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THE TEAM TODAY: A Fine Balance

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers


Coming soon: In Focus

The media expected a lengthy Oilers practice following Tuesday's loss to the Leafs, but less than 15 minutes after taking to the ice as a group, the team filed off and returned to the locker room.

There was no drama or lesson behind the  decision, head coach Tom Renney later explained: it was simply a matter of providing balance to the training regimen and accomodating some off-ice appointments.

"We do a lot of off-ice just about every day, so it's not like we're not working on fitness, but there's sort of a mental health component to all of this too," he said. "And the NHL medical team is here to meet with them as they do with every NHL team, so we wanted to get them back inside for that as quick as we could too."

"We wanted to keep it short. The idea was that it would be real short and just do some drills and get some flow."

30 games into the 82-game campaign, Oilers coaches are tasked with pushing the players and supporting the team's development as the season wears on. It's a fine balance, Renney explained.

"There's a certain fragility too with trying to get traction and be a respectable team and a consistent team, so as a coach you work different angles at different times," he said. "The big thing that you want them to know is that you're doing everything you can to try to help them, because you're going to be demanding on the other side of that anyway."


According to alternate captain Ryan Whitney, the players know that the season is a work in progress but that doesn't mean they can shrug off the losses.

"I think obviously people know there's going to be ups and downs to this year, but as a player, you can't really accept that. Maybe deep down you know there's going to be times when we struggle, but you've still got to strive for consistency and winning games. That's the kind of business we're in."

"A lot of guys are not even going to be here when this team is, so called, a cup contender, so you want to play hard now and you want to be a part of a winning team," he continued. "There's nothing stopping us from really doing that. We've shown in stretches we can, it's just about being consistent and staying out the penalty box, little things that make a good team."


An important part of a good team is solid defence, and the Oilers are currently without Jim Vandermeer, who suffered a right ankle injury Sunday night vs. Vancouver. Edmonton filled the gap with Jason Strudwick last night vs. Toronto and are expected do so again Thursday night vs. Columbus.

"We talked about it today and then we thought, well, maybe we can go one more and just have a look at this," Renney said.

With a four-day break in the schedule following the Blue Jackets battle, the Oilers will likely add a new body and take advantage of the practice time.

"I think we might go status quo (tomorrow) and then bring somebody up possibly to train with us through that little block of time," the coach stated.

During yesterday's pre-game press conference, Renney said Edmonton native Shawn Belle is the leading candidate for the call-up position.


In the latest edition of our fan question series, Randi of Edmonton submitted a question for Sam Gagner.

RANDI: "What are your goals as a player for the new year?"

Sam Gagner

SAM: "I don't really set new goals at different stages in the season. I think at the beginning of the season, you set goals for yourself. When things aren't going as planned, sometimes you maybe sit back and re-establish new goals.

But I think as a team, we just need to continue to get better -- even though the last couple games haven't gone the way we would have liked. We've just to get back at it. Going into the new year, we want to be in a playoff hunt when the time comes around."

Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.

Author: Jen Sharpe |, with files from Bob Stauffer, Tom Gazzola & Dan Tencer



Two days after posting a disappointing 12 shots in a losing effort vs. Vancouver, Edmonton was back in game-day mode with morning skate Tuesday.

Injuries to Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, and most recently Jim Vandermeer have forced head coach Tom Renney to make adjustments at both ends of the ice. 

Among the changes tonight, Gilbert Brule moves from right wing to center between Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Jones. The 23-year-old is looking forward to returning to the position he played in junior.

"It's going to be a bit of an adjustment obviously. There's a lot more responsibility in your own end down low, but I'm looking forward to it and looking forward to the challenge and getting on guys."

Renney hopes the change will spark the 23-year-old's confidence.

"He grew up as a centerman, clearly he can play both wing and centre, but we're going to try to put him into familiar territory," the coach explained. "He's a good little centerman, a good little face-off guy, and I like the way he plays the game when he's on, so we're going to give him a chance to have some success there."

On the fourth line, bruiser Steve MacIntyre returns to the line-up and will skate with Zack Stortini and Colin Fraser.

MacIntyre last saw action Dec. 2 in Toronto and is eager to face the Leafs again.

"I'm pretty excited to be playing against them and excited to be back in the line-up," he said after the skate. "I think the main thing is to go out there and play the game."

Fraser said he enjoys playing with Stortini and MacIntyre but won't rely on them to do all the enforcing.

"I'm not the biggest guy but I'm certainly not scared of anyone out there. That doesn't mean I'm going to go fight Colton Orr, but at the same time I'm not going to back down from him in a scrum or something like that."

"I'm certainly willing to fight anybody but I don't win many fights, I'll tell you that. For me I think showing up is what counts."

Another player who will be returning to the line-up is defenceman Jason Strudwick. The veteran's most-recent game was Nov. 14 in New York City, and although he admits he's been out of the in-game loop for a while, he insists that he is ready to go tonight vs. Toronto.

"I don't really change the way I work out or eat or anything when I'm not playing, I just want to be prepared when I do get the chance to play," he said. "I've been through this before and I feel pretty comfortable in this role."

With Vandermeer out "a couple of weeks," according to Renney, the Oilers haven't yet decided who they will recall from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons. The head coach said Shawn Belle is the leading candidate.

"We've talked about what's down there and what we might do, but certainly he's a name that comes up most often."


Edmonton is hoping its revamped line-up will excel through three periods, but Toronto isn't going to make it easy. After suffering an embarassing 5-0 defeat at the hands of the Oil two weeks ago, the Leafs have won three of their last five and will be looking for revenge tonight at Rexall Place.

"I think we've got to be ready here off the hop," Fraser said. "We can't sit back and wait because they're going to come hard, obviously, with us beating them in their building last time. They're going to be ready to go. They're not happy and I think they've been playing a lot better hockey since that game."

Renney knows his club will have to be sharp to get two points.

"They have our respect and we have to play hard tonight. There will be lots of people here who like the Toronto Maple Leafs, that just happens, and so we've got to make sure that we come out and play hard and pay attention to our game," he said.

"I think the emotion of Toronto being in town, an original six, I think that should help us. That being said, regardless of who the opponent is, we just really have to string three periods of hockey together on a regular basis ... We've got to try to just play the complete game and we're learning how to do that."


Five second-period penalties stalled the Oilers offence and ultimately their chances of earning two points Tuesday night. The Leafs scored two power-play goals and outshot the Oil 34-24 to defeat the home team 4-1 at Rexall Place. Jordan Eberle scored Edmonton's lone goal, while Nikolai Khabibulin made 30 saves in the losing effort.

Author: Jen Sharpe |, with files from Tom Gazzola & Bob Stauffer



Having been outshot in 23 of 29 games so far this season, Edmonton's struggle to hit the net is nothing new. But Sunday's 12-shot tally vs. Vancouver set the season standard for fewest attempts and was only one shy of the franchise record, an accomplishment no Oiler is proud of.

"That's just obviously not acceptable," forward Gilbert Brule said after Monday's practice. "I think we were just trying to make the pretty play sometimes instead of getting pucks to the net, especially in the first 10-15 minutes of the game. All we have to do is when we get inside the blue line is fire the puck on net."

To help rectify the situation, the team held a firepower-focused practice at Rexall Place.

"There wasn't a whole lot of passing or flow drills or anything, it was just a lot of shooting," Taylor Hall explained. "I think that's good for our team because especially against Vancouver and against Tampa Bay we weren't getting a lot of shots on net. It makes it a lot easier for their goalie, a lot easier for their defence, and that's something we have to fix."

The Oilers' compete level was also questioned Sunday evening, and both players and coaches are committed to preventing another uninspired outing.

"You're sitting there at the end of the game in your stall, one of the things you don't want to have on your mind is that you didn't compete hard enough," Hall said. "I think today it was a lighter practice, we'll have some energy for tomorrow and hopefully we can compete a lot harder because if we do, it is there for the taking."


Head coach Tom Renney hopes his club learns from the loss and applies those lessons to Tuesday's game vs. Toronto.

"In the last 10 games we've been a pretty good team," he said. "We've had a couple periods where we weren't as good as we needed to be, but hopefully we've been reacquainted enough with what it takes to be a competitive team from that experience to bring it tomorrow night."

Although the Oilers defeated the Leafs 5-0 less than two weeks ago, Renney isn't taking his opponents lightly.

"Toronto works hard. They do lots of good things, they're well put together, I like the way Willie (head coach Ron Wilson) organizes his team and how they play, and we've got to be ready for them," he said.

"There's still lots of hockey, there's lots of points out there, and we all believe -- those of us sort of at the bottom end of the ladder here -- we all believe that we can get enough points to make the playoffs at this point in time and I don't think they should think otherwise."


Jim Vandermeer

The Oilers will have to battle without Jim Vandermeer. The 30-year-old defenceman suffered a right ankle injury last night vs. Vancouver and is out indefinitely.

View Oilers Injury Report

"We'll do an MRI this afternoon and go from there," Vandermeer explained. "I think right now it feels okay but if there's any ligament damage or anything, then we'll know. It depends how you treat it. If it's just a bruise you can kind of push it and get back out there right away, then if not, just kind of let it heal up."

The injury was a bit of a fluke, he explained.

"The puck was kind of caught in Whitter's (Ryan Whitney) feet as we going coming back and I saw that I could get the puck so I went to just kind of chip it out, and as I was doing that I saw [a Canuck] was coming down to hit me so I just knew it was either go to kind of reverse hit him or just kind of take the hit.

"Realizing my position kind of drifting back, I just kind of went with the hit, took it good and was still basically standing up. I was sliding back on one foot and just caught an edge, caught a little rut in the ice, and just kind of rolled over on my ankle."


Oilers Cheer Team tryouts

While the Oilers will be without Vandermeer, the club and their fans will get some extra motivation from the Oilers Cheer Team, which will make its debut Tuesday night at Rexall Place. The Cheer Team is composed of 19 dancers who will add to the in-game experience, interact with fans, and assist with in-game promotions.

Read more: Cheer Team debuts Tuesday

Author: Jen Sharpe |, with files from Tom Gazzola

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