Following a well deserved off-day Saturday, the Oilers returned to Rexall Place this morning for a lengthy practice that pushed the pace and helped to clear the monotony of a four-day break in between game action.
With two tough assignments ahead on the pre-holiday horizon, the team skated for well over an hour as the coaching staff tinkered with various fundamental systems, including a lengthy portion spent on special teams.
Both the powerplay and penalty kill received equal attention, as the importance of these areas will be put to the ultimate test against two excellent Western Conference clubs.
Although the break in between games came as a blessing, forward Dustin Penner -- who has now recorded 12 points in his last 14 games -- says that the group needs to be cognizant of its collective energy level.
"Maybe what could be challenging is having the four days off in between games when you're so accustomed to playing -- I think it was every other day, pretty much, with it averaging out to be 20 games in 40 nights. Managing those four days off, getting a rest and not getting too rusty is key for us."
Rookie sensation Taylor Hall agreed, and further commented on the team’s play leading up to the break.
"It was a tough stretch, but I think we came out of it pretty good, though. We had a decent record during that time, but it's definitely nice to take some time off, just kind of regenerate and take some time away from the game. "
With the Oilers having wrapped up the six-game homestand on a high note, and sporting a 6-3-1 record overall in the team’s last ten contests, the good vibes are rolling along as a visit to the Shark Tank looms.
Players and coaches alike both agree that the California swing will be a pivotal, though equally as challenging test for the young club.
"They're a tough team, especially in their building,” said Hall. "I've heard a lot of things about playing in the Shark Tank and how hard they come out, so it's going to be a tough game for us. But in saying that, this little break should help us get a good couple practices in and we’ll see what we can do. "
Penner agreed, and cautioned the skill and killer-instinct of the veteran Sharks as being a prevailing challenge.
|Dustin Penner |
"They're playing well. I think when you have other scoring, like secondary and tertiary scoring from those guys (Logan Couture), it takes the pressure off Thornton and Marleau -- and Heatley. They're not the type of guys that take nights off too often, and I think they'll be ready for us. "
Associate Coach Ralph Krueger says that the trip is most certainly a challenge, but that it will be a good test for the team moving forward.
"Especially San Jose right off the bat and following up with our first challenge against Los Angeles. Going into Vancouver -- teams like Vancouver and San Jose have really shown us what we still need to do to be a top team in the NHL. They've played excellent against us, they've had a lot of respect for us in the way that they prepared and the way they came out of the gate. "
"Going into their buildings should make it simpler for us. I think we won't have that need to try and play against them or perform. We can be more patient. We've been an excellent road team, batting .500 on the road gives us some confidence going into those games," Krueger concluded.
THE PLAYOFF HUNT
Following Friday’s practice at Rexall Place, Head Coach Tom Renney surprised many with a bold remark regarding the team’s search for a playoff spot as we approach the midway point of the season:
"It won't surprise me when we make the playoffs. It won't. The biggest surprise of all might be if we don't."
With Edmonton currently sitting 15th in the Western Conference standings, there’s an uphill climb ahead; an eight-point gap and seven teams to overtake are the current realities, but the organization believes in that statement as the Oilers look to embark on a mid-season push.
"I think from day one that Tom (Renney) has made that really clear, in that you want to create an environment where that's expected, where you're going into every game expecting to take points, " said Associate Coach RaIph Krueger. "I think when you raise that expectation, you raise how hard we have to work in practice to match that. "
|Associate Coach Ralph Krueger |
Krueger commented further on the fact that the team has no excuses with internal expectations set high.
"We don't have any excuses, really, in our room at all. In the coaches’ room, there's none. We come in after wins and losses looking at how we can get better. It doesn't matter what the score on the board was, and that's just the culture that we want to create here; that it's a constant improving, constant striving to be better, and nothing replaces winning in the game. "
"It's something you want players to stretch for and reach for to meet the challenge."
Forward Gilbert Brule agrees that the bold claim is a realistic expectation.
"We are where we are right now, obviously, in the standings, but we're definitely looking to fight our way back and we're doing better as of late."
"I think you have to look at our last 15 games, we've improved so much compared to the first month-and-a-half of the season. We've come such a long way and we don't want to let that slide at all. We want to stay focused on what we've got to do there, and we've just been playing better team hockey."
Approximately 45-minutes before the rest of the team hit the ice for practice, injured players Ales Hemsky and Jim Vandermeer took to the sheet with Skating and Skills Coach Steve Serdachny. The pair skated for 30-minutes, working on a variety of skating drills to test their respective injuries. There was no official update on their statuses, but both were pushing themselves hard as they look to make a return in the near future.
Oilers Injury Report
In the latest edition of our fan question series, Amelia of Edmonton submitted a question for Jordan Eberle.
AMELIA: "If you could travel anywhere in the world for a one-week adventure, where would you go, and who would you take?"
JORDAN: "I love tropic places like Mexico or something like that. I'd have to probably go somewhere tropical like that or the Caribbean. I like the blue water and the white sand.
I'd probably take a close friend of mine; someone away from the rink so we wouldn't have to talk hockey on vacation."
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 & Bob Stauffer