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THE TEAM TODAY: Group Dynamic

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers
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

Sunday, September 26


The Edmonton Oilers aim to improve on their perfect 2-0 pre-season record as they take on the 1-3 Vancouver Canucks tonight at Rexall Place.

After skating away with a convincing 5-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning two nights ago, the Oilers have held two consecutive days of hard practices that worked more on system play, technical skills, and conditioning for all 43 players remaining in camp.


With a 6pm start time on the agenda, the Oilers started morning skate an hour early.

For players dressing this evening, the morning skate was one last test run of new line combinations before taking on the Canucks this evening.

Taylor Hall is slated to skate with fellow rookie Jordan Eberle and veteran Shawn Horcoff. Hall is comfortable with his linemates and is looking forward to his second pre-season test.

"They're both really good players. Ebs is a good buddy and Shawn's been great just kind of helping me out, just easing me in," Hall said. "I think we've had a few good practices and hopefully it carries over to the game."

Gilbert Brule is equally eager to skate with Linus Omark and Dustin Penner tonight.

"Linus has got to much skill out there -- he's very quick, a shifty little player. And Pens has got the big reach, the strength and he's good in front, so I think me and Linus are just looking to fly around him on the ice and be like little bombers out there," Brule said with a smile.


On the back end, the Oilers will start Nikolai Khabibulin in net. Tonight's game will be Khabibulin's first since suffering a back injury November 16, 2009. The experienced goaltender is feeling "anxious" about the game but is looking forward to returning to action.

"I'm interested to see how it's going to go, but I feel pretty good," he said. "Obviously there are a few things still to work on, and the more I'm practicing, the better they're going to get obviously. But it's going to be a good test tonight."

Martin Gerber will back-up for the Oilers.


It took only two minutes for the Oilers to hit the scoreboard, and they didn't let up as the game progressed, dominating an 8-2 decision vs. Vancouver Sunday night. Linemates Jordan Eberle and Shawn Horcoff led the game with two goals and one assist each, while Linus Omark also posted three points with one goal and two assists. Chris Vande Velde and Dustin Penner helped the cause with one and two goals each.

All in all, 12 different Oilers earned points in the victory. In net, Nikolai Khabibulin made 26 saves in his first game since November 16, 2009.

Author: Jen Sharpe |, with files from Tom Gazzola

Saturday, September 25


Likely in preparation for the next two exhibition games, the Oilers did some mixing and matching of its two squads for  a pair of practices Saturday at Rexall Place.

The second group, including starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, will play against the Canucks on Sunday night.

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The first group consisted of a mixed-up squad compared with what the Oilers were rolling with the past few days as the team got ready for their final four exhibition games.

Immediately noticeable was a dynamic top line consisting of Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky.

Liam Reddox skated on an energy line with Colin Fraser and Brad Moran while Ryan Jones looked back and healthy as he played alongside Ryan O'Marra and Steve MacIntyre.

Another player who skated a regular shift  is J-F Jacques. He skated on what looked to be the second line with Gregory Stewart and Andrew Cogliano.

After the skate, Jacques said he's probably still a few weeks away from game action.

"I'm not cleared yet," said Jacques. "It's only my first week of practice. I'm still progressing. Nothing's holding me back right now. I feel pretty good."

Jacques remarked that the plan is to get a few weeks of practice in before he plays in an actual game. 

"We're really trying to make things right this time. That's what I've been trying to do all summer by coming back slowly and making sure everything was working well."

J-F Jacques (right) battles for the puck.
(photo: Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)

Closer to returning, and also on the ice, was Jones who remarked that he could play tomorrow if called upon.

"I took a crosscheck in one of the first couple practices. Took a couple days off. Skated yesterday and again today," said Jones. "If they want me in there tomorrow, I'll be ready to go.

The defence pairings for this group were Ladislav Smid with Kurtis Foster, Tom Gilbert and Richard Petiot plus Shawn Belle and Alex Plante with Taylor Chorney rotating through along with Jake Taylor.

The two goaltenders for this group were Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers.

After about 45 minutes of drills, the two sides squared off for some five-on-five scrimmage type drills. Once again, Associate Coach Ralph Krueger was the tactician. Following the five-on-five the players did some more work on the finer points of the game before some hard skating.   


Associate Coach Ralph Krueger chats with Nikolai Khabibulin (photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)

The goaltenders from this group were Martin Gerber and Nikolai Khabibulin, with Khabibulin slated to get the start tomorrow.

"I'm going to start tomorrow and just go from there," said Khabibulin after practice. "It's almost like I forgot what it's going to be like."

The second group - the game group for Sunday - saw some familiar line combinations as well as some new ones. Taylor Hall was playing with Shawn Horcoff and Jordan Eberle as that line from the first few sessions of training camp was reunited.

Linus Omark finally saw himself in the top six, playing with Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule.

"It's a really good chance for me to show my best," said Omark. "Penner's a big guy, one of the best in the league at what he does. Brule's a sniper with good hands. It's great."

Camp tryout Jared Aulin saw himself on a unit with Ben Ondrus and Alex Giroux as he looked ready to play in his first pre-season game tomorrow night.

"I can only think of it as a positive," Ondrus said of him being in the lineup tomorrow. "You want to play every game. We were fortunate enough to play well in the first game and we'll do everything we can (tomorrow) to stick around."

The fourth line for this group was Teemu Hartikainen and Zack Stortini on the wings with Chris Vande Velde down the middle.

The Oilers had some interesting defence pairings in the second unit. Ryan Whitney was teamed up with Jeff Petry, Jim Vandermeer with Theo Peckham and Jason Strudwick with Johan Motin.

For Petry and Peckham tomorrow is another opportunity to show what they need to do in order to stick with the NHL club.

"I just stick to what I do best. I'm a physical player. I'm not going to make this team trying to go end-to-end with the puck," said Peckham, noting that he's 100% healthy this year at camp - something he couldn't have said last year at this time.

"It's a challenge. Every day you've got to be on your toes. Right now, it's tough. You can't think about it," Peckham said of the challenge of making the squad with so many blueliners poised to make that step.

One of those defencemen is Jeff Petry.

"From day one they said there's an opportunity so I'm just going to try and bring my game every day, do everything I can to impress them and earn that one spot," Petry said.


Shawn Horcoff
In another edition of our fan question series, Shaun Pekrul of Regina asks a question for forward Shawn Horcoff:

Shaun: We heard a lot about how the rookies are training hard during the off-season but didnt hear much about you. What did you do to prepare yourself for this year? You look a lot better on the ice!

Shawn: I changed a lot of things in the off-season. Personally, I wasn't happy with the way things went. I re-evaluated where I was at as a player and where I needed to improve and hopefully went out there and met those goals.

Author: Marc Ciampa |, with files from Tom Gazzola

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