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AT THE MORNING SKATE
After coming away with wins in all three games on the recent eastern Canadian road swing, the Oilers return home to begin a six-game homestand tonight against the struggling St. Louis Blues.
Having enjoyed a day off Friday following the team’s impressive 5-0 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Oilers got back to work this morning with a 30-minute skate to prepare for the imminent Saturday night clash.
The lines and defensive pairings that have resulted in the recent success will remain intact, aside from one small change on the fourth line where physical forward J-F Jacques will be inserted in place of Steve MacIntyre.
Nikolai Khabibulin, fresh off a stunning shutout performance Thursday night against Toronto, will again get the nod between the pipes.
With the group basking in the glory of a clean sweep on the road, the players are eager to carry the acquired momentum into the longest homestand of the 2010-11 season.
Head Coach Tom Renney says the good vibes are a positive change, but that the team needs to remain on an even keel as they look to extend the winning streak.
"We've got to come out well. We've been on the road now and we feel good about our minor accomplishments there. We have to make sure that we come out really hard and smart, and put the heat on this team," said the bench boss.
"Discipline to that end is going to be important, but not at the expense of our compete. I think beyond that, it will be how we manage the puck tonight; and just make sure that the team needs to work hard for everything they get."
"When you've got a homestand like this, you've got to do everything you can to play your best hockey."
Rookie Jordan Eberle, who has now scored six points in his last five games, agreed with Renney’s sentiments.
"Home is always a place where you kind of get the fans behind you and you get the little extra advantage, so we want to take advantage of that and use it,” Eberle said of the homestand.
"I think with Hemmer (Ales Hemsky) out, as a team we have to pick up his offensive ability and his impact on the game. Not only one guy is going to do that. We have to spread it out amongst the team."
YOU REMIND ME
The Oilers find themselves in a similar situation as last season, when the team rattled off five consecutive wins on the road and then returned home for an extremely important homestand. With the unfortunate results (four losses) of a year ago fresh in the minds of the media, players and coaches weren’t concerning themselves with that past statistic.
"Thanks for reminding me,” Eberle laughed. “We're playing better hockey. We're not only winning games, but we're feeling good about winning games; that we earned them. For us coming into this homestand, obviously we have a lot of confidence and we have to forget about the road trip."
"Take the confidence, but you have to learn from it and move on, and obviously we have an important game tonight. Any team on any night in this league can win, so it's just a matter of who shows up."
The head coach agreed, as he expanded further on what the team needs to do tonight to ensure to positive outcome.
"I think we have to continue to pay attention to the details that we've started the year with, quite honestly, and be relentless on those," the coach said. "We can't allow ourselves to feel that good where we just stand around and watch. We have a long way to go to catch up to the teams that are in the playoff spot, and that's our objective naturally."
With the team’s offensive game currently firing on all cylinders, the defensive game has taken large steps forward as well. Defenceman Ladislav Smid commented on the change, and says that the improvement is more of a full-team effort.
"The forwards are allowing us to gap up a little bit better; we can stand up on the opposition and our F3 (third forward) is always there for us. One of the forwards is always helping us defensively and offensively," said the stay-at-home blueliner. "We just have to keep it going."
With the Oilers currently riding a season-high winning streak, in addition to showcasing more complete efforts on a nightly basis, Head Coach Tom Renney wasn’t shy to compliment his club’s efforts and comment further on the expected growth of the new Edmonton Oilers as they continue through the trials of a new era.
"They're just growing up. This team will have to grow up before your eyes; and we're going to have to mess up a little bit and persevere, and we're doing that," said Renney. "We're just evolving. That's all."
With the growth, confidence, and success riding high, Edmonton looks to extend its winning streak to four tonight against the St. Louis Blues from Rexall Place.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
Last 10 -- St. Louis 3-7-0, Edmonton 5-4-1
Season series -- First of four meetings this season. The Blues took the last three matchups on the 2009-10 schedule, allowing a total of four goals. The clubs won't meet again until Feb. 4.
Big story -- Have the young Oilers turned the corner? Not only have they won four of five, they swept their way through eastern Canada like their predecessors a generation ago, stomping through Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto by a 13-4 clip. The Blues have lost four straight, and haven't dropped five in a row in regulation since Dec. 10-18, 2008. Since getting off to a franchise-record 9-1-2 start, the Blues are 3-8-1.
Blues -- Ask around the St. Louis media and the consensus is that the Blues are a formidable team when healthy, but with TJ Oshie, David Perron and Roman Polak out long-term, they don't have much margin for error, if they ever did with their grinding style. Still, coach Davis Payne is optimistic.
"I don't think we’re far off," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to the Capitals. "You look at our Dallas games, you look at our last four games, all losses, but there's a small margin there. There's some good hockey there."
Close games have been the norm this season for the Blues. This current slide began with a pair of one-goal home-and-home losses to the Stars which stopped a three-game winning streak -- the last two of those victories coming by a single goal.
Oilers -- It started with a 5-0 loss to the Coyotes on Nov. 23. Coach Tom Renney had a few choice words with his still-developing team, and the lecture seems to have worked.
"What we've done is we've just tried to break each game into increments of 20 minutes -- and even beyond that 5-minute segments -- and identify the good things that they're doing," Renney said. "Not to dwell too much on those things that can go wrong because that can happen to any team.
"Just try to build the resolve that is required to work your way through those tough stretches."
Now they get to apply what they've learned at home, where they've lost seven of eight.
Who's hot -- Taylor Hall is a big reason the Oilers have been heating up. After picking up only 7 points in his first 17 games, he's matched that in his last seven, with 5 goals and 2 assists. He had his first two-goal game in Thursday's 5-0 win in Toronto. Center Sam Gagner has 6 points in his last four games.
Injury report -- Oshie (broken ankle) is out until at least early February. Polak (lacerated wrist) will be re-evaluated in January after undergoing surgery to repair a severed tendon in his right arm. Perron (concussion) has not resumed skating since the Joe Thornton hit that sidelined him Nov. 4. … Oilers forward Ales Hemsky (groin) was out three games, scored 3 points Wednesday in Montreal, but re-aggravated the injury and sat out Thursday's win in Toronto. He is day-to-day.
Stat pack -- The Blues' offensive shortcomings have infiltrated the power play as well -- they're in an 0-for-16 funk. … During the Blues' 9-1-2 start, they won only two games by more than two goals. Three of their four straight losses have been by two goals or less. … Three different goalies won for the Oil in their eastern swing. Martin Gerber beat the Senators, Devan Dubnyk held off the Canadiens and Nikolai Khabibulin recorded his 43rd career shutout in his first game back after missing seven games with a groin injury. It's the first goalie hat trick on the road for the Oilers since 1985, when Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog and Mike Zanier did it, but there was a five-game homestand between Moog and Zanier's wins.
Puck drop -- "Every once in a while you need a kick in the butt … our season was falling apart at that point. We've regrouped, our compete level is better. You can tell we've turned it around as soon as you come into the dressing room. Everyone is more vocal now. Before, we'd come into the room and it would be kind of a down feeling. Now we're trying to get back into a playoff spot." -- Hall in the Edmonton Journal referring to the Oilers' performance since Renney took them to task in Phoenix
-- Matthew Mankiewich - NHL.com