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The Team Today: Game Break

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers


The Oilers practiced Monday morning at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park, and compared to most practices over the past month and a half, the ice looked full and busy.

Sunday's full day off gave many the chance to recover from the tough loss in Vancouver, meaning the only surprise absentees for Monday's practice were Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff.

Head Coach Pat Quinn said Gagner had an appointment, while Horcoff is "a little banged up. It was sensible for us not to practice him today and we'll see how he fares for tomorrow and the next day."

Quinn said he expects both players to dress in Thursday's game at Detroit and announced that Ryan Stone and Robert Nilsson will also be good to go. Stone has been out with a knee injury since October 22, while Nilsson has been sidelined with a concussion suffered November 10.

"Both of them have been cleared from a medical standpoint," Quinn said. "They'll get these three practice days and that'll help."


Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin did not take to the ice Monday, marking the 10th day of his day-to-day back injury. Quinn and GM Steve Tambellini had no news on the team's starter.

"He's not cleared for anything yet," Quinn said. "He's a top player, one of our top players, and when you miss a top player it's not expected and you miss them. You have to somehow suck it up and keep going."

With Khabibulin out indefinitely and forward Ales Hemsky out for the remainder of the regular season, Tambellini said the entire organization needs to look on the bright side.

"The half full answer . . . is that it does present opportunity, whether it's in goal or it's in some offensive situations without Hemsky. You work a lot in your career to be presented with an opportunity. The biggest thing is making sure you're ready to take advantage of that."


GM Steve Tambellini
It may be tough for the Oilers to stay positive with the injuries, illnesses, and recent tough losses, but coaches, management, and players are adamant that hard work and determination will pay off in wins.

"The make-up of any team or any player has skill, the intangible parts -- the attitude, if you will, that deals with heart -- and also has knowledge, how to play the game and understanding," Quinn explained. "We try to develop all three of those sides to the guy all the time. And you get challenges, usually on that intangible side, the challenges come with adversity, with injury, with losing points when you shouldn't lose points.

"The guys are fighting hard. We didn't give up effort. We had a lousy start the other night and bounced back and played certainly a real good second period. . . They didn't run away, and to me that's a sign that we've got some character here."

Tambellini echoed the bench boss' comments. "Since coming off that long road trip, there seemed to more a sense of energy in the group, which is encouraging. I thought we played some strong games against San Jose, with some obvious mistakes that happened, and played well against good teams. Had a tough start in Vancouver but came back and played hard.

"Are there ways to get better? Obviously," the GM continued. "There has to be an environment for people to get better, and the coaches are working and I know the players are too."

When asked if the team might benefit from a mid-season trade for new blood in the locker room, defenceman Steve Staios replied that those hypothetical discussions aren't productive.

"There's no use sitting around thinking about what would happen if we had someone else in the room," he said. "We have a group of guys in the room, and our job is to go and get the job done and execute the game plan. Each individual has to look at themselves, come prepared to practice, and be a true professional."

Author: Jen Sharpe |


The Oilers took the ice in Edmonton suburb Sherwood Park at around noon Thursday, but a handful of players didn't participate.

According to Head Coach Pat Quinn, team staff decided that players who have been carrying the bulk of the ice time in recent games deserved the day off.

"We looked at the time on ice with all the games this week that we had to play, four in six I think it is, we decided that the guys that logged 20 or more in the games up to this point would be better off not having to work out today," he said.

Other notable absentees were goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who continues to suffer from a sore back, and Ales Hemsky. The Oilers confirmed that Hemsky suffered an upper body injury during Wednesday's game vs. L.A., and Quinn said an MRI is scheduled.

"We haven't had any report, but I'm pretty sure there's an MRI today when they have the opportunity," the Coach stated. "He's not expected to be available for a little bit anyway."


With Hemsky out indefinitely, the Oilers recalled forwards Ryan O'Marra and Colin McDonald Thursday morning. They also loaned Liam Reddox back to Springfield.
On the topic of Reddox, Quinn confirmed that his play had dropped off as of late and that he would benefit from a stint in the AHL.

"He came up and gave us some games early that were really good and then slipped off from the defensive standpoint, where we expected him to be good," said Quinn. "He had a couple of errors that were around him and for some reason he didn't play with the same confidence in the last couple (of games).

"We were going to just call one up, probably O'Marra, but with Hemsky going out, these are the guys that our coaching staff and scouts down there recommend to come in and fill the vacancies."


O'Marra and McDonald aren't the only noteworthy players who will arrive in Edmonton over the next few hours: the San Jose Sharks -- including forward Dany Heatley -- are also eagerly anticipated.

This past summer, the Oilers' reported efforts to trade Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, and Ladislav Smid for Heatley dominated hockey headlines in Alberta and beyond. Friday's game will mark Heatley's first appearance in Edmonton since the trade saga concluded.

"If he's going to be in the corner with the puck, I'm going to try to run him over. But I try to do it every game with other players. I've got no hard feelings towards him," Smid said. "I was just happy to stay here and be a part of the Oilers. I was just happy he didn't decide to come here."


It's been six days since Khabibulin missed his first game due to injury and, accordingly, five days since Devan Dubnyk first filled the back-up role for the Oilers. The Falcons' starter is used to playing a lot of games, but he isn't complaining about his new-found position on the Oilers' bench once the puck drops.

"The American League is kind of a weekend league, so I played on Saturday and usually I'd be getting ready, geared up to play tomorrow. So if it goes a while, then it might get a little weird, but right now I'm just happy to be here and enjoying the time on the ice.

"It's pretty exciting to get the first call and I've been getting worked pretty hard at practice but that's what I'm here for," Dubnyk said. "I want to take every opportunity I can to be on the ice with these guys while I'm up here. It's been fun, a lot of hard work, and I'm enjoying every minute."

Author: Jen Sharpe |


On the heels of their first shutout of the season, the Oilers took to the ice at Clareview Arena Tuesday morning for a short team practice.

Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was the most notable absentee, with Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk manning the nets during the drills.

"Khabibulin was not able to practice today. I don't know how long this is going to last so Deslauriers has the games for now," said Quinn.

Taylor Chorney and Marc Pouliot also missed practice due to injury, however the return of forwards Ryan Stone and Robert Nilsson kept numbers high on the ice.


After pulling out all the big stops last night and earning himself his first career shutout, Jeff Deslauriers was the talk of the dressing room today. His teammates had nothing but compliments to dish out.

"He came out and gave us the game that we needed,"
said Shawn Horcoff. "He was solid in there and made some great saves and earned the shut out. He's going to be a big part of our success in the near future."

"He (Deslauriers) was right in the zone last night," said Coach Pat Quinn. "This is a young man that our management feels very positive about. We're happy with his progress."

"He's played well all year and it's nice to see him get a shutout," said Patrick O'Sullivan. "I'm sure he feels good about that. It's a pretty special feeling. You can probably relate that to scoring your first goal but for a goalie. He works hard in practice every day. He is committed to being better."

Author: Kristi Hennessy |


The Oilers were called to a rare 9am meeting Sunday morning, and for seven players, it stretched to a 90-minute forum with Head Coach Pat Quinn. While most of the players were sent home shortly after arriving at Rexall Place, Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Steve Staios, Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, and Nikolai Khabibulin stayed on for the lengthy discussion.

Although the specifics of the meeting weren't shared, all confirmed that it was a productive, open, and honest communication between the coach and players.

We were in there for a while, so we went over probably everything imaginable you can think of," Horcoff said shortly after leaving the meeting. "It's a good thing to do, for us to vent. He vented on us about some things that we needed to hear and we let him know what we're seeing also.

"It works back and forth, and I think it's nice to have that. It's nice to have an open philosophy. We're all professionals in here. The meeting was real positive but at the same time, it's not like you're adverse to hearing negative things. A lot of times you need to hear that in order to get things turned around."

"Communication is great --
it's very important in sports and any walk of life," Moreau added. "(Quinn is) a good communicator and it was a good morning to talk about things.

"We should do it more than we do. It's just that everyone is so busy and your schedule gets so hectic and sometimes you just don't want to do it, you don't have the energy for it, but in any successful organization, that happens."

Associate Coach Tom Renney agreed with the veterans and emphasized that such meetings are integral to successful coaching and improving the team.

"This is our team, and we have an obligation as coaches to help these guys improve, help our team improve, play better, do what we can to help them get wins, and enjoy an exciting, well-intentioned hockey season," he said.

"Every season you build, and you build it a game at a time and you build your games a period at a time, and sometimes they're pretty good and other times not . . . It takes time, and I hate to say it because it's a cliche, but your season is a process. And you sort of start with the end in mind, we know what we want to look like as a finished product, but in the meantime there's an awful lot of work to do."


Nikolai Khabibulin
After missing Saturday's game vs. his former club due to a nagging back, Nikolai Khabibulin updated the media on his progress Sunday morning.

"Two days ago, I felt really good. All of a sudden (Saturday) morning, it just felt tight and just kind of progressed a little bit," he explained. "I don't know what it is . . . I had an injury, or I don't know what to call it, a couple of years ago, but I never had anything since then so I don't know if it's ongoing or it just kind of happened."

"It's kind of day by day, I guess. We'll see tomorrow how it feels and if it doesn't get any better I'll probably get an MRI or something like that to see what it is."

Taylor Chorney tests out his ankle.

While the rest of the team sat in the meeting or left the rink to contemplate tomorrow's game on their own terms, injured players Taylor Chorney (ankle) and Robert Nilsson (concussion) briefly skated independently at Rexall Place. After leaving the ice in his track suit, Chorney said his ankle is "feeling a lot better."

Author: Jen Sharpe |


Friday morning started bright and early with a massive team signing. There were over 400 memorabilia pieces that were set out on tables to be signed by the entire team.  In addition, each player had their own individual table with items for one autograph.

Marc Pouliot and Ryan Stone practiced today with Assistant Coach Kelly Buchberger at about 9:30 am in hopes that they will return this weekend, at least to practice with the entire team.

Team practice started at 11:00 am and was better attended than yesterday's scarce turnout. Ethan Moreau, Ales Hemsky, Jean-Francois Jacques, Shawn Horcoff, Liam Reddox, Sam Gagner and Lubomir Visnovsky,  all who were absent yesterday, dressed for practice today. 

“Today was a really good practice for me in terms of game situation drills and I felt good out there,” said JF Jacques. “I wouldn’t say I’m one hundred percent but I’m going to have to have a good meeting with the trainers and the doctors and see where we’re at for tomorrow night.”


Ethan Moreau should be good to make his return to the lineup tomorrow night and here’s what he had to say about getting ready for Chicago.

“It’s one of those games you have to get ready for or else you’ll be embarrassed,” said Moreau. “You always try to prepare your best, but over a course of an 82 game schedule; this is one of those games where you have to be a hundred percent, you have to really focus on the task at hand, or we’ve seen what can happen. We’re going to be ready that’s for sure.”


Denis Grebeshkov, Fernando Pisani, Taylor Chorney, Robert Nilsson and Mike Comrie were not able to skate today. With 12 forwards and seven defencemen on the ice, it would appear that we’ll have enough bodies to host the Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow night although a handful of those players are still questionable. The new question is; who will they call up next and are we almost in an emergency situation allowing us to call up Mr. Jordan Eberle from the Regina Pats? Only the docs can tell. The lines that Quinn ran today that might not mean too much for tomorrow’s game were as follows.

Horcoff, Penner and Hemsky on the top, Jacques, Gagner and Stortini second line, O’Sullivan, Brule and Reddox together on third and Cogliano, Moreau and Potulny on the fourth.

The Oilers squad worked a fair bit on their power-play, penalty kill and three on three down-low drills. They practiced fighting for the puck behind the net and passing out in front, being ready for the quick pass, and getting the shot away quickly. As most hockey fans know, the Chicago Blackhawks are a very fast, young and talented hockey club. They are coming off a dominating 7-1 victory last night to the Calgary Flames who aren’t exactly a struggling team.

“They have four fast lines that just attack with great speed and they move the puck very well,” Gilbert commented on the speedy Blackhawks. “They have guys on the back end that can jump up into the play. Turnovers are going to be the key tomorrow and puck possession. They are a good puck possession team and we don’t want to be chasing them around all night.”

Author: Kristi Hennessy |
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