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THE TEAM TODAY: Back to Basics

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Thursday, September 30


Practice makes perfect. This is the message that head coach Tom Renney and his coaching staff have been preaching since day one of camp, and it continued today with a steady diet of drills focused on the basics rather than system play and line rushes. Although Edmonton is one of the NHL’s best pre-season teams with a perfect 4-0 record, there’s always room for improvement – especially under the guidance of thieir positively tactical coaching staff.

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With 33 players remaining in camp, the Oilers continued to skate in two groups today. Although not yet confirmed, the first group that participated looked to be the game group for tomorrow night’s matchup against the Flames. Shawn Horcoff continued to centre the top line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle on his wings. Up until now the two groups have split top line duties, but with the camp numbers dwindling, an influx of skill and youth took to the ice at the same time. Along with the aforementioned top line, Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner, and Ales Hemsky continued to skate on a line at practice after their successful debut as a trio one night ago.

The bottom six was a sign of things to come. Guys fighting for jobs have been put in similar roles to further increase the competition between one another. Last night’s energy line of Liam Reddox, Ryan O’Marra, and Ryan Jones continued to provide a furious forecheck attack as they worked the defensive pairings in the pressure and breakout drills; practice that was suited to their respective skillsets as they all continue to push for a spot on the roster. Liam Reddox commented on the pressure and nerves that come with the final few days.

"Every day you're coming to the rink and you don't know if it's your last, so it's definitely a pressure cooker; but it's fun and exciting and hopefully I can be a part of this for a long time to come. I just have to continue to come to the rink and put my best foot forward, continue to work hard ,and just do the things that make me successful."

While skill and energy dominated the top three lines, the fourth is built for strength. Steve MacIntyre along with Zack Stortini shared the ice on the same line as camp standout and faceoff ace Chris Vande Velde centred the two. Vande Velde says that his role isn't necessarily imperative
– he just wants to contribute.

Chris Vande Velde 
"I'm just going out there and working hard and doing what I do best, and what I'm asked to do. If that's fourth line forward, or if that's to score goals, that's what I'm going to do. I've been pretty happy with my play so far and I hope it continues."

On defence, Ryan Whitney skated alongside Tom Gilbert; both of whom looked strong, confident, and precise with their puck possession and breakout passes. Ladislav Smid skated with newcomer Kurtis Foster who continued to work the goaltenders with his rocket shot and otherwise excellent offensive mobility. The third pairing, much like the fourth forward line, was built for toughness. Jim Vandermeer and Theo Peckham were ready to cause problems for the opposing forwards in the breakout drills. Although the physical tone wasn’t set to a great degree during the session, both Vandermeer and Peckham had no issue in imposing their physical will.

The two goaltenders that manned the pipes were Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin, who looks poised and physicall ready for another start on Friday night in the first edition of the 2010-2011 Battle of Alberta.

While the drills weren’t necessarily catered to game action, the coaching staff wanted to implement a higher degree of pace and intensity; the final two pre-season games will not only be an evaluation for many, but also preparation for the rapidly approaching regular season.


Group two took the ice and it was much of the same in the way of intensity and pace. With roster assignments completed earlier in the morning, group two turned out to be much smaller than originally expected; only 12 players, including the two goaltenders, participated in the second session.

The lines were generally a mix of what we’ve seen to this point, with some random assignments due to lack of numbers on the ice. Only two forward lines and defensive pairings took part, with Dustin Penner, Gilbert Brule and Linus Omark leading the offensive charge in the drills. The second forward line was a mixed bag, as Andrew Cogliano centred Alexandre Giroux and J-F Jacques.

Richard Petiot
On the backend, the top two defencemen fighting for a roster spot, Richard Petiot and Shawn Belle, were paired together and looked poised to make an impact in their final few days at camp. Crisp puck movement, strong physical play and a seemingly infinite supply of energy continued to feature their camp resumes.

On the other side, Jason Strudwick and forward Ben Ondrus , who was forced on the blueline for today’s session due to the lack of defencemen left in camp, manned the defensive duties at the other end of the rink.

In goal, Martin Gerber and Jeff Deslauriers were the men between the pipes and both continued their solid showings in camp. Although Gerber was recently put on waivers, his strong showing and utmost professionalism should be an incredible positive for the Oklahoma City Barons should be clear. 


With four players being assigned to Oklahoma City this morning, the Oilers now have 33 players, including three goaltenders, remaining in camp with two pre-season games to play. The Oilers must be down to their 23-man roster by next Wednesday, October 6th.


In another edition of our One-on-One series, Joey from Calgary asks this question for Sam Gagner:

"Is making the playoffs this year a realistic expectation considering all the youth on the team?"

Sam Gagner
Sam: "We think so. In our dressing room, we think it's a realistic expectation to make the playoffs. Obviously with the way last year ended, it wasn't fun for anybody, and it kind of gives you a sense of hunger and determination heading into the off-season to be ready for the following season."

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: Ryan Dittrick |, with files from Tom Gazzola

Wednesday, September 29


The Oil took to the Rexall Place ice at 10am Wednesday for a brief morning skate. Jeff Deslauriers and Martin Gerber manned the nets, with Deslauriers tapped for the start.

"It will be good to have a start tonight," he said after the skate. "Everybody's going to have to be ready, even if it's pre-season. I think everybody wants to do well and keep the good work we've been having so far."

When asked about the Oilers' four-goalie situation, Deslauriers was diplomatic.

"It's not any of my control so my priority is to focus on what I can do and don't lose energy on things I don't control," he emphasized.


After dominating last Thursday's game vs. Tampa Bay with three goals and an assist, Magnus Paajarvi will return to action and skate with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky this evening. Gagner is looking forward to testing out the new combo.

"The way Magnus played last game was pretty exciting for everyone to watch," Gagner said. "I think he's obviously pretty excited about the way things have gone and getting the chance to play with Ales again, he's a game-breaker with so much talent and it's a lot of fun to play with him."

The young center is also eager to have Hemsky on his right wing.

"I feel like if we give and go a lot, and make each other better in that way, it's going to be great for both of us," Gagner added. "If I'm close to him and can find ways to make plays with him, it's going to be a great fit."


With so much success in the Young Stars Rookie Tournament and so far this pre-season, Head Coach Renney could be on cloud nine. But the grounded bench boss is realistic about the club's current situation and isn't taking anything for granted.

"[The pre-season] doesn't translate into two points at all, there's no question about that, but what it does translate to is the development of a culture here and a way that we go about our business. And I think that's as critical as anything," he explained.

"We're certainly just laying the foundation right now, and where we are two months from now and six months from now remains to be seen. But it's certainly gratifying to know that they're all in, they really are doing the best they can to grasp this and be successful and make a team and win."


In a game much closer than the previous three wins for Edmonton, the Oilers came back from a 2-0 deficit to down the Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout. Sam Gagner and Colin McDonald scored for the Oilers in regulation time while Ales Hemsky clinched the win in the shootout.


Author: Jen Sharpe |, with files from Tom Gazzola

Tuesday, September 28


After enjoying a well-deserved day off Monday, the Oilers were back at work Tuesday morning for a lengthy practice at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park, AB.

The Oilers were split into two for the first hour of practice, occupying adjoining rinks. On the first rink, Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin manned the nets as the following forward lines ran drills:

Paajarvi - Gagner - Hemsky
Penner - Cogliano - Brule
Reddox - Fraser - Jones
Giroux - O'Marra - McDonald

On the second rink, Jeff Deslauriers and Martin Gerber were in net, while three lines skated:

Hall - Horcoff - Eberle
MacIntyre - Stortini - Jacques
Ondrus - Vande Velde - Omark

Both groups came together for the final hour of practice, working mainly on powerplay and penalty killing, including five-on-threes.


With 37 players remaining on the Oilers roster, it's only going to get more difficult for GM Steve Tambellini, management and coaches as the opening roster deadline approaches.

According to Head Coach Tom Renney, the influx of young talent is exciting but it will be a challenge to balance depth and experience.

"I believe as things unfold over the next few days, you'll see it become a little bit more concrete about what we want to look like as a team, and my guess is there will be some youth involved with that," Renney said.

"Depth and experience are two different things, and we've got to be very careful that we don't get the cart before the horse here. If we're younger, great, I'm fine with that, but it has to be youth that can play."


Some of the toughest decisions for management will be between the pipes. Veteran Nikolai Khabibulin is expected to get the starting job, but there are three other goalies -- Deslauriers, Dubnyk & Gerber -- still battling for the back-up position.

Although it's crowded in the crease, Dubnyk says he isn't fazed by the competition.

"There's not too many guys besides your set starting goaltenders, for the most part, that get to come into camp and not have much to worry about," he explained. "You don't get to this level by not having a competitive nature and wanting to succeed. It's part of it. I've been doing it since I got drafted.

"I think the most important thing about it is to not concentrate on that but just concentrate on what you need to do to go out and stop the puck."

With only six pre-season games on the schedule, another challenge is getting enough time to showcase your skills. But you've got to work with what you've got, Deslauriers added.

"That's probably the shortest training camp I've had so far, but it doesn't matter. You have to be ready every day, work hard and have your preparation on the top of your game."


In addition to goaltending, another big storyline at Tuesday's practice was the status of Sheldon Souray. The defenceman was not invited to camp, and Tambellini said the team is unsure about how they will proceed with his contract as the season approaches.

"We're just trying to see if there's still some situation that would make sense from a trade standpoint," the GM explained. "I know that waivers are an option for the hockey club, but we still just want to see if there is time to maybe do something -- not just to make a trade but helps the Oilers."


The Oilers are looking to stretch their pre-season winning streak to four games with a victory over the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday, September 29.



Liam Reddox

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Chris of Edmonton submitted a question for Liam Reddox.

CHRIS: I've taken notice that your physical strength seems to have caught up with your mental will in terms of being able to play a physical game. What have you been doing to better prepare yourself for a gritty role at the NHL level?

LIAM: I just think in the off-season the biggest thing is explosive training rather than just lifting heavy weights. I feel like any meat-head can lift 100lb dumbbells, but training the right way and doing a lot of olympic lifts and those sorts of training definitely helps.

Other than the gym stuff, I've been doing a lot of track training which again is a lot of fast-twitch fibers. Training that side of the body has definitely helped on the ice. I feel not only faster but I can do it more often. Being able to go out every shift and play at the same tempo is definitely a huge help.

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


Author: Ryan Dittrick |

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