– In the building where the Oilers are 6-1-1, the orange and blue returned home to Rexall Place for a 20-minute morning skate in preparation for tonight's battle with the Ottawa Senators.
The Oilers' last game at Rexall Place was played on Oct. 30 when the St. Louis were dropped by a 4-2 score; 18 days later, they're back and ready to win. Since that game, however, the home side went 2-4-0, dropping three straight to conclude the team's marathon six-game road trip.
Attention at this morning's practice was keyed on how to continue the Oilers' hot streak at home.
"We have to come back to what's been good to us with respect to being sound defensively, hounding the puck, reloading hard, making sure there are passing options right away and pushing the pace," Head Coach Tom Renney explained during his pre-game interview at Rexall Place.
"We had a tough road trip, but we're 6-4 in our last 10," Eric Belanger
added. "If we win tonight, we're right back where we want to be. We have to stay positive, because Ottawa's playing well right now, so we need to make sure we're ready to go."
Belanger, 33, is still without a goal in the 2011-12 season, but has had his share of chances, hitting several goal-posts in his quest to dent the twine. He's come close, sure, but with a mere two assists this season, he needs to be better.
"For sure," he agreed. "I would like to get more goals, no question. You go through stretches like this in a season, and I'm going through it right now; but I know when I score one, I'll get a bunch in a row. You've got to stay positive and keep working at it. We're still in good shape here, so I'm not panicking."
With the Oilers' counted-upon scorers generating the bulk this season, including Ryan Smyth
, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, Jordan Eberle
and, to a lesser degree, Taylor Hall
, the need is there. They've contributed to over 50-percent of the orange and blue's totals, while assistance has been scarce.
"I don't see frustration, but to determine that you'd have to ask him," Renney said of Belanger. "He's worked very, very hard this year for us in every aspect of the game. I like how complete he is as a player. You'd like that good intention and hard work to translate into goals, but it doesn't happen all the time.
"The most important thing is that it happens in a timely fashion, and we could certainly use scoring from a number of people, Eric included, but he's not alone."
In helping to ease the load, Hall, RNH and Eberle will be reunited once more. The trio has combined to lead the Oilers' scoring attack and will be put in a position to do it again tonight against the up-and-coming Senators.
"There's a strategy between how we use our personnel," Renney said. "If there's synergy and a complementary synergy between players, you don't like to change that. At the same time, you sometimes have to change your roster according to your opponent and what they've done lately, and who's hot for them."
"There are going to be ups and downs throughout the year," said Taylor Hall
, who's gone eight straight games without a goal. "Your season is determined by how you get out of your slumps and how get back from that, so that's what I'm trying to do now."
missed yesterday's practice with a sore back and did not skate again today at Rexall Place. The 22-year-old has missed six games this season, and has now working on his sixth without registering a point. He will sit out and his status is undetermined for future games; Magnus Paajarvi
will likely slot into Gagner's spot, perhaps down the middle.
"I need to go out there and play good hockey," he said. "I'm the same person and the same player. I need to go out there and do a couple things right; not focusing too much or thinking too much.
"Good teams don't lose too many in a row," No. 91 added. "It's a really good opportunity to get pumped for the fans and get a win here. That would be huge for us."
(7-2-2), along with his 1.52 goals-against average and .945 save percentage, makes his 12th start of the season tonight.
Tom Renney revealed at this morning's press conference that D man Cam Barker
would miss up to three months, requiring surgery on his ankle.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
: Ottawa 5-4-1; Edmonton 6-4-0.
: Thursday marks the first of two meetings this season between these Canadian counterparts. Last year, the road team prevailed in each of the two head-to-head matchups between the teams, with the Oilers claiming a 4-1 win at Scotiabank Place last November and the Senators returning the favor with a 5-3 triumph at Rexall Place in February.
: The Senators, winners of two straight, continue their six-game stretch away from home with a trip to Alberta to take on the Oilers. Edmonton, meanwhile, returns to Rexall Place in hope of righting the ship after three consecutive three-goal defeats to close out a six-game road trip of their own.
: After a five-game winless streak to kick off the month of November, Ottawa has churned out consecutive road wins in Toronto and Calgary.
While the Senators' offense has benefited from multi-goal games from Nick Foligno against the Maple Leafs and Bobby Butler against the Flames, the source of stability during the streak has come from Craig Anderson, who leads the NHL with 17 games played this season. The workhorse netminder stopped 69 of 72 shots in the Sens' two-game win streak.
"It's just the way the schedule's worked out right now," Anderson said. "You earn your ice time. If you play better, you're going to keep playing. You play one game at a time and don't worry about the overall result."
: Edmonton's six-game win streak from Oct. 22 to Nov. 3 found the Oilers atop the Northwest Division. But a recent three-game road slide has left Tom Renney's squad searching for answers.
With three days of rest leading up to Thursday's home clash with Ottawa, the youthful Oilers are trying to regain their offensive rhythm. Taylor Hall
, who has lined up alongside fellow youngster Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
for most of the season, has especially struggled over his last eight games -- producing no goals and three assists in that span.
"Taylor's always at his best when he's attacking," Oilers coach Tom Renney told the Edmonton Journal. "But there's a disconnect right now between our defense and our forwards, in terms of retrieving and moving pucks. The greater that gap becomes, the tougher it is to play the game because teams have awfully good checkers in your way."
: After 15 games without a goal to begin the season, Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar has two goals and an assist in his last three games. … Ryan Smyth
has thrived for Edmonton in his last eight games, tallying eight goals and four assists in that span.
: Darcy Hordichuk
(knee), Ryan Whitney
(knee) and Cam Barker
(ankle) are listed on Injured Reserve for Edmonton and will not play. … Matt Carkner (knee), Peter Regin (shoulder) and Chris Neil (ankle) are on IR for the Senators and will not play Thursday.
: Bobby Butler notched his first two goals of the season in the third period of Tuesday's 3-1 win at Calgary. It was the fourth time this season that an Ottawa player scored twice in one period, as Butler joined Milan Michalek (Oct. 7, Oct. 29) and Daniel Alfredsson (Oct. 8).
: "We understand the depth of the people we're playing and the experience they've had with winning and we're still working on that – but there's no excuses," Renney said. "We needed to man up [Sunday] and we didn't do it. If we're better in front of our goaltender in every aspect of the game and pay attention to the detail that's required to set up your offense, our goaltending is going to be good enough every night."