September's training camp.
While Hall is currently out with a concussion he sustained when Calgary's Cory Sarich pasted him along the boards in Mar. 16's Battle of Alberta, that has nearly healed -- but the timing was right to initiate the steps in recovering from a longstanding problem in No. 4's left shoulder.
The Sarich hit had no impact on Hall's shoulder, however.
"About four years now," he laughed when asked how long it's been a bother. The goal-scoring winger initially suffered the injury in junior, but it's been a nagging concern that got reaggravated upon a collision earlier this season.
"When I got hit in Colorado (on Nov. 26, 2011), it got pretty bad. I rehabbed it in the three weeks after that and it got it pretty strong again, but throughout the year, and I think you guys have seen, that it's been bugging me at certain points in time and it's gotten to the point now where I need to have surgery.
"I've playing with a pretty bad shoulder a lot of this year, and I'm excited to see what it'll be like when I have a new one."
With a hobbled wing, he was still able to produce 27 goals (including a team-high seven game-winning tallies) and 53 points this season.
Hall has long been known for his on-the-edge and sometimes reckless play, but it's also what's made him successful and was the reason for his No. 1 selection in 2010. It could also contribute to his somewhat injury-prone start to his NHL career, but he's certain he won't change his game.
"I didn't anticipate that I'd be playing only 65 and 61 games," Hall said of his rookie and sophomore seasons as an NHLer. "I thought that I'd be a healthy player. It can get to you for sure. It's not the way I envisioned my NHL career starting, but I hope from here that I can play as many games as I can and be a good Oiler for a long time.
"It's really hard to explain. I don't think I'm going to change my game too much. I want to get better as a player and I want to use this time when I sit down to try and improve my game, watching games and whatnot. I'm still going to be the same player when I come back next year."
The shoulder originally caused the sophomore to miss seven games, but he returned on Dec. 10. Then a laceration to his head when Corey Potter's skate blade provided the nastiest of razor nicks took him out for another pair in January, capping a tumultuous and "unlucky" season.
"To be honest, I really think I've had some bad luck," he explained. "This year, I hurt my shoulder because of a previous issue. The concussion is my fault, but these injuries are kind of freak and I hope that in my next years as an Oiler, it doesn't keep happening."
General Manager Steve Tambellini and Head Coach Tom Renney knew that he'd require surgery at some point, but they were both hoping Hall could last the season before it was decided. Regardless, it was a decision made by everyone; coaches, the player, the club's trained medical staff and Dr. Miniaci, an orthopedic surgeon in Cleveland where the procedure will be performed, all had a voice.
"It was assessed by the medical people that he's better off at this point during the season that we get this done now," Tambellini said. "He's a young guy, he'll have a full recovery and we've got the time now to do the proper rehab. He should be ready for the start of (next) season.
"Knowing Taylor and how competitive he is, he'd probably want to go as long as possible. But let's get him healthy, let's get him to Cleveland to see Dr. Miniaci and have the procedure done. It's hard for athletes to look at short-term actions that have to take place."
"Not initially," Renney added, noting that he didn't know that Hall had been injured in junior, "but ultimately I was aware of that. We managed it the best we could, as did the player -- but here we are."
Renney's team is coming off a successful 3-0-1 road trip and has put together an impressive string, but the bench boss knows it would be a difficult absence to overcome if it had happened mid-season or in another vital portion of the 2011-12 season.
"Over the course of anything longer, it would be substantial (blow).
"All new players in the league have to play with a certain level of intelligence in order to have success," Renney said. "Certainly Taylor's got all of that. He's also got this impulsive, spontaneous part to his game that, quite honestly, we need. But what he has to do is experience and decide for himself how he can play in certain circumstances.
"Certainly through video and talking to him about different strategies will help him with that. But you have to play. You've got to get on the bike and fall off before you can really ride it very well."
MORE IN THE SICK BAY
Lennart Petrell and Shawn Horcoff both missed time on the recent road trip, but returned to practice today and could be ready to go in tomorrow's game vs. Dallas.
"They're doing pretty good today," the coach said. "They participated in a practice that had a little bit more vigor to it and some body contact. Reports post-practice are really good and we'll see how they're doing in the morning."
"It feels good today. I think I've able to play tomorrow," Petrell added.
Oddly enough, no one saw when it happened but the Finn knew exactly when he encountered the problem.
"It was pretty early in the game in Nashville," he said. "I was going to hit someone and I missed him. I made a couple strides and knew something was wrong. I came back for a couple shifts, but it only got worse."
Horcoff was unavailable to comment.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
OILERS 6 - BLUE JACKETS 3Ryan Jones had three points -- a goal and two assists -- while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Whitney had two assists apiece as the Edmonton Oilers cruised to a 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Sunday afternoon.
AT THE MORNING SKATEColumbus, OH - The Edmonton Oilers look to complete a four-game road trip on Sunday afternoon without a regulation loss. Through the first three games, the team has put up a record of 2-0-1.
"The biggest thing for us is just having confidence in ourselves," said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. "We want to finish off the season strong and I think the past five or so games have been a good indication of that."
Overall, the Oilers have picked up points in six straight (4-0-2). It is a streak that started against tomorrow's opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Edmonton blanked Columbus 3-0 on Wednesday, March 14.
"Right now we are playing for pride and we want to end up the season strong to carry into next season," RNH continued.
Ryan Jones added that a big reason for the team's success is the overall strong play by everybody working in unison.
"We got a little bit separated at times this year. It's tough to play when there's not a whole lot of support on the ice," said Jones. "The game we're playing now, there's a lot of support everywhere. Especially down in Florida, we had to be because the ice was so bad. You just weren't going to get the 50, 60 foot passes."
Jones remarked that the team's ability to adapt to poor ice conditions and grind out a win and shootout loss was a great sign.
"We played a little bit of a chess match in both games and got three out of four points."
COPING WITH INJURIES
Another obstacle in the team's way on Friday night in Florida was captain Shawn Horcoff going down with a sore back. After the injury, Darcy Hordichuk didn't see another shift which resulted in the team essentially going with three lines.
"Sometimes you're sitting there, depending on what happens, you can sit there for awhile. When you lose a couple forwards you're going all the time. You know that there's only one shift between you and going back out there. You get on the bench, get a swig of water, catch a breath and you're ready to go," said Jones of playing with a short bench.
"But at the same time you're involved the entire game so it's nice."
Horcoff will not play on Sunday. Centre Chris VandeVelde was called up from Oklahoma City today to fill the void.
READY FOR JACKETS
The Oilers play the one team below them in the standings on Sunday afternoon. But Jones and Nugent-Hopkins both cautioned that they cannot be taken lightly.
"They're a great team. They have a lot of speed and work really hard," said Nugent-Hopkins. "They're a fast team. We need to make sure we match that and make sure we're really intense."
The Oilers have two wins and a loss against Columbus this season with the lone setback coming here at Nationwide Arena.
"We've played them a few times already this year so we know what they're capable of and they're definitely a good team. We can't take them lightly at all."
Jones agreed with his teammate that the Blue Jackets are tough to play against, particularly with six wins already in the month of March.
"They're a hard working team. They're trying to find themselves right now as well and they've won some big hockey games," said Jones.
"With our hockey squad, the skill that we have, if we can match the other team we're going to give ourselves a chance to win a hockey game."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS 2 - PANTHERS 1 (SO)Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the shootout winner and added an assist and Devan Dubnyk made 26 saves plus stopped all four shooters in the shootout as the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Florida Panthers 2-1 at BankAtlantic Center on Friday night.
AT THE MORNING SKATESunrise, FL - With points in each of their last five games (3-0-2) the Edmonton Oilers have little time to rest on the heels of a 3-2 shootout loss in Tampa Bay as they take on the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center tonight in Sunrise.
As is customary on the second night of back-to-back games, the Oilers had a team meeting in the hotel to discuss the finer points of a Panthers squad they have not yet faced this year.
The Panthers lead the Southeast Division, a fact not lost on head coach Tom Renney who has to ensure his crew is well-prepared heading in.
"They work very hard. The six guys we'll face tonight (on defence) have 106 assists between them. Obviously one guy (Brian Campbell) has 43 of them," said Renney. "That's something we have to pay attention to, especially when it comes to getting in on them and not giving them room to skate to make those plays and join the attack."
The forwards on Florida are also dangerous, noted the bench boss.
"They also have some balance. They've got one line that does some scoring but the rest of their lineup scores as well," he continued. "This is a team we need to play a deliberate game with. We've got to go after them, check them hard, try not to allow their defencemen to be a part of the attack and we should be fine."
Up front, the Oilers are expected to go with the same lines as were used last night. On defence, Renney mentioned that Theo Peckham will likely draw in with Andy Sutton sitting out.
"Andy Sutton won't go tonight. He's got some things bugging him that we won't elaborate on. (Peckham) is in and Dubnyk is starting in goal."
The ice last night in Tampa was terrible, to say the least. It certainly affected the game on the ice.
"Stamkos took a shot last night that was a howitzer. It was on edge when he hit it. It hit the ice and then it seemed to go that much harder after that," said Renney.
Due to the ice conditions, it became nearly impossible to make any crisp passes. That is something the team needs to be more mindful of tonight according to Renney.
"Direct pucks to the net, no question," he continued. "The humidity here in Florida is to your advantage if you use it properly but certainly chip it underneath, hard to the net, fire the puck there, go there, stand around and make life miserable for the goaltender because quite honestly those are the types of goals you're going to score."
GOING FOR 30
A win tonight for the Oilers would give them 30 wins on the season. It would be the first time the team has achieved that mark since the 2008-09 season. However, the Oilers aren't looking at the final portion of the campaign with any goals in mind.
"I don't even think we're looking at that. It's a situation where every game we approach differently. If you continue to play the same way you're going to give yourself a chance every night. We're learning on the fly how to win those tight games. It's something we've got to improve upon if we want to be a good team in this league." Gagner said.
Ryan Jones agreed.
"It's tough to say that we're putting goals like a 30-win season or anything like that. We're just trying to collect points in any game we can, whenever we can," Jones began. "It's tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel but this is all going to feed into next year. It's important to get a little bit of chemistry going, get the culture of the organization back to where you want it."
Renney noted that the team's success of late has been encouraging and does bode well for future success down the road.
"Far be it to suggest that we're stellar where we are but the guys have paid attention to the little things they need to do to have success," he said. "What I like about our team is we certainly haven't given up the team game on either side of the puck at this time."
ADDING A D PRESENCE
Renney also talked about the presence of Nick Schultz on defence and what that has added to the team since his trade deadline acquisition.
"Great acquisition I thought. Good work by our crew in recognizing something we really needed," said Renney. "You come out of the Jacques Lemaire school of how to defend and you're probably going to be pretty good.
"Nick's been very solid for us. I like the way he approaches the game as a pro. I like the way he readies himself. In the heat of the battle that's just what you need."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
LIGHTNING 3 - OILERS 2 (SO)Ladislav Smid scored late in the third period to force overtime but the Edmonton Oilers ultimately fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday night.
Tom Pyatt led the way for the Lightning with a pair of goals while Nikolai Khabibulin made 17 saves in his first game back in Tampa Bay since the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals.
Linus Omark scored the other goal for Edmonton.
AT THE MORNING SKATETampa, FL - The Edmonton Oilers look to continue what has been an impressive string of four games without a regulation loss (3-0-1) tonight when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The game will feature a couple of familiar faces in net. For the Oilers, Nikolai Khabibulin gets the start -- his first game back in Tampa since Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals.
"We need to make sure our goaltenders both can play, Dubby's had some pretty good activity the last few games. Khabby is a top notch goaltender. It's nice to be able to line up the dots where he can come back here and play where he won a Stanley Cup, obviously," said Renney. "Bottom line is we want a good performance tonight from our goaltender"
For Khabibulin, the arena -- and the city itself, in fact -- brings back a lot of great memories.
"It feels good. It brings back a lot of memories. I'm pretty excited," he said. "As soon as you land. The airport's the same. You land and get on the bus. A lot of stuff is still the same. I remember a lot."
The Cup Finals were almost eight years ago for Khabibulin. It is an oddity that he has only been to the building once and never played a game until tonight.
"I was here only once," said Khabibulin. "I didn't play that game. And a couple other times I had an injury and didn't make the trip."
In his one chance to play, then head coach Trent Yawney felt it would be better if the veteran netminder didn't play as the Blackhawks were doing back-to-back nights.
"We had a back-to-back and the coach said to sit back, relax and enjoy the night. I said okay."
His one chance to have played the Bolts with the Oilers was in 2009 but he was already injured and out for the season at that point.
"I didn't think it would take that long but it is what it is. Finally I get to start a game here."
Former Oilers netminder Dwayne Roloson gets the nod for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay comes into the game banged up, but Renney cautioned that the Oilers cannot take them lightly.
"First thing you do is circle four or five names that are outstanding hockey players in this league period. They're world class players to say the least and if we don't pay attention to that first and foremost and bring a level of respect at least where you punch the clock, you're in trouble anyway," the head coach began.
"Play hard, pay attention to our own game plan let them have to adjust to whatever we might be doing because honestly at this stage of the season it's all about us."
Andy Sutton makes his return to the lineup for the Oilers after missing a pair as a healthy scratch.
"It's great," said Sutton. "There's not that many games left. It's always great to be in the lineup."
Despite being the odd-man out every now and then due to the fact the team is carrying eight defencemen, Sutton has maintained a positive outlook.
"It's something I've always worked on. Got a great life and have to keep things in perspective. I'm 37 years old and still in the NHL which is awesome."
Renney added that having a player like Sutton he can work into the lineup is a bonus but said he wanted to ensure that everyone on the team is fully earning their ice time.
"You want your guys to experience this down the stretch and realize how much they dislike playing in a position outside the playoffs and how hard they have to play and get acquainted to playing moving forward."
Theo Peckham draws out.
Taylor Hall (concussion) did not skate with the team today, neither did Lennart Petrell (groin). Linus Omark draws back in for Petrell.
For Hall, it's just part of the process says coach Renney.
"Well he's not ready clearly, so the bottom line is having him with us gives us the chance to evaluate it on a day to day basis and that's pretty much where we are with him, it's day-to-day.".
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS 6 - PREDATORS 3Ales Hemsky scored his first career hat trick and added an assist as the Edmonton Oilers rolled to a 6-3 win over the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.
Darcy Hordichuk, with his first as an Oiler, Ryan Jones and Sam Gagner also tallied while Devan Dubnyk stopped 41 of 44 shots for the win.
AT THE MORNING SKATENashville, TN - A four-game road trip begins tonight for the Edmonton Oilers when they take on the Nashville Predators, a team they've had some success against of late with a 4-2-1 record over the past few seasons.
"For whatever reasons, we seem to get to Pekka Rinne," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "I think they respect us enough to know you've got to play the game hard and they do but for whatever reason we seem light on our feet, we seem to have more of an attack mode to our game and we've had good goaltending."
Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal, while Ben Eager draws back into the lineup after missing a pair of games due to back spasms. As a result, Linus Omark becomes the odd-man out.
"For us to have success, we need Benny to do the heavy lifting," said Renney. "We've got to go hard to the net, we've got to develop some type of physical reputation through guys like Ben. He's got to play the same way he did prior to being hurt."
One encouraging sign for the team was the fact that Taylor Hall skated for the first time since suffering a concussion on Friday against Calgary at the hands of Cory Sarich.
Renney cautioned that him skating today doesn't necessarily mean he'll be able to play at some point during the road trip but it's a good sign nonetheless.
"I won't be surprised to see him play on this trip, but at the same time but at the same time I wouldn't if he didn't," he said.
"We'll follow the protocol and make sure we do the right thing with him," Renney reiterated. "As mentioned, even the night he hurt himself he was doing pretty good. That being said, there's a procedure that we'll follow here."
The Oilers bench boss added that Hall passed his tests yesterday with flying colours. The sophomore winger rode the bike during the game, getting in some heavy physical activity and took the baseline test as per NHL concussion protocol.
"He had a good bike ride yesterday, his baseline test also went well," he said. "He skated a little bit this morning, that went well. We'll take it a day at a time."
RETURN OF RADULOV
The talk of the town in Nashville was the imminent return of Alexander Radulov to the Predators.
"The great thing is, there's seven or eight guys who know him. When Gaustad and Gill got here, they didn't know anybody so I think it's going to be an easier transition," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. "Can he help us? Yes he can. He's a dynamic player."
Trotz didn't offer much in the way of information on Radulov's immediate status.
"He's probably on a plane, hopefully coming here," he chuckled.
While he won't be playing the Oilers tonight, Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff weighed in on the situation.
"It'll be interesting," said Horcoff of Radulov coming here directly from the KHL so late in the season. "We're going to have to wait and see how he adapts to it and see how he plays. I think the thing he has going for him is that he's been here and he's comfortable here."
Horcoff added that there are some parallels between this and the Oilers getting Sergei Samsonov and Dwayne Roloson late in the 2005-06 season prior to their Cup run.
"It was huge," he said. "There were a few more guys, too -- Spacek and Tarnstrom. All four of those guys played key roles in our run. They just fit in right off the bat. They were great in the locker room and they filed holes perfectly in our lineup."
The Oilers arrived in Nashville mid-afternoon to weather of 28 degrees celsius. Having not practiced earlier in the day, the team opted to play some football in an open field adjacent to the hotel.
"We've had a tough schedule the last little while," said Horcoff. "We had a long flight (four hours). It was nice to be able to come in and have a little team bonding."
In the match-up, the veteran players took on the younger ones and it was the savvy vets who ultimately prevailed.
"Like anything else, it starts out relaxed and once it gets a little tight it gets competitive. The veterans proved their worth and pulled it out in the end," Horcoff laughed.
Oilers head coach Tom Renney said the ability for the team to have some fun like that is very important.
"You know what's interesting about that is some might be critical of a team that's in our position having fun," he remarked. "But you have to. If I have a regret this year it's that we didn't get enough time to do those types of things because it does galvanize your group. It's great to have fun and enjoy each others' company in something like that.
"I think it had a residual effect this morning," the coach continued. "Our skate this morning was good. Guys were energized. Obviously, we hope we come out tonight the same way. That's what little things like that should do. Pump some air into your tires and allow you to play well, play hard for each other. That's what team building is all about."
Media and Oilers staff had a football game of their own after the players left the field. It was a tightly-contested battle with edmontonoilers.com's own Tom Gazzola getting the winning touchdown in overtime for Team Colours over Team Black.
Team Black captain Bob Stauffer was unavailable for comment afterward.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
COYOTES 3 - OILERS 2Jordan Eberle scored his 32nd of the season, while Ales Hemsky tallied 33 seconds later, vaulting the Oilers to a commanding 2-0 second-period lead; but the Coyotes stormed back, scoring twice in the third and twice more in the shootout en route to a 3-2 win Sunday night at Rexall Place.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - The Edmonton Oilers take on the Phoenix Coyotes tonight on Fan Appreciation Night at Rexall Place looking to build on their previous two games -- both victories.
However, they will have to do it without the services of Taylor Hall who was taken out by Calgary's Cory Sarich on Friday.
"I feel good. I feel pretty much normal. While I don't remember too much of the hit and I wasn't too great the other night I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty good and woke up this morning feeling even better so I'm just going to take it day-by-day. Hopefully tomorrow I feel the same."
As for timelines, Hall said he didn't have one at this point in time.
"I'm going to talk to the doctor tonight and he's going to talk about what I can and cannot do. Tonight I'm going to get a sweat on and ride the bike during the game. I anticipate feeling good then from there it's just getting on the ice and getting contact again."
The injury was Hall's first concussion.
"I've never been knocked out or anything like that before. It's pretty scary for me, pretty scary for the people around me. I'm really glad that I'm okay now. I feel normal, I feel fine."
As for the hit itself, Hall didn't think it was questionable.
"I lost an edge. I don't know if it hurt or help me regarding the hit. I didn't think he was going to come because they had three guys caught down low. I didn't think Sarich would be the guy to pinch. I just need to keep my head up and expect that guy to come."
"Who knows what would have happened if I had stayed on my feet. Whether I would have played that whole game or if I would have been hurt worse. It looked like something was going to hit my head whether it was his elbow or his shoulder. Regardless, that's not for me to decide."
Oilers head coach Tom Renney said that the team was going to follow protocol when it came to monitoring the status of Hall and deciding when he will get back in the lineup.
"There are steps that are in place for us follow, no question. we need to let the medical team give us the right information. We're not going to guess on this," he said.
"At the end of the day, we've got a number of games left and he could participate in a whole chunk of those if he's healthy," Renney continued. "You have to listen to the athlete but you also have to take that with a grain of salt because they're competitive people and they want to play."
Renney said that Hall is likely to do a baseline test tomorrow morning to determine if he's good to go for some of the road trip. The team hasn't made a decision on whether or not to recall someone from OKC.
STILL A GAME TO PLAY TONIGHT
Hall won't be in the lineup tonight but the Oilers still do have a game to play.
Devan Dubnyk gets his fourth straight start in goal while both Linus Omark and Darcy Hordichuk draw back into the lineup as the Phoenix Coyotes come to town.
Omark was a healthy scratch on Friday while Hordichuk missed the game due to the birth of his son, Declan.
"The doctor said he was one of the best looking babies he'd ever seen," chuckled Hordichuk following the morning skate.
Renney remarked that Teemu Haritkainen is a likely replacement for Hall on a line with Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner.
"We can all agree that Hartikainen had a pretty good night the other night so I'm going to try that one," Renney noted.
Omark is expected to play on the fourth line with Hordichuk and Eric Belanger. Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Lennart Petrell make up the third unit.
In talking about the Coyotes, Renney said that ensuring the team doesn't have a let down after a big win against their provincial rivals was a big key if they hoped to play spoiler tonight.
"You've got to conjure up the proper emotion," Renney said. "You've got to make that connection with the game. You can only show so much video. At the end of the day, they've got to make the choice.
"If you're going to make mistakes, make mistakes going after the win."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
THE SPOILERSEdmonton, AB - Following a 3-0 shutout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets 12 hours earlier, the Oilers returned to Rexall Place on Thursday morning for an abbreviated, 35-minute practice in preparation for Friday's Battle of Alberta.
A last-second (literally) win by the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday distanced the Oilers' rivals from a post-season berth, as they currently sit in 10th, two points back of the Avs with another opponent in their path -- San Jose, who's ninth, has three games at hand and is tied with Calgary.
Oh yes, this one matters. ‘Every game matters,' so says the Flames' slogan. And the Oilers would love nothing more than to spoil their opponent's charge to the post-season.
"It actually is [an important game]," laughed Head Coach Tom Renney as he addressed the media around noon at Rexall Place. "It's good. This is good for us. If we can tap into what we did last time in Calgary, we're in good shape."
The Oilers, on the heels of Wednesday's win and on a high because of it, aren't too concerned about what their opponent brings. As the bench boss explains, it's a matter of continuing what was started last night and bringing it into each contest down the stretch.
"We're conscious of it, but we don't dwell on it," Renney said, noting that dousing the Flames' hopes would be nice, but isn't primary. "It's about how we're going to be tackle this league and how we're going to put ourselves in a position to be a really good hockey team for years on end, not just once in a while. We'll stay true to the course … regardless of who the opponent is and what they think of our approach (rebuilding). It is our approach and one we're going to stay true to.
"Going in with a reputation where the opponent says, 'Boy, we've got our hands full tonight.'"
The Flames sure did back on Feb. 21. The Oilers rolled into Scotiabank Saddledome and decimated the Flaming C by a 6-1 score on the back of a four-goal second period. It was a throttling, all right. And Edmonton loved every minute of it.
"We played hard," Renney said, recalling the team's emotional win that night. "I thought (Associate Coach) Ralph (Krueger) really had the guys ready to go, really ready to play and the guys just said uncle. ‘Let's go play.' Let's just do what we can do to play to our strengths. That's what we want to do every night. That's how we want to be every night; make the other team respond to what we're up to instead of being the team that has to react.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction of (becoming) what we want to be."
BACK IN THE BIGS
With winger Ben Eager out with back spasms, Teemu Hartikainen was recalled from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons on Wednesday morning. No. 56 made it to Edmonton in time to skate in the pre-game warm-up vs. Columbus, but did not go.
"The last three weeks in the AHL have been pretty good for me," he said. "I've found my game and have been playing at a high level every night. It was good to get a little rest yesterday, I feel really good today and am ready to go tomorrow.
"I'm pretty excited to go out and give it my best."
Hartikainen has recorded 14 goals, 30 points and a +12 rating in 48 games with the Barons this season. The 21-year-old is skating on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth, while Linus Omark was the odd-man out.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
OILERS 3 - BLUE JACKETS 0Devan Dubnyk stopped all 22 shots he faced, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recorded a goal and an assist, propelling the Edmonton Oilers to a 3-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night at Rexall Place.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - Don't tell Theo Peckham this game doesn't matter.
Well, it most certainly doesn't in the standings as the 29th- and 30th-place clubs go head-to-head at Rexall Place, but it's another opportunity to pull out a win and reestablish some credibility as season's end looms. It's a chance for the team, no doubt, but also for players to regain their footing if they've lost it.
No. 24 knows the story all too well. He last played on Mar. 8 vs. Montreal on a night when he collected three penalties -- interference, slashing and hooking minors, respectively -- while the Canadiens' two-goal victory was spurred by a pair of power-play goals, both scored while the 24-year-old was sitting in the box.
Peckham will get back in tonight, while Andy Sutton sits as a healthy scratch.
"Chopping a guy away from the play is something that I shouldn't be doing," he said, clearly disappointed with his performance that night. "I know that I made a mistake there and I take it as one of those things where you lose your cool a little bit, cross the line and go a little bit too far. That's something I can't do and I understand that.
"I know what I have to do to help my team win."
Peckham went through a stretch where he hadn't played in over a month, dating back to Jan. 31 vs. Colorado. He eventually got back in when the Oilers were on the road in San Jose, but his contest vs. Montreal was his last before sitting once more.
"It's not the easiest thing to do, but it's part of the business," Peckham explained, citing his long stretches without action. "I'm a professional hockey player and it's my job to make sure that, even when I'm not playing, when I get the call that I'm ready.
"It's tough. The only thing you can do is make sure that you're physically ready. It wears on you mentally a little bit, but at the same time, in this business of hockey, it's not my decision and it's out of my hands. By having a good game tonight, that's what I can control in doing what I can to help my team win."
Peckham's own shortcomings have made it challenging to get back into the lineup, but the Oilers' healthy roster -- with eight blueliners competing for a spot -- has compounded matters.
"Last year and the beginning of this year, you're playing every night and you get into a good groove, and now you're scratching and clawing get some more ice time. It's been tough, but it's almost a good situation for us because it's bringing the best out of the players, and guys are pushing themselves and each other to climb the ladder."
While Head Coach Tom Renney wants to see a resurgence in Peckham's game, he understands that the only way to do so is to see the young rearguard in action.
"There isn't much to dislike, to be honest with you," he said, describing Peckham's recent stretch. "I'd like to see him have a little more precision with the puck, be a little more assertive over top of it, get it to the destination a little quicker. Beyond that, sorting out the game, but you've got to play in order to do that, so that's why he's in tonight."
While there might not be "much to dislike," it was the nice way of saying he needs to be better.
PLAYING WITH PRIDE
The Oilers have six games remaining on the 2011-12 home schedule. The club has sold out 271 straight games and will continue its streak tonight vs. Columbus. Having collected a 1-7-1 record in their past nine at Rexall Place, the orange and blue are determined to give their loyal supporters something to cheer about.
"They're important all the time," Renney said, noting the fans' patience and unrelenting support. "We owe it to them to put something on the ice that they can be proud of. That's consistent with 29 other teams in the league."
"You want to play proud, not only for the sweater and for the organization, but for the fans and everybody that supports the Edmonton Oilers," Peckham added. "That should be motivation enough to go out there, play well and get a win.
"We've proven that we can beat teams that we're not supposed to beat, so tonight should be no exception. We're going out and are battling another NHL team, and we have to prove why we're better than them, or so-called better than them. It's about proving that we can play in the NHL every night and personally, I want to show that I can play in this league and that I want to be an Edmonton Oiler."
It's that attitude, mirrored in Peckham and the other 19 skaters' locker stalls that has instilled the proper attitude, regardless of a difficult period in which the team has struggled to produce wins. As Renney explains, the "give a s---t level," as he so eloquently referenced in his post-game press conference vs. San Jose, is that of a united roster, bad loss (or losses) or not.
"In our case, we're talking about one game at a time as the cliche would suggest, but we are talking about that and building a game tonight and making sure that it's something that we can build off of for our next game," he said. "I'm sure that Columbus (who's won four of its last six games) approaches it the same way.
"Don't underestimate how much [the players] care and where those good intentions really and truly are. It's not easy. When you're trying to get traction and create an identity, over the long haul it can be frustrating. There can be those moments, for sure. But the one thing we've always been is together. Together. No question about that. That's not going to change."
With Ben Eager out with back spasms, Teemu Hartikainen has been recalled from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons. The 21-year-old has notched 14 goals and 30 points in 48 games this season in OKC. It's unclear whether or not the feisty Finn will make it in time for the game, or if he'll be used regardless, but he's on his way.
In the meantime and with the line-dance in full swing, Ryan Jones has moved up to play alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle on the top line. It's unlikely that they'll stay together, but it was the mixture run at this morning's practice.
Devan Dubnyk, who recorded 30 saves in Monday's 3-2 loss to the Sharks, will get the start in net tonight. The sophomore has notched a 14-17-1 record, along with a 2.90 goals-against average and .908 save percentage this season.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
DEALING WITH FRUSTRATIONEdmonton, AB - Oilers Head Coach Tom Renney had some strong words for his squad following Monday's 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Rexall Place — a game in which the home side never led and was out-shot 33-22. It was Edmonton's fifth consecutive defeat on home ice, and the bench boss was evidently frustrated.
"We've got a few people who have to look in the mirror here, because this is unacceptable," Renney said post-game. The coach also mentioned his players' level of appreciation for having the opportunity to compete in the NHL. "Suck it up and play hockey."
The message was certainly received by the players at practice on Tuesday. There was no bag skate, as one might anticipate following a frustrating loss, but the Oilers had a spirited workout and then discussed the current state of the team as they prepare to host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.
"Everyone in here heard it, and I think we should all be a little embarrassed," defenceman Ryan Whitney said of his coach's comments. "He makes good points. We can't just try to finish out a season and not play hard. A finish to a year can lead to a lot of good things next year. It's a ways away, but it can make a difference. There's a level of pride we have to have. It's about growing and doing what's best for the team."
"He said what needed to be said, and message taken," winger Ryan Jones added. "Tom doesn't say that kind of thing very often, so when he does you really look at it and start to evaluate what you need to do to change. Everyone in this room is competitive and everyone wants to win. We're going to go out and push harder tomorrow and play for each other."
Captain Shawn Horcoff admitted the team experienced some internal squabbling during and after the game last night, but they have since discussed the issues at hand and are united as they embark on the final three games of their four-game homestand.
"Frustration is going to happen, especially when you're the 29th-place team and feel like you're better than where you're at," Horcoff said. "We met as a team today and talked about it, and it's a matter of sticking together. If frustration didn't happen at this point, we'd have a problem. We've got guys who care and want to do better, individually and team-wise. We addressed everything today and regrouped. We look forward to coming out with a better effort tomorrow against Columbus."
A different, more assertive attitude towards tomorrow's game will lead to a much more satisfied head coach, Renney said.
"My frustration is that we don't play to our potential. We can be a real good hockey club. Last night we went out and played not to lose. Go play. Appreciate the experience and the opportunity. Play on your toes and not your heels. You can't play in fear … you've got to go play hard. There's a genuine desire to win here, especially in front of our home fans."
A major bright spot for the Oilers in the tough loss to the Sharks was the play of sophomore defenceman Jeff Petry. The 24-year-old logged the second-most ice time on the team at 21:39 (Ryan Whitney played 22:22) and finished with a +1 rating, four hits, two takeaways and a blocked shot.
"Outstanding," Renney said post-game when asked about Petry's performance. "This kid's a player. And he's just going to get better. He's got lots to learn, no question about that. He needs to learn how to assert himself even more. He's a good player and he was very good for us tonight."
The Michigan native has two goals and 16 assists in 62 games this season after scoring five points in 35 games as a rookie last year. While his skating ability and offensive upside have never been in question, Petry has been showcasing his physicality more as of late, adding another element to his increasingly versatile game.
"I'm feeling good as of late and yesterday was one of my stronger games," the soft-spoken Petry said. "It's something that's been mentioned to me by the coaches to play a little more physical and take that extra half-second away from the other team's skilled guys. It wears on those top lines and makes them hesitate about going into the corners, giving us more time to make a play."
The blueliner admits physicality hasn't been a major part of his game during his development years, his NCAA career with the Michigan State Spartans and his early time with the Oilers organization. But the coaching staff has shown Petry video of his effectiveness when he uses his body, which has given the up-and-coming rearguard more confidence.
"You do the battle drills in practice. You show him where he's had success through video, show him where he's been able to over-power an opponent," Renney said. "That just breeds confidence, and as he starts to have success, and you continue to encourage that as a coach, it starts to build. And that's where he is now. He's getting better as he gets stronger."
It's been a tough week for Oilers winger Ben Eager. The power forward missed last Thursday's game against Montreal and Saturday's matchup in Colorado with the flu. Eager returned to the lineup Monday against San Jose, but he was forced to leave Tuesday's practice early with back spasms. His status for Wednesday's game against Columbus is uncertain.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS 3 - SHARKS 2 (SO)The Oilers stormed back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, but the third time wasn't a charm, as Logan Couture's early third-period power-play goal vaulted the Sharks ahead one last time, as the visitors escaped with a 3-2 win on Monday night at Rexall Place.
Devan Dubnyk made 30 saves in the loss, while Ryan Whitney and Taylor Hall scored the Oilers goals..
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - It's not post-season hockey, but it's as close as the Oilers will get this year. That's how Head Coach Tom Renney, Sam Gagner and others look at their team's latest quest, as the 11th-place San Jose Sharks visit Rexall Place.
It'll be a similar matchup to Saturday's Northwest Division battle at the Pepsi Center, in which the home side escaped with a hard-fought, 3-2 win in a shootout. The victory pulled the Avalanche into a three-way tie for eighth, putting the Sharks behind them all, two points back with 15 games to play.
"It better be," Renney deadpanned, describing his team's get-up-and-go attitude in challenging a desperate team. "It doesn't matter what the other team's circumstances are, to be honest with you. Our circumstance is what it is and we need to show what we want to be moving forward. [San Jose is] a team that's respected in this league; we really do need to come out and play hard here. Yes, they're a desperate team and that's good for us, because we need to face that.
"What I do talk about under these circumstances is the need to be an active participant -- to play every game for the purpose that it should be, and that's two points and building legitimacy as a team."
Sam Gagner, who's amassed two goals and three assists in the Oilers' last 10 games as they've gone 4-5-1, agreed with his coach's sentiments.
"They've got a lot of desperation right now," he said, noting the Sharks' listless 2-6-2 record in their last 10 games. "They're a really good team over there, so we've got to respect that. That'll bring out the best in us, playing against teams like this. It's as close as we're going to get to playoff hockey this year, so we've got to focus on coming in here and stealing two points from them. If we can do that and put a damper in their playoff hopes, it's going to be a good feeling for us."
While the Oilers' season has been a disappointing one, standings-wise, making up ground on anyone is nearly impossible. But, a .500 end to the 2011-12 campaign would ensure the orange and blue's improvement from season's past – 11 points on the past two seasons' 62-point conclusions.
It makes sense, then, to hand the reigns to a man with similar aspirations. Devan Dubnyk, who's collected eight wins in his last 15 starts and has notched a 14-16-1 record all season long.
The 25-year-old was likely to start on Saturday in Denver, but it was revealed last minute that Nikolai Khabibulin would get the call due to a minor groin pull to the club's sophomore netminder.
In speaking with Dubnyk at the morning skate, it was revealed that the injury had been sustained during Thursday's practice, prior to the Oilers' encounter with the Montreal Canadiens at Rexall Place.
"In talking to Devan and (Head Athletic Therapist) T.D. (Forss), if we needed him he could have gone in to play, but you just don't take chances with goalies and groins. It's that simple, so I was concerned," Renney explained.
16-9-4. That's how dominant the Oilers once were at Rexall Place; but the mighty have fallen, posting a 1-6-1 record in their past eight, since winning games over the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in early February.
With 14 games to play and seven on the schedule at Rexall, the Oilers know that success at the corner of 118th ave and Wayne Gretzky Drive is essential to end the 2011-12 season strong.
"The desire to do well here is there, but the inability to do it properly has sort of seeped in," Renney said. "Sometimes we overcomplicate things when we just need to go out and play. For us anyway, it's about energy, it's about the passion to play, it's about pushing our M.O. to our opponent instead of sitting back and seeing what they might do. We need to go after them, and when we play like that we're okay."
Of Gagner's 42 points this season, 22 have come in 29 games at home (eight were recorded in one night, mind you). He, too, believes it's about pushing their own agenda on their opponent. Keeping things simple is Job 1 as the Oilers look to improve on a 2-1-0 season-series lead.
"I don't know," he laughed. "We can't really worry too much about whether we're at home or on the road; but we do want to feed off the crowd here and try not to do too much.
"We've got to develop some good chemistry throughout our lines so that we don't have those (period-by-period) lapses. We've made some costly mistakes at home and on the road that have really come back to bite us in the end. If we can play a solid 60 minutes and limit our mistakes, we should be okay.
"We've got to play solid both ways," he added about what's needed to counter the Sharks' attack. "If we're turning pucks over and giving up things behind us, they're going to make us pay."
NEED-TO-KNOW: Ben Eager, back from a battle with the flu, will be reinserted on the fourth line alongside Eric Belanger and Lennart Petrell. Darcy Hordichuk will sit as the healthy scratch.
OILERS 3 - SHARKS 2 (SO)Jordan Eberle scored 10 seconds into the game and Sam Gagner netted the shootout winner as the Edmonton Oilers won 3-2 over the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on Tuesday night.
Ryan Smyth scored the other Oilers goal while Jim Vandermeer and Ryane Clowe tallied for San Jose.
AT THE TEAM HOTELSan Jose, CA - After playing in Anaheim last night, the Edmonton Oilers have little time to rest as they face off against the struggling San Jose Sharks tonight at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.
The team didn't get into the hotel until very late last night, having to fly out of Ontario, California and fly into Oakland due to respective airport curfews in Orange County and San Jose.
Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal tonight as the team's lineup is expected to look somewhat different from the night before.
Other additions will likely include Linus Omark and Theo Peckham, while Coach Renney wasn't tipping his hand as to who might draw out -- noting that his lineup is banged up quite a bit right now.
"I anticipate (Omark) will play," said Renney. "I've got some issues I've got to deal with, with some bumps and bruises. I might not know anything, quite honestly, until after the skate."
Some of the players who look to be banged up include Ales Hemsky, who took a spill last night. Eric Belanger also limped off several times due to a blocked shot off his skate early in the game.
"He's an issue," Renney said of Hemsky. "I've got four guys for sure I've got to check on."
Regardless of who draws in or out, Renney said he'd like to get Theo Peckham some action tonight.
"I'd like to get him in anyway," Renney said. "It is contingent a little bit on these other guys."
Peckham hasn't played in over a month, out initially due to injury and now just waiting for an opportunity with the defence healthy.
"He'll get another warm-up in and I'm going to deliver on that promise sooner or later," Renney chuckled.
Called up yesterday morning where he joined the team in Anaheim, Linus Omark did not suit up last night.
The game would have been Omark's fourth in four nights -- and tonight potentially his fifth in five -- so Renney opted to have him rest.
However, Omark will play tonight and is looking forward to the challenge.
"I just need to go out there and play my game, keep doing what I'm good at," said Omark, noting that not playing last night was probably the best thing for him.
"My legs were pretty heavy (yesterday). I was on the ice this morning and I felt pretty good so I'm looking forward to it."
Omark pointed out that his bothersome ankle is no longer impeding him on the ice.
"I feel 100% now. I'm getting better every game that I play. I'm excited."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
DUCKS 4 - OILERS 2The Edmonton Oilers battled the Anaheim Ducks, including a season-high 22 shots in the second period, but a trio of Ducks goals in the third helped lift the home side to a 4-2 victory at the Honda Center on Monday night.
Jordan Eberle and Shawn Horcoff scored the Edmonton goals in the loss.
AT THE MORNING SKATEAnaheim, CA - The Edmonton Oilers open a two-game California road trip tonight in Anaheim against the Ducks.
Earlier this season, the Oilers lost 5-0 to Anaheim on home ice and will be looking for some payback. The team did pull a win out of the Honda Center last year but overall have only won once against the Southern California squad in their last 10 outings.
"I just think compete," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney when asked what the keys are to defeating the Ducks tonight. "Play to our strengths. Puck speed, go on the attack. Making sure we don't give up the odd-man rushes."
Renney went on to talk about the Ducks' dangerous forward core - particularly the top six.
"They're a good team. This isn't the type of season they wanted, either but the one thing they are doing is playing games of consequence."
After starting the year 10-22-6, the Ducks have climbed their way back to .500 and are on the outskirts of a playoff race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference -- seven points back of San Jose.
"They recovered well from a tough start. Whether or not they can pull this off at the end of the day remains to be seen."
Nikolai Khabibulin gets the start in goal tonight for Edmonton.
HALL GOOD TO GO
Tom Renney pronounced Taylor Hall ready to go after missing yesterday's practice due to a maintenance day. Hall took a tumble into the boards on Friday against Dallas and didn't miss a shift but showed a lot of discomfort in his shoulder.
Hall himself said he was ready to play. The winger took several drills, including a number of the shooting variety with Renney, and said he came away pain free every time.
With his shoulder not an issue, Hall turned his focus to playing against the Ducks' top unit of Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf -- a trio which is expected to see at least some time together with Hagman substituting for Ryan at times.
"There's no doubt that they're a tough line to play against," said Hall of Anaheim's forwards. "When they're on top of their game they're so good, so fun to watch and so hard to play against at the same time."
With Hall likely being matched up against them, he knows what he has to do tonight.
"They score the majority of their goals, we need to play them hard. When you don't have a lot of time and someone's always in your face it makes for a long night."
OMARK A GAME-TIME DECISION
This morning, Linus Omark was called up from Oklahoma City of the AHL. Omark is coming off of three games in three nights after having played on the weekend for the Barons.
Coach Renney didn't tip his hand on whether Omark would suit up this evening but Omark said if he does, he'll be ready.
"It's more fun to play hockey than be hurt so I'm glad to be here," said Omark, referencing an ankle injury which kept him out of the lineup for over two months.
"My skating wasn't there," he said of his initial return. "The last couple of games I've been 100%. Feeling better and better every game."
Renney talked about the opportunity presented to the Swedish winger, playing his first game since being sent to OKC in late October after only playing in five games at the NHL level.
"Timing is everything," said Renney. "As we rebuild and integrate young players into our lineup -- and certain players -- it has cost him a little bit. But he's got terrific skill. He's got a knack. He's got a courage to play the game."
Renney added that what makes Omark the special player he can be is his creativity.
"Where this ends up going, is hard to say. I think he can contribute to our organization. I think there's an opportunity for him, should he come back and have a real strong training camp. Obviously, he needs to get traction. My hope is it's through us."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
CALIFORNIA CALLINGAnaheim, CA - After arriving in California following the game on Friday night, with some team bonding on Saturday, the Edmonton Oilers got back to work on Sunday with a practice at the Anaheim Ducks' practice facility just north of the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Oilers head coach Tom Renney said that having a bit of time off was just what the team needed.
"It's really important," said Renney. "You can get into the doldrums if you're not careful and feel sorry for yourself and not do those things but you have to."
The head coach added that bonding is all part of the process of growing together as a team.
"The whole experience of a young team is to grow through all kinds of experiences. And when you have an opportunity to do that like we did yesterday, it's vital. We hope this sets the table for a real strong push down the stretch."
Renney did put the club through the paces of an up-tempo practice on the Sunday, hoping to ensure a top-notch performance against the Ducks Monday night.
"The big thing is, we've got to get to the rink and get to work. We wanted it to be quick and have good pace to it and get them on and off quick so they could concentrate on Anaheim tomorrow."
Taylor Hall did not skate after
"Just a maintenance day," said Renney. "He's got an issue with a shoulder there as everybody knows. T.D. (head trainer T.D. Forss) decided we should keep him off to let it settle down, which is a good move. Hoping he's fine in the morning, we'll see what happens."
Renney did not rule out using seven defencemen -- potentially reinserting Theo Peckham -- instead of calling up a forward from Oklahoma City should Hall not be able to play.
"We've got to get Theo in. I've said that before and maybe it gets a little redundant. It's almost hypocritical that I haven't done that yet," said Renney. "But those are the dynamics of our team. It wouldn't be out of the question that we might dress seven D. I'll have a look at the clips tonight and watch their last couple of games, see what we might need and make a decision based on that."
Tomorrow marks Andy Sutton's first game back in Anaheim since being dealt in the off-season for Kurtis Foster -- oddly enough, Foster has been traded two more times since that deal.
It was a difficult season for Sutton, getting into only 39 games after being a big free-agent acquisition for Anaheim the previous off-season. He had four assists and no goals and only got into one playoff game.
"It's like anything. It's got to be about the right fit and for whatever reason it didn't work out for me here but I don't have any ill feelings towards the team or anything like that. It was a tough year for me on and off the ice. I'm just thankful they were able to move me to Edmonton, where things have worked out better for me."
Sutton has three goals and 10 points in 41 games with the Oilers so far this year and is also leading the team with a +6 rating.
LOOKING FOR REVENGE
The lone meeting of the season between these two teams came in mid-December. The Ducks rolled into Rexall Place and spanked the Oilers by a score of 5-0.
Tomorrow night, the Oilers get a chance to redeem themselves for that loss and put a huge dent in Anaheim's playoff hopes.
"We've been playing better lately and I fully expect us to come out tomorrow night with a great effort," said Sutton.
"It's playing them hard, playing them tight, taking away time and space. Being physical on them. They don't shy away from that type of game but it takes away from the type of game you want to play when you're constantly being hit every time you touch the puck."
Ryan Smyth concurred with the big blueliner.
"We owe them, for sure we do. We've got to come out with a little bit of an edge," Smyth began. "They've got some firepower up front. Getzlaf, Perry and you can even throw Selanne in the mix there. They're very good and very talented. Guys that know how to put the puck in the net."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
STARS 3 - OILERS 1The Dallas Stars registered only 15 shots, but a pair ended up behind Nikolai Khabibulin while another slid into the empty cage. Sam Gagner added a late tally to put the home side on the board, but it wasn't enough as the Oilers' sputtering attack resulted in a 3-1 loss Friday night.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - There's a special buzz in the air when the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers meet. From 1997-2003, the clubs met in the post-season six times, playing 33 spring matches in which 22 were decided by a single goal – nine went to overtime.
While tonight's game likely won't match the intensity of those decade-ago moments, the teams' longstanding rivalry always promises an entertaining 60-minute clash.
Back then, Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, and even a no-namer (relatively speaking) in Benoit Hogue became the club's archenemies at Rexall Place. None were ex-Oilers, but one whose welcome will echo a similar sound (booing) pays a visit tonight.
Elk Point, AB native Sheldon Souray will play his first game in Edmonton since being bought out in the summer.
"I can only say positive things about him," said Ladislav Smid, who was often seen as No. 44's protégé. "He was a really good teammate, a really good guy. He helped us big time. He's got good leadership skills and I sat next to him (in the locker room) for a season and he was a great guy. I was really young back then and he was helping me along the way."
"He's a big, strong man and is imposing as heck, he's intimidating and he's all those wonderful things that you want in the game" added Head Coach Tom Renney, who coached Souray both in Edmonton, as an associate coach to Pat Quinn, and at the 2005 World Hockey Championship in Austria. "There's always a time in a player's situation where the crosshairs don't quite line up and maybe you handle it wrong, and maybe you wish you hadn't or vice-versa. It doesn't matter. He's not here, but he's had a pretty good year."
After spending the 2010-11 season with the AHL's Hershey Bears, on loan from the Oilers as part of the parties' messy breakup, Souray returned to the NHL this season and has rebounded nicely. The 6'4", 237-pound rearguard has potted six goals and 20 points, along with 61 penalty minutes in 51 games.
In many ways, he's still the same player that was, during the 2008-09 campaign, an all-star in orange and blue.
"Obviously he's really good on the power-play," explained Smid, noting his cannon from the point. "He has one of the hardest shots in the NHL and it's pretty scary sometimes. He brings a strong physical presence, too, and is really hard to play against. He'll be a challenge to go up against tonight."
Smid shouldn't be worried. The 26-year-old has had an equally as stunning season, ascending the NHL's shot-blocking rankings to the fourth spot overall, sacrificing his body to absorb 149 pucks en route to his goalie.
Even with Souray's bomb incoming at over 100mph, his mindset hasn't changed. His pain threshold may have to, however.
"I'm trying not to think about it," he said, laughing hysterically. "It's pretty scary. But if he's got a chance to take a shot and I'm out there, I'm going to try and go down and block it.
"We need a win. That's the bottom line and that's part of my game to help out there."
PETRELL ON PATROL
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who's scored two goals and three points since returning to action, will have a new linemate on his left side tonight. Lennart Petrell will move up to play alongside him and Jordan Eberle – a reward for strong play and an indication that the rookie Finn's skill-set can help that line produce even more.
"You get a play a little bit more, and these guys are really skilled, really talented guys," Petrell said. "The main thing is not to get carried away or think about it too much. I still need to work really hard, create turnovers. That's the way I play and I'm not going to try and change too much."
"If you look at my shooting percentage (16.7-percent), I'm pretty much a goal-scorer by those standards," he added, laughing.
Renney, who stressed the importance of giving Petrell this opportunity, is eager to see the 27-year-old impart ‘his' game in a scoring role.
"You'd like to think it's like riding a bike. The problem is, it's somebody else's bike," he laughed. "[Petrell] has to play the way he plays, and we love that in him. He's a real, hard-working two-way guy, he's smart, he understands what his attributes are and what he has to do contribute to that line. He's got to use his size and strength to create an advantage.
"Lennart's played well. I'd like him to shoot, too, because he's got a very good shot."
In the end, it's something the entire squad needs to bring in order to topple their opponent as they battle tooth-and-nail for a post-season sniff. Dallas is currently in with 71 points, one up on the hard-charging Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche, and two up on the Calgary Flames.
"It's an important game for them, but it is for us too," said Smid, who will continue to guard the club's top pairing with Jeff Petry tonight. "We still have 19 games on the schedule and we want to win as many as we can. We need to do all the things we talk about in the locker room; being strong in our own end, playing physical, keeping things simple, limit our turnovers. If we do all that, it should be enough to win the game."
Strong goaltending will help, too. Devan Dubnyk got the hook in Wednesday's 5-2 loss to St. Louis after allowing three goals on 19 shots. Nikolai Khabibulin hasn't started since Feb. 19 vs. Vancouver, but is ready to return to action and will get the start tonight. He's amassed a 12-16-5 record, along with a 2.60 goals-against average and .914 save percentage this season.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
PROMOTIONS & DEMOTIONSEdmonton, AB - Home. Rexall, a ‘Place' where the Oilers have amassed a 16-12-4 record this season, establishing some dominance in a building where 41 regular-season contests are played each year.
But, in recent weeks, it's been a tough go. Three in a row have been won on the road, but losses to Toronto, Colorado Vancouver – then interrupted by a 2-0 shutout over the league's highest-scoring team in the Philadelphia Flyers – Phoenix and now St. Louis, home cookin' has been a most challenging recipe.
With 25 wins on the season, matching last year's total with 20 games to play, the Oilers had an opportunity to surpass it but fell short with a lethargic 5-2 defeat last night.
Coming off an emotional 5-2 win in Winnipeg on Monday, it was a disappointing result that the squad couldn't help but echo the morning after at practice. As such, Head Coach Tom Renney shuffled the deck and concocted some new line combinations to help spark the club's struggling attack.
After scoring a goal and an assist in the Oilers' triumph over the Jets, Lennart Petrell will get a promotion. The 27-year-old rookie will move up to play alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
"He's had some good chances and he had a good game in Winnipeg, he's got a hard, heavy shot, he's a big guy, and maybe he can help lean on some people in the [opponent's] lineup," Renney said, noting Petrell's importance to the team.
"With a little bit more [ice time], maybe he has an even greater impact on the game. He's a very likeable guy, (he's a) great teammate and he'll do anything he can to win a hockey game. If you watch him shoot the puck, there's something there. It's laser and it's heavy and we want to get him more touches."
Petrell was inked to a one-year, entry-level deal on Jun. 15, 2011. He made his NHL debut vs. Pittsburgh during the Oilers' home opener after spending the previous seven seasons with HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League. Renney isn't surprised with the rookie's seamless transition to the bigs.
"He was described to me as being all that," he said, emphasizing the skills he mentioned previously. "[The NHL] is a tough league to play and how you're deployed, there's not much you can do about that other than go play; so he's at the mercy of the coach and he's been really good with that.
"That's probably the biggest thing, is where guys have to make an adjustment in terms of how they're used, but he's handled that really well and has just gone out and played. He went to OK-City and did the same thing, came back here, did the same thing. He's certainly a guy that knows who and what he is. This should be looked upon as an opportunity for him, to see what more he might be able to do for us."
While Petrell looks to be the man of the hour, it's also possible that the Oilers will look to recall a player from Oklahoma City. Linus Omark's name is most likely, as the 25-year-old has posted 14 points in 15 games in an abbreviated 2011-12 campaign.
In addition to that move, Nikolai Khabibulin has been activated to team's roster and could be ready to start tomorrow night vs. Dallas. The 39-year-old last played on Feb. 19, stopping 15 pucks on 17 shots before leaving with a groin injury.
As a result, Yann Danis has been reassigned to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons.
"It's the same thing, game-by-game," the veteran said. "I want to get a chance to play, get a chance to do the best I can and help the team win. Ideally it'd be nice to get a couple shots early (tomorrow), long shots, and get in the game that way. I'd like to handle the puck a little bit, but it's something that's out of my control, so whatever happens, I have to prepare for anything.
"I've been through it quite a bit. I don't expect any rustiness."
While Devan Dubnyk was given the reigns in Khabibulin's absence, there's still some healthy competition between the pipes. No one is guaranteed starts, and chances are that Renney will ride the hot hand down the stretch.
"As many I can get," Khabibulin said, referencing how many starts he'd prefer to see. "Ideally I'd like to play every game. Dubey is a good goalie, too, and he deserves some games. It's up to the coaches. Whoever gets to play, we support each other."
In the not-so-happy department, Cam Barker would be looking at the opposite angle when it comes to roster moves. The 6'3", 223-pound reclamation project has been struggling of late, posting a -1 rating in only 11:33 of ice time against the Blues.
The 25-year-old, who was once a third overall pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004, didn't look as sharp as he did on Monday in his hometown of Winnipeg. Barker's reads were often miscalculated, which resulted in ill-timed step-ups in the neutral zone, costly pinches and weak gaps.
"He's had some good games," Renney said. "There's no question he's had some good games. As a team, we've really struggled at times, too. Barks is going to have to play is way out of it.
"Use his size, use his strength, use his shot, use his pass," he added, helping to garner attention to the rearguard's noticeable strengths. "All you're trying to do is your best as a good person and good teammate, and his teammates will surround him."
With Barker potentially owning a seat in the press box tomorrow night, Andy Sutton will get back in. Theo Peckham, who hasn't played since Jan. 31 vs. Colorado as he nursed a sinus issue (and, after that, riding the pine as a healthy scratch), is still looking for a sniff. Renney stressed the importance of getting his young blueliner back into game action.
When that will be is anybody's guess, mind you.
"I'm in a bit of a dilemma here," Renney explained. "I've got to play some people to make sure I'm comfortable with where they are in the grand scheme of things. Pecks is in that group, we've got to get him going here. There are 19 games left and he's missed 13 in a row or something like that. He's got the passion to play and we need that in our lineup, of course.
"In the meantime, those are coaches' decisions that a player doesn't have any control over. He's just got to deal with it and he's doing a good job of that."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
BLUES 5 - OILERS 2Andy McDonald scored twice, while Kevin Shattenkirk picked up a goal and two assists as the St. Blues vaulted out to a pair of three-goal leads, with the last holding up in a 5-2 win over the Oilers Wednesday night at Rexall Place.
Corey Potter and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the Oilers' goals, both coming in the second period.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - Following a hectic period in which the Oilers acquired veteran rearguard Nick Schultz prior to Monday's 1pm MT deadline, in addition to a solid, come-from-behind 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets later that night, the orange and blue have returned home.
Tonight, the opponent will be the St. Louis Blues, who are ranked fourth in the NHL's Western Conference standings with a 39-17-7 record (85 points). Schultz, 29, will make his Oilers debut and will be paired alongside a mobile puck-mover in Ryan Whitney.
"It was good," Schultz said as he addressed the media horde, immediately after taking his first twirl on the Oilers' home sheet. "It was nice to get out there and get going. It's an exciting time for me, being on a new team and getting a fresh start.
"There are going to be nerves. It's new for me, something I haven't been through since I played my first game in the NHL with Minnesota. It's been a while, but I'm looking forward to it. It's a new opportunity here in Edmonton."
Head Coach Tom Renney, who has praised the move in acquiring the Strasbourg, SK native since the start, is excited to see a new dynamic added to the club's unbalanced blueline.
"Consistency," he noted with utmost importance. "Doesn't get rattled, plays with poise, (is) strong; he's had the benefit and experience of playing in a defensive structure that was tailor-made for him."
"He's a really nice guy," added Ladislav Smid, who will be paired with Jeff Petry this evening. "He's a great addition to our D core and he's really good defensive player. This is his ninth or 10th year in the NHL, 700+ games and that's what he did, closed games for Minnesota when they were up. Hopefully he can do the same for us."
On the team's third pairing, Cam Barker will be paired with Corey Potter. Andy Sutton will sit as a healthy scratch, while Magnus Paajarvi will likely be assigned to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons later today.
"I thought we played pretty well in Winnipeg," said No. 13 who, as a local product, was thrilled to have gotten the chance to play at home. "We've got to keep the ball rolling in that direction, keep things simple."
Highlighting Barker's homecoming was having the opportunity to see his 90-year-old grandparents, who don't often get to see him play, or watch any NHL game for that matter; so much so, in fact, that his grandmother had never seen a live game prior to Monday's victory.
"It was awesome," he said. "I was pretty happy for her to be able to watch me play. To have a good game and come out with the win, it was even better."
A FORMIDABLE OPPONENT
"St. Louis is having a great season," Barker said. "They're a big, tough team and they play very simple, but very disciplined in their system. We've got the get the puck deep, play solid defensively and get the puck up to our skilled forwards and we'll be alright."
While the Blues are the among the league's top teams at this point, they've done so through a solid own-zone structure. St. Louis is ranked 22nd in the league with an average of 2.49 goals per game. The Oilers hope to counter the Blues' wall with a sound attack game.
"We're one of those teams where if we get into that high-wire act, we can be dangerous, but it's also living dangerously," Renney explained. "I think the big thing for us is to certainly take our game to this team and use our speed, our puck speed and attack them, naturally, but also have real good balance within that look so we don't give up those odd-man rushes.
"In a strange way, it's fun playing these teams because you do learn," he added. "They're not going to take us lightly and think that they're going to cruise through a win; they're going to come out and play hard. And we've got to match all of that."
Smid, who's the league's second-best shot-blocker with a 149 on the season, agreed and expanded on St. Louis' defensive role. It's vital, considering both teams are expected a 5-on-5 game with little special teams action.
"They play a great system," he said. "They come hard, they have a great structure and they forecheck hard. For us, we've got to play a strong team-game, be good defensively, be smart with the puck and be on the forecheck. Hopefully we can score some goals and win the game."
"It might one of those games where we might not see specialty teams too much, so I think we have to be ready to play 5-on-5 hockey as good as we have all year long," Renney said. "Again, we have to attack this team. I think we have to force their D men to turn and go get pucks and defend us in their own end, we've got to make sure we don't give up the odd-man rushes. And in our own zone, you better have the cookies or we'll be in trouble."
Devan Dubnyk will make his seventh consecutive start, looking to improve on his 13-15-1 record, 2.88 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
GOIN' TO WINNIPEGEdmonton, AB - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was only 2-years-old when the original Winnipeg Jets played their last game on Apr. 28, 1996 – a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, ending the club's post-season quest in a tear-eyed conclusion.
Jordan Eberle was three was older; Taylor Hall, two, and an indication of the Oilers' rebuilding youth and blissful ignorance of the atmosphere that's to come tomorrow night in Winnipeg.
Head Coach Tom Renney said it best when the club visited the Bell Centre in Montreal. It was an opportunity to immerse themselves in a hockey-mad, sports mecca; Manitoba, undoubtedly, will be the same.
"It's a great hockey town," Renney said as he addressed the media post-practice at Rexall Place Sunday. "I'm so happy that they have an NHL team, and it's right. They've got a great fanbase there and I had the opportunity to experience that myself during the (1999) World Junior Championship and it was outstanding.
"I know that every single fan in that building, with the exception of a couple, will be after us and going to bat for their team," he added. "It will be a really good environment. I hope it is. I hope it's intense, I hope it's loud, I hope it's everything that you want in terms of adversity."
The game, while promising to be a wild 60-minute clash, could have an emotional component as well. Nikolai Khabibulin began his 18-year career as a Jet, playing in 26 games and posting an 8-9-4 record as a rookie during the 1994-95 season.
The very next year, he backstopped his club once again and assembled an above .500, 26-20-3 record.
The 39-year-old has missed the past two games with a groin injury, but has been back practicing and says he's ready to go.
"It would be exciting to play a game there after such a long time," he said, looking back at his seasons with the Jets. "It's where it all started for me. The fans were great to me and in general, the people in Winnipeg were really nice and still are. I'm looking forward to it.
"It's a Canadian city and it's a smaller city, so the fans are really into it. From watching a couple games on TV, I see that the building is really loud and the fans are crazy. I expect the same tomorrow. The building isn't the same anymore and it's a new place, but I'm going to bring some memories back. It's going to be a really exciting time to go back."
It's still unclear as to whether or not Khabibulin will dress or even get the start, as Renney is committed to being prudent with his athlete's health. Like Nugent-Hopkins, he'll have to be at 100-percent.
"I'm going to talk to [Khabibulin] now," he said. "I've spoken with (Head Athletic Therapist) T.D. (Forss) and he wants to talk with Nik as well, still. I'll let those two chat and then I'll step in and have a conversation and we'll see what happens. What I don't want to do is hurt him. I'm sure he wants to play and I understand why, but I'll make the right decision on his health.
"Amazing. That's quite a story," Renney added, noting Khabibulin's 15 years since being a member of the Jets. "I'd like to contribute to that, but I also need to contribute to the well-being of the player in the long run."
While the Oilers have recently made trips to Winnipeg, playing pre-season games on Sep. 26, 2006 vs. Phoenix and Sep. 24, 2009 vs. Tampa Bay, one player has a more recent memory of what the ruckus MTS Centre crowd will be like. As a member of the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons last season, Jeff Petry made the trip to take on the Manitoba Moose back on Dec. 3, 2010. The Barons lost 3-2 that night, but the 24-year-old collected a +1 rating.
"It's a big hockey city," he said. "For our game, it wasn't sold out, but it was pretty close and it was loud in there. Tomorrow they'll probably have it sold out and it will be a good environment to play in."
Petry will most certainly get the opportunity to revisit the environment that he spoke so highly of, but others won't be so lucky. As the squad rushed to vacate Rexall Place en route to the airport, seeking to catch their charter's noon departure, Renney said to expect some lineup changes heading into tomorrow.
One will come out of necessity, as Tom Gilbert stayed behind in Edmonton. Cam Barker, a Winnipeg native, will draw in.
"I don't know what it is exactly, but he's got a bad back," Renney explained. "It's one of those things where I think if we travel with him, it might lock up even more. We'll let him stay here, do some rehab and get some treatment. I think he'll be good sooner rather than later, but we're taking our time with it."
The other was sparked by the need to bounce back from yesterday's 3-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Ryan Jones, who's missed the past three games as a healthy scratch, could be reinserted tomorrow evening.
"I'm contemplating that," the bench boss said. "I think Jonsey's had a good rest here. I think we've got an opportunity here coming up to get him back here. I think it might be tomorrow. I'm not sure, exactly, and I'll contemplate it on the plane, but I think he's penciled to come back in.
"The bottom line is that there's a way that Ryan has to play to be an effective player for us, and he certainly can be and has been. Sometimes you need a reminder. He's vital to our success moving forward and I know that he'll make good of the situation and be a real team player as he always is."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
COYOTES 3 - OILERS 1First period goals by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ray Whitney put the home side in a 2-0 hole and, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins brought his club a little closer with a third-period tally, Shane Doan ended the Oilers' comeback try with a late goal to seal a 3-1 Phoenix victory on Saturday afternoon at Rexall Place.
AT FRIDAY'S PRACTICEEdmonton, AB - Coaches don't necessarily want to make changes to a winning lineup, but when you're prepared to welcome back the league's top Rookie of the Year candidate in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, you make room.
No. 93 passed Head Coach Tom Renney's ‘U Test' at Friday's practice, meaning the Oilers' prized young superstar will be back in the lineup as his club takes on the Phoenix Coyotes in tomorrow's matinee at Rexall Place.
Anton Lander was doing extra work as the squad parted ways at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park, indicating that he'll be odd-man out as a healthy scratch, alongside Ryan Jones and Cam Barker in the press box.
"I feel really good," said Nugent-Hopkins, who's missed the past six games, totaling 18 this season. "I haven't tweaked it in a long time, so that's a really positive thing. It's not getting sore after I shoot or anything like that. Tomorrow it might take a couple shifts to get my legs going, but I don't want to have that happen. I want to get into the game right away if I can.
"I've had some direct contact on it and it's felt fine."
Associate Coach Ralph Krueger said sternly in the week's post-practice press conferences that RNH wouldn't return until his shoulder was completely healed and at 100-percent.
"97-percent won't cut it," he said yesterday.
"Anybody watching the skate today, he was putting a lot of pucks in the net," he laughed, noting Nugent-Hopkins' seamless integration back. "He feels very strong. He feels better than he did coming off a similar injury last time. He feels 100-percent, whereas last time he had this feeling that he wasn't quite there yet. His mind is in a good space and we're excited to see him back in the lineup."
While there may be some trepidation when it comes to physical contact among the 16,839 in attendance, the coach isn't concerned.
"There's nothing that takes the place of getting into a game," he said. "You can practice as hard as you want."
While Nugent-Hopkins is returning, another was close to replacing the rookie's spot on the Oilers' injury list. In last night's 2-0 win over the Flyers, Magnus Paajarvi was dangerously (and dirtily) kneed by Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell, causing the sophomore to limp to the locker room in obvious pain.
But there he was, back at Oilers practice and looking no worse for wear.
"I can't remember too much, but I felt instant pain on my knee, of course," he said. "We couldn't get the x-ray [last night], so we waited until this morning and there's nothing, no ligaments are broken or cracked. It's just a matter of pain tolerance, so it's nice to have that.
"Very surprised," Paajarvi added, admitted that it could have been much worse. "I felt very bad for 10-15 minutes, but then I started walking a little bit on it and it started to get a little bit better. I caught a lucky break for sure."
It doesn't sound as though there will be any supplementary discipline for the collision, but Krueger was hoping there would be.
"It was a dirty hit and hopefully that's being looked it. It was away from the play and we could have lost a player for a while. Magnus got away with one, as did we."
"It's all up to them," Paajarvi said. "I couldn't care less."
SHORING IT UP
While the Oilers did come away with a blanking over the league's highest scoring team in yesterday's matchup, it much closer than the score indicated. The Oilers had trouble containing the Flyers' high-octane attack, giving up numerous odd-man rushes and high-quality scoring opportunities, all of which (35 shots) were turned aside by Devan Dubnyk en route to his third career shutout.
"When they got possession in the D zone, we knew that they were going to send guys up and try to get them going behind us," said Jeff Petry who, once again, led his team in ice time with 22:43, highlighted by an even rating and three blocked shots. "It was something that they did quite well and we needed to be aware of it as the game went on. We had the two goals, so it was enough to win the game at the time, but we did our best not to give up anything. They came hard, but we didn't back down either.
"We got the puck going up the ice and that was the key early on," he added. "They didn't generate too much down low and us, as a D core, said before the game that they'd be coming hard with two guys, so we needed to get it past them and up-ice as quick as we could."
Petry had another solid outing last night, which included a highlight-reel play that stemmed from a bumble at the opposition's blueline. The 24-year-old lost his footing and could have sprung the Flyers on a breakaway, but a last-ditch on-his-butt reaction play saved the day as the appreciative Rexall crowd erupted in cheers.
With a laugh and subtle smile, Petry played it off; all part of the game, he said. But even so, it was a microcosm of the youngster's season, as he's improved leaps and bounds from the beginning, establishing himself as one of the team's go-to rearguards.
It's evolved into leadership, too, as he still sees room to improve – both as an individual, and on a game-by-game basis, even though the orange and blue are playing as well as they have all season in the past week.
"There's always something that you can do better," he said. "It's a matter of sticking to the game plan and continuing to chip pucks in when there aren't any plays. We love to get a cycle game going and wear down their D. That's something we're going to key on tomorrow as well.
"We know [Phoenix is] going to come hard. It's been a while since we've seen them, so we're not going to worry too much about them. We need to worry about ourselves and make sure we're sticking to what's made us have success over the past week."
The Coyotes are coming in hot, winning four straight including an emotional, come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win over the Flames last night in Calgary. Given that the Oilers have played well against post-season bound teams this year, the home side will be looking to continue riding this positive wave.
"Anytime you can string some wins together, the attitude in the locker room can change completely," Petry said. "It's something that we want to keep going, because it's a great feeling to have. It's a matter of buying in and working diligently to play the system. We're doing that right now."
NEED-TO-KNOWS: Nikolai Khabibulin was back at practice today and was looking sharp. He says he's feeling good and his status has been upgraded to day-to-day. It's possible that he could be back in the lineup on Monday night in Winnipeg.
Head Coach Tom Renney was also back in action; and, while he's staying away from duties regarding media availabilities, he's targeting to be back behind the bench for tomorrow's game.
"Tom is planning to be on the bench tomorrow and run everything as usual," Krueger explained. "He's phasing back into things. They don't want him to do everything, that's why I'm standing here today. He's planning to come back in and it's good to see him back. He's got good energy and he seems to be doing well."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
OILERS 2 - FLYERS 0The Oilers and Flyers don't always meet at Rexall Place. But when they do, the home side prefers a shutout.
The clubs last met in Edmonton on Feb. 3, 2010 when the orange and blue snagged a 1-0 victory.
Tonight, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle each scored, while Devan Dubnyk stopped 35 shots, thwarting the league's highest scoring team by a 2-0 score.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - In the very same spot at Rexall Place where Wayne Gretzky slid his fifth goal of the night into the empty cage to capture an untouchable NHL record on Dec. 30, 1981, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall were doing the same at the Oilers' morning skate, directly beneath The Great One's retired banner on the rink's east side – a glimpse back or a reminder, even, of the club's great rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers as they wrapped up practice by tossing pucks into the awaiting four-by-six.
The 1987 Stanley Cup Final was another and, while tonight's encounter won't match the importance or up-tempo intensity that a clash for the league's title promises, these rare, once-a-season matchups with the Broad Street Bullies continue to be marked on the players' calendars.
"They're obviously a great team," said veteran Andy Sutton who, in his career, as notched a pair of goals and eight points against the Flyers. "They've got a lot of notoriety and a lot of great players, so it brings our attention level up and really allows us focus on what we're doing, which is exactly what we need.
"It's mostly about where we're at and where we want to get to. It's all about us. We're trying to build something that's stable and consistent. We had a great game the other night in Calgary, so we're really going to try and play the same way: put pucks in the right area, take away their time and space and be really stingy in the neutral zone.
"We want to work them over the same way we did with the Flames."
Jus as Sutton explained, the Oilers' mindset heading into tonight's game is that of more recent history. It was a complete effort the other night at the Saddledome, and it helped result in the club's best – and, perhaps, most rewarding – game of the 2011-12 campaign.
"The way we won that game was really special," said Associate Coach Ralph Krueger, who collected his first win as an NHL head coach. "It was a very complete game. It's always a combination. I thought the opposition didn't find their groove at all and couldn't bring much emotion to the table that day.
"Managing the lead and dealing with the goal against," he added about what was particularly positive about the Oilers' rout. "Both of those situations showed a maturity that we maybe haven't felt yet this season. Going down 1-0, there wasn't a heartbeat missed on the bench."
Knowing that the Flyers' scoring attack is as lethal as they come (Max Talbot is on Philly's fourth line, and he's still managed to score 17 goals this year), the Oilers are especially eager to counteract their opponent's style with something similar.
"They have the most goals in the league, so that's something that we have to be aware of," said Tom Gilbert, who will continue to be paired with Sutton in tonight's game. "We've got to be real concerned with what we're doing with the puck, where you're making passes, making sure pucks are getting deep and knowing where your guy is. They're a great transition team.
"They're sending three-four guys all the time, so our transition game could also be good, too. We could use that against them. You don't want to do a scoring game, back-and-forth with these guys, but we can be patient and wait for them to make mistakes."
Taylor Hall, who's climbing back to a point-per-game pace after having scored a goal and an assist in Tuesday's 6-1 throttling of the Flames, hasn't yet faced the Flyers in his career but is excited about tonight's opportunity.
"They score a lot of goals," he said, matter-of-factly. "With (Claude) Giroux, (Scott) Hartnell and (Wayne) Simmonds, that line is going to have to be something that we shut down. That's what drives their team (goal-scoring). They had a good win in Winnipeg and we know that they've been in a win-one, lose-one situation for the last little bit here. I'm sure they're trying to get momentum and get ahead in the playoff race, so we've got to shut that down."
Getting the opportunity to skate against a legendary NHL superstar, Jaromir Jagr, may also provide an additional boost to Hall's already passionate game.
"I've said it a lot, but one of the best things about playing in the NHL is to be able to play against the best players that have ever lived," he explained. "You can learn a thing or two about a guy like that.
"He's a legend in this game."
Just like those whose numbers hang proudly above the ice at Rexall Place.
There will be no changes to the lineup, meaning Ryan Jones will continue to sit as a healthy scratch and Devan Dubnyk will get the start in goal. Ilya Bryzgalov will get the call on the other side.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
MOVING ONEdmonton, AB - The Oilers practiced at Rexall Place on Monday prior to packing up and heading out to Calgary for tomorrow's Battle of Alberta. The practice was comprised of a lot of one-on-one drills as the coaches tried to up the team's battle level on the heels of two disappointing losses at home to Colorado and Vancouver.
Sam Gagner was absent from practice. In his place, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- still wearing a non-contact jersey -- centred Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
"It's feeling a lot better. It's definitely making progress," Nugent-Hopkins said after practice.
Nugent-Hopkins took part in the one-on-one drills and looked good, but threw out a word of caution.
"It's hard to tell without any real battles out there. The next couple of days will be a good test," he said, hinting the red jersey might come off soon.
It's been difficult for the rookie to watch the games, particularly with the team coming up empty on the recent home stand.
"The past couple of games have been tough ones for us but before that we ramped up the intensity and were looking pretty good out there," he added.
RENNEY'S RETURN WILL WAIT
Oilers GM Steve Tambellini addressed the media after practice to talk about the status of head coach Tom Renney, who missed the team's past two games behind the bench.
"He sat with me for close to a period during last night's game just to get that intensity, that feeling again. The doctors have recommended that he probably will miss the next couple of games," Tambellini said, hinting that Renney's involvement may start to get ramped up as soon as Thursday's game against the Flyers.
"He could be involved in some capacity with us (Thursday) but I think it's best at this point he get more comfortable with the intensity of coaching again."
Tambellini did add that Renney has been making strides.
"He's making some steps. I know it's driving him crazy not to be part of the day-to-day preparation as most coaches do but I think it's best for him to take some time."
Tambellini confirmed that Renney's injury is a concussion as a result of getting hit in the head with the puck during the morning skate in Toronto two weeks ago.
"This is a result of an unfortunate hit in Toronto. People know the type of preparation and work ethic (he has). We know this is very hard on him but it's the right thing, and he knows it's the right thing to take a little bit more time off."
Devan Dubnyk said the team misses their head coach but understands why he's out.
"You could see he was having a bit of a tough time, sometimes. A couple of days he was good but a couple days you could tell. He was trying to not let us see it, he's that kind of guy. He was trying to hide it from us. There's only so much you can do to hide it, he wasn't feeling great," Dubnyk began.
"It's too bad. It was an unfortunate incident. He's a leader for us in here. We know he'd be here if he could."
DUBNYK TAKES THE REIGNS
Another injury that has only now been added to the Oilers' list is Nikolai Khabibulin, who will be out 7 to 10 days with an injured groin. Khabibulin tweaked his groin during the first period of last night's game.
"It's always unfortunate when there's an injury. You never want someone to get injured," said Dubnyk.
The Oilers called up Yann Danis this morning from Oklahoma City of the AHL but it's expected Dubnyk will carry the bulk of the workload.
"It's my opportunity to play some games in a row and get us going here on a bit of a roll. It's exciting for me," he continued.
Dubnyk said this upcoming stretch of games is important not only for him but for the team as well as they continue to grow as a team.
"We fully plan on being in a playoff race next year at this time of year. We need to learn how to be in that high gear. Every single game's important and everybody cranks it up. It's the perfect opportunity for us to go up against teams that are in the race. It's a good chance for us to play games in the same way so when we're in that situation we know how to do it."
With four points -- two goals -- in five games since his most-recent call-up from Oklahoma City, Magnus Paajarvi is playing his best hockey of the season.
"I've felt great the last couple of games. I feel like I've been playing a lot better since I came back up - since the Detroit game," said Paajarvi. "Plus I've been playing with Hemmer. We've been mixed up with a couple of centremen but I feel good out there. I feel better mentally for sure."
Paajarvi had only four points all season -- all assists -- in 33 games prior to his recent hot stretch.
"I don't think I'm a whole lot better player after three or four weeks. The biggest thing for me is mentally and confidence-wise. Just going down there has made me feel better and helped my confidence."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
CANUCKS 5 - OILERS 2Vaulting out to a 9-0 shot advantage, the Canucks made early chances count, as Henrik and Daniel Sedin each recorded a goal and an assist through 60 minutes, helping to propel Vancouver to a 5-2 win over the Oilers Sunday night at Rexall Place. Vaulting out to a 9-0 shot advantage, the Canucks made early chances count, as Henrik and Daniel Sedin each recorded a goal and an assist through 60 minutes, helping to propel Vancouver to a 5-2 win over the Oilers Sunday night at Rexall Place.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - Changes were expected, but only one is on the way.
Following a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, Associate Coach Ralph Krueger hinted that Darcy Hordichuk, Theo Peckham and Nikolai Khabibulin could all be re-inserted. The club's sideline brute will remain, but the 39-year-old veteran will get the nod in goal.
Cam Barker will continue to get an opportunity, while the Oilers' hot fourth line of Ben Eager, Anton Lander and Lennart Petrell will stay put. That's important, too, considering the team's desire to roll them all against the West's second-best squad.
"(Corey) Potter and (Theo) Peckham are both really close and they could in an emergency be put in, so that's going forward, but tonight we'll go with the same defencemen and the same forwards," Krueger said as he addressed the media this morning at Rexall Place.
"We might be making some changes (to the line combinations), but I'd rather reveal that after the warm-up.
"There's depth in the four lines right now that we're really comfortable with, so even if we move people around, we can play a four-line game against a team that plays really well with four lines," he added. "They had their fourth line over 10 minutes last night, so all of us know what that means in terms of how they use their bench."
It's all about matching up the right way. The Canucks are coming off a dominant 6-2 triumph over Toronto one night ago at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. In a back-to-back situation, they'll want to balance the players' ice time in an effort to keep heavy legs on the backburner.
It's been no secret that the Oilers have had success against the NHL's better teams this season but, as shown in Friday's loss to the barely-better Avalanche, stringing a similar effort together vs. the league's lesser-known has been a challenge.
"We've played well against the top teams in the league, and we've played well against Vancouver," said Taylor Hall, who collected a goal and an assist against the Canucks when the teams last met on Jan. 24. "The last game we played in their building was very good before going into the All-Star break. With the exception of our last game, we've done a lot of good things in this last little bit.
"We need a lot of the same. We know how good they're playing (right now)."
"It's a little bit of a Canadian rivalry," added Ryan Jones, who snapped a 22-game goalless drought on Friday. "You know what you're going to get with these guys. They're a dynamic team and we've got to be ready to battle or else they're going to take us out of the game right away. There might be a little fear or a lot of respect, but we always manage to play well against these guys."
As Jones explains, in order to get back on the winning track – as the orange and blue have dropped two straight on the club's current three-game homestand – shoring up a sloppy effort is Job 1.
"The effort is the thing that we need to change the most," he said. "It's a matter of coming out and matching the intensity of the team you're going to play against. If we do that and we get a good special teams effort, we'll give ourselves a good chance to win."
"It was the team play that was disappointing the most against Colorado," added Krueger, who didn't wan to single anyone out. "I feel that the combination of people right now gives us a depth of going through this game today eye-to-eye, four lines matching against each other."
Krueger, who's now 0-4 as an NHL head coach (he was 0-2 last year when Head Coach Tom Renney had to dismiss himself due to the death of his father), feels that the game's speed, often dictated by the opponent's unwavering skill, has had an effect on the Oilers' performances this season.
"I think it's the amount of time we have the puck," he said. "When we play teams that are equal to us at home, or teams that we feel we look eye-to-eye with like a Colorado, we have a lot of puck possession. Against Vancouver or the other top teams, we seem to move the puck quicker.
"That's what Vancouver automatically does to you. They give you no time, no space, you know that going into the game and you move it quicker. Somehow, it seems to play to our cards better."
If it works out, then the Oilers ought to have another solid outing against this team. While the home side has won only once against them this season in four tries, all have been close matchups that could have gone either way.
As has been stated all season, a quick start is a necessary component en route to victory.
"We need to have a real courageous game as far as our energy is concerned," Krueger said. "We didn't bring a lot of energy into the starts against Toronto and against Colorado, so the energy that you feel off our bench and into the game will be critical for our success."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com
READY TO REBOUNDEdmonton, AB - On the heels of a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Edmonton Oilers took part in an off-ice workout on Saturday at Rexall Place.
Associate Coach Ralph Krueger reflected once again on the game.
"You have to compliment them, they played the perfect road game. They took the crowd out with that late first period goal, which was our undoing and really shut it down after that. They didn't make a lot of mistakes, they protected the valuable ice in front of their net with a passion," he said. "We weren't disastrous but they were just the smarter team the way they shut us down."
Krueger hinted at some lineup changes when the Oilers take on the Vancouver Canucks at home tomorrow night.
"Vancouver comes in here with a feeling of having to win. It's important for us to play much more solid defensively as a group. The team defence was missing at times last night. We looked young, with some of our offensive rushes without proper support going the other way."
Although he didn't say what the changes could be, the hints were that they could be wholesale, perhaps Nikolai Khabibulin in goal and the additions of Darcy Hordichuk and Theo Peckham.
"There will be some changes in the lineup. We're going through that today, everybody will see it when we take the ice against Vancouver."
The Oilers have had success against the better teams in the league this season, a fact not lost on Krueger.
"It could be that we still want to play a little bit more when we play against teams that we think are equal to us. Or maybe the respect goes down so the offence goes up. I think it's a defensive mindset that we bring against the top teams that brings a better team game. We've got 25 games to go here, we're learning what it takes to get Ws against anybody.
"There's no easy nights in the National Hockey League and I think we're learning that step-by-step here."
One of the real bright spots for the Oilers over the past month has been the play of 24-year-old defenceman Jeff Petry. Petry has played incredibly well as of late, with nine points in his last 14 games.
"Jeff's just maturing, in front of our eyes. The focus is on the kids up front but that's a kid on the back end, if you look at the two years of progress, it's been exciting to work with Jeff," said Krueger.
"He's an honest kid, a great team player and he's very coachable. He's just working extremely hard at all aspects of the game. He will eventually be a top two defenceman in the National Hockey League for a long, long time."
Petry has shown glimpses of that already, being arguably the team's best defenceman since Tom Gilbert went down in early January.
"The opportunity to play against the other top lines has been a new one since Tommy Gilbert's injury and he's handled that well," Krueger added.
Petry had a stretch prior to his current one where he had two points in 13 games and was -14.
"It was just a matter of confidence and a matter of feeling comfortable to join the rush and not be afraid to make a mistake," said Petry. "I've got the support from Laddy, playing with him, and the coaching staff to jump up and create that extra look on the attack."
The blueliner added that not looking over his shoulder as the next player to be relegated to the press box has helped.
"Just knowing that you're not worried about gripping your stick too tight or being afraid to make a mistake, it's something that gives you the ability to go out and play, for lack of a better word, worry-free hockey."
After missing the team's last seven games with an injury, Theo Peckham is itching to get back in the lineup.
"It's feeling pretty good," he said of the facial injury. "Any time you miss a couple weeks of hockey it's definitely tough to get back in. I've been practicing hard and waiting for my chance to get back in."
It was mainly a string of bad luck which caused him to be out of the lineup last time.
"There were two (incidents). I got cross-checked in the face by Galiardi against Colorado then deflected the puck into my own face the next morning in practice. Tough couple days," he stated. "I think I caught a bit of a flu, too, so it wasn't my best 48 hours.
As for when he returns, Peckham stated that decision is now in the coach's hands.
"It's their decision I haven't been in the lineup for the last game or so. If they decide to put me in, I'll work my hardest to show some consistency and do the things I have to do but if they decide having me out is best for the team that's something I have to live with."
Peckham added that regardless of what the decision is, he needs to work hard and stay positive.
"Just maintain a good attitude, work hard in practice and wait for my chance."
The imminent return of Corey Potter from a groin injury will make it that much more difficult for Peckham to draw back in.
"With Pottsy's groin healing up there it's going to be tough to get in and when you get in it's going to be tough to get good minutes so you have to show how much you want it and how much you deserve to be there."
Peckham, who's often roommates with Potter when the team's on the road, joked that he may need to engage in some trickery to find his place in the lineup.
"Maybe I'll slip something into Pottsy's food to try and get some playing time here."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
AVALANCHE 3 - OILERS 1Ryan Jones snapped a 22-game goal-scoring drought with a second-period tally to bring the home side within two, but it wasn't enough as Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly tallied three assists, propelling the Avalanche to a 3-1 win over the Oilers Friday night at Rexall Place.
Devan Dubnyk got the nod in goal, posting 20 saves in the loss.
AT THE MORNING SKATEEdmonton, AB - Success against the Northwest Division hasn't come easy this season, as the Oilers sport a 6-8-4 record overall. But when the Colorado Avalanche roll into town, there's an extra boost in the club's outlook.
Having established a 3-1-0 mark against them in 2011-12, the orange and blue will be looking to continue their winning ways and clinch the teams' head-to-head season series tonight at Rexall Place. Devan Dubnyk will be assigned to do it, pitting his 10-12-1 record, 3.01 goals-against average and .908 save percentage up against the West's 11th-best team.
It's a good time, too, considering No. 40 is a career 4-1-1 vs. Colorado.
"Devan had a really good stretch before [Nikolai Khabibulin] took us through these last three games," said Associate Coach Ralph Krueger, who will continue to man the Oilers' bench through the weekend. "We've gotten a lot of points in the last nine games as a team, and he needs to give us that solid, wall game where the opposition doesn't see a lot of holes."
Dubnyk, who collected a 3-1-1 record in consecutive starts before handing the reigns back to the team's 39-year-old veteran, is excited about his newest opportunity, but is eager to (re)establish consistency in his game.
"Exactly," he agreed, noting the value in earning his spot. "You're not going to get the, 'Oh, we like you as a person, so here's some ice time!' -- it certainly doesn't work that way. You've got to work and earn it. If you get a start, it's because you earned it and you'll feel better about it.
"The biggest thing is giving the guys an opportunity to win every night," Dubnyk added. "Whether it's 7-6 or 1-0, however the game goes, I need to make sure I'm doing everything I can to give the Oilers a chance to win."
LOOKING OUT FOR NO. 1
The 25-year-old sophomore is already on pace to exceed his career-high in games played (35, appearing in 27 to this point), and is looking to continue his strong clip and work his way up to the No. 1 role on a full-time basis.
"It was a big boost," he said of his recent string. "I want to be a starting goalie here soon, whenever that can be. It would be great (playing up to 80-percent of the games down the stretch). It would add to [my development]. I've played that amount of games before at this level, but with this group of guys that we're building here, to grow with them in that last stretch and have them get used to having me back there, it would be a nice feeling.
"Until you're a Khabby or Henrik Lundqvist, you're always going to be battling for a job. At no point in time can you take nights off and continue to get starts. You're always auditioning, but you can't look at it that way. I'm able to play at this level and play well at this level, so I'm waiting for an opportunity to go with it."
As Dubnyk explains, it's all about preparation. It's only his second full year in the league, but he's already learned what works well and what's required to maintain a high level, consistently. Having given way to Khabibulin in the club's last three games (amassing a 1-1-1 record in the process), he's ready to get back in.
"It's nice to get into that rhythm and play those back-to-back games, but it hasn't been too long," he said. "It's what I've been doing all three years here. That's the job of a backup goalie; it's your job to be ready to play, whether it's one or two weeks in between. You practice hard, get ready and come in. It might be as smooth as coming in the night after you play, but it's not anything crazy.
"No, absolutely not, and that's the biggest thing," he added about not changing his preparation. "You're never going to prepare the exact same way for a game that you're not playing. Besides skating more in the morning, you're still going through the same routine. When you get here, what you do, what you do when you're on the ice, when you show up, what you do prior to the game -- if you can keep everything the same, all of a sudden when it's time to play, it's not a big production to go out and start it.
"Instead, you roll into it and it's not a big deal. That's what I've been doing and I can see how it's impacted my game in a positive way."
Head Coach Tom Renney is still dealing with a concussion he endured last week in Toronto. As such, the bench boss will sit out once again tonight (and on Sunday) to help in his recovery.
Both Corey Potter and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins skated this morning, but neither will be available to play.
"It's feeling pretty good and progressing pretty fast," Nugent-Hopkins explained. "I don't really know when I'll be back, but I'll see over the next few days how my body feels and what the training staff say."
"I want to make sure that I'm 100 percent."
Also in clearing up some post-practice confusion, Theo Peckham is still on the IR with a sinus issue but, according to Krueger, could be available to play on Sunday or Tuesday in Calgary.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick