– In the building where the Oilers are 6-1-1, the orange and blue returned home to Rexall Place for a 20-minute morning skate in preparation for tonight's battle with the Ottawa Senators.
The Oilers' last game at Rexall Place was played on Oct. 30 when the St. Louis were dropped by a 4-2 score; 18 days later, they're back and ready to win. Since that game, however, the home side went 2-4-0, dropping three straight to conclude the team's marathon six-game road trip.
Attention at this morning's practice was keyed on how to continue the Oilers' hot streak at home.
"We have to come back to what's been good to us with respect to being sound defensively, hounding the puck, reloading hard, making sure there are passing options right away and pushing the pace," Head Coach Tom Renney explained during his pre-game interview at Rexall Place.
"We had a tough road trip, but we're 6-4 in our last 10," Eric Belanger
added. "If we win tonight, we're right back where we want to be. We have to stay positive, because Ottawa's playing well right now, so we need to make sure we're ready to go." SECONDARY SCORING
Belanger, 33, is still without a goal in the 2011-12 season, but has had his share of chances, hitting several goal-posts in his quest to dent the twine. He's come close, sure, but with a mere two assists this season, he needs to be better.
"For sure," he agreed. "I would like to get more goals, no question. You go through stretches like this in a season, and I'm going through it right now; but I know when I score one, I'll get a bunch in a row. You've got to stay positive and keep working at it. We're still in good shape here, so I'm not panicking."
With the Oilers' counted-upon scorers generating the bulk this season, including Ryan Smyth
, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, Jordan Eberle
and, to a lesser degree, Taylor Hall
, the need is there. They've contributed to over 50-percent of the orange and blue's totals, while assistance has been scarce.
"I don't see frustration, but to determine that you'd have to ask him," Renney said of Belanger. "He's worked very, very hard this year for us in every aspect of the game. I like how complete he is as a player. You'd like that good intention and hard work to translate into goals, but it doesn't happen all the time.
"The most important thing is that it happens in a timely fashion, and we could certainly use scoring from a number of people, Eric included, but he's not alone."
In helping to ease the load, Hall, RNH and Eberle will be reunited once more. The trio has combined to lead the Oilers' scoring attack and will be put in a position to do it again tonight against the up-and-coming Senators.
"There's a strategy between how we use our personnel," Renney said. "If there's synergy and a complementary synergy between players, you don't like to change that. At the same time, you sometimes have to change your roster according to your opponent and what they've done lately, and who's hot for them."
"There are going to be ups and downs throughout the year," said Taylor Hall
, who's gone eight straight games without a goal. "Your season is determined by how you get out of your slumps and how get back from that, so that's what I'm trying to do now." LINEUP UPDATES Sam Gagner
missed yesterday's practice with a sore back and did not skate again today at Rexall Place. The 22-year-old has missed six games this season, and has now working on his sixth without registering a point. He will sit out and his status is undetermined for future games; Magnus Paajarvi
will likely slot into Gagner's spot, perhaps down the middle.
"I need to go out there and play good hockey," he said. "I'm the same person and the same player. I need to go out there and do a couple things right; not focusing too much or thinking too much.
"Good teams don't lose too many in a row," No. 91 added. "It's a really good opportunity to get pumped for the fans and get a win here. That would be huge for us." Nikolai Khabibulin
(7-2-2), along with his 1.52 goals-against average and .945 save percentage, makes his 12th start of the season tonight.
Tom Renney revealed at this morning's press conference that D man Cam Barker
would miss up to three months, requiring surgery on his ankle. -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick