BACK TO BASICS
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.
"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."
|Chris Vande Velde |
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: "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 | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola