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THE TEAM TODAY: Midwest Chronicles

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers


St. Louis, MO - Following a disappointing 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Oilers hopped on the team's charter late last night and air-bussed their way to St. Louis, where a mid-week battle with the league's third-best team sits on the orange and blue's agenda.

Last night in Columbus, the Oilers held an early 2-0 lead and seemed to be in complete control; but, in a matter of milliseconds (literally), it was erased when the Blue Jackets scored a late, second-period power-play goal to pull even.

The goal at 19:59 propelled the home side into the third with an extra boost and a clean sheet to complete the comeback, much to the Oilers' chagrin.

"I think [Columbus] probably got a little heck from their coach in between periods," chuckled Head Coach Tom Renney. "In the second, they came out and got pucks deep and in behind us, and started to check us with some regularity. We allowed a couple miscues on the ice to happen, which allowed them to score some goals that were timely.

"It took the wind out of our sails a bit. We did everything we could to get ourselves back to paying attention to how to win, but we didn't have enough."

"We got out to a good start," added Sam Gagner, who played a season (close to)-high 22:22 in last night's game. "Regardless of what happened in warm-up, we collectively got it together and come out and have a strong start. We unraveled a little bit and stopped doing what made us successful. We're working hard, it's just those little habits that help you win games, we stopped doing that and it ended up costing us."

Gagner has averaged a little more than 16 minutes per-game in ice time this season, meaning the extra six in Columbus was a bit of an extra task. It happened because of the incident he mentioned during warm-up when Taylor Hall careened into the end-boards; subsequently, he was sliced in the head by an errant Corey Potter skate as the blueliner attempted to avoid the collision.

Hall, 20, doesn't wear his helmet during warm-up. Neither does 24-year-old Theo Peckham, who may be reconsidering his decision prior to Thursday's game. Either that, or the team might.

"You grow up when you're a kid and when you're at hockey games, you watch the Wayne Gretzkys and guys like that skating around without their helmet on in warm-up," he explained. "All of a sudden, you get a chance to do it and you take it. When you're a kid, you pretend that you're doing that on the ice. Seeing something like that with Taylor, it makes you re-consider it.

"We're putting it in place," Peckham added. "I know everybody is going to be wearing a helmet now in warm-up. It wasn't very easy to see that."

The New York Rangers have instituted a team policy where each player must be wearing his helmet during warm-up at all times. While Peckham sees it as a certainty, Renney and the Oilers are still discussing it.

"I'm not sure," he said. "You have to let your players weigh in on that, and even the [National Hockey League Players' Association] for that matter. I think it's an internal issue that we'll talk through and draw some conclusions with."

Gagner, on the other hand, is already convinced. He's been sporting the bucket throughout his career, hasn't wavered and isn't of the mind to change now.

"I haven't even thought about it," he deadpanned. "I wear it in the games, so I wear it in warm-up to get ready. Some guys feel better warming up without one, but I've always felt better with it on. It's tough to see what happened last night. It's pretty crazy, actually."

Of course, amid the danger, panic and resulting short bench, the Oilers had a game to play. And it didn't quite play out the way the visitors had hoped, succumbing to defeat as the orange and blue squandered an opportunity to string consecutive wins together; it hasn't happened since Nov. 22 and 25, when the Oilers dropped the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild with a combined 11 goals.

"[Hall is] one of our best players, so it hurt to lose him," said Magnus Paajarvi, who's looked stronger and more alert since his recall from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons. "We had a shorter bench, but we're athletes. We had 17 guys on the bench to play. We're still a team, we can still do damage and we've shown that."

"I thought the guys really responded well to it (the adversity of Hall's absence) and it really was a collective effort, quite honestly, to get us a 2-0 lead," Renney added. "We battled, but we didn't battle enough in the sense that we needed to get the win.

"We need to keep grinding away here and keep doing the right things. The most important thing of all is to do things properly, and do things right. We need to keep learning from that and hang in there, because the points aren't too far away."

Going into tomorrow's clash in St. Louis, it's still undetermined whether or not Hall will available to go. But, there's always a chance and you can expect No. 4 to make a case coming morning.

"I don't have the medical terminology for how he's doing, but certainly in having spoken to him and talking to (Head Athletic Therapist) T.D. (Forss), he's doing much better," Renney said. "The swelling has gone down, he's got a clear head and had a good night's sleep.

"All that being said, I'd call it ‘doubtful' for tomorrow, which I don't think would surprise anyone. If you talk to Taylor, he'd say he's ‘hopeful,' but we'll see."

--- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick


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