Following Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the division rival Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers returned to Rexall place bright and early Sunday morning to prepare for the upcoming two-game road trip.
Although the venue was the same, the afternoon practice took on a much different look as thousands of season seat holders packed the stands at Rexall Place to view the on-ice training.
Leading the charge and embracing the atmosphere was Oilers bench boss, Tom Renney, who instructed his players and interacted with fans with a microphone.
"I’ve been known to talk a lot and I've had the odd player tell me that," Renney said with a smile. "When you spend your life describing things to people, it's not that hard."
Defenceman Theo Peckham
added that his commentary was a nice addition to the regular practice routine.
"It was interesting to see some of the little phrases he was coming up with. It was cool and it was a lot of fun to get the fans involved. On both sides, I think we really appreciated it."
Renney spoke highly of the event and was pleased to see the fans having fun.
"It was great. I think anytime you get a chance to connect with your fans and give them a chance to see us do our job as we prepare to play, it's always good. It's good for our guys. They like the energy they draw from it. Certainly from a fan perspective, it's a whole new opportunity to see their team work."
Peckham agreed with his coach’s assessment, adding that the players in the locker room are incredibly appreciative of the fan support in Oil Country.
"Those are the fans we need. Those are the ones that are sticking behind us. The fans that are still out here having a good time and supporting us. We're trying; we're doing our best. Obviously the wins aren't coming but that will come in time." ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Following a quick two-game homestand, the Oilers will now head back on the road, making stops in Nashville and St. Louis before returning back to Edmonton later this week. Although the Oilers went winless on the homestand and are now riding a six-game losing skid, Renney believes the past two games have provided the groundwork for positive results in the near future.
"Primarily, we want to win. There's no question about that. I want to make sure that the guys that put the jersey on get an opportunity to play and show us what they're capable of; to learn a little bit more about them, but also them about us and our system of play."
"Every time we go into Nashville, we wonder how we're going to beat these guys because they're very systematic," Renney added. "They know how they want to play and they've played that way ever since [Barry Trotz] has been there, which is forever."
Although the Predators certainly stand as a challenging opponent, Renney believes his club needs to remain focused on their own game.
|Head Coach Tom Renney |
"What we have to do is go in there, as the underdog again, and pay attention to what we need to do to have success. That's really and truly playing a shift at a time, not allowing them to feel too good about their game."
"I think a big part of our success there is our start."
Renney was also complimentary of his team’s recent efforts, considering the lineup challenges and an early elimination from playoff contention.
"I'm proud of our guys. It sounds corny for a 30th place coach to say that, but I am. We've had adversity for quite some time now and we've dealt with it as professionals; we've dealt with it as men," Renney explained.
"I know they're working at it and they're giving it everything they have. We have all year. This is a really important process to go through. A year from now, I’m hoping that we've had enough experience with this that they know how to deal with it and turn these things into wins." CALL-UP KEEPERS
Although the Oilers have now lost 202 man games due to injury, recent call-ups have performed well and are making an impression on the coaching staff, as well as veteran teammates.
"They've been great," noted Kurtis Foster. "They're really playing the way we want to play as a team. It's been fun. It's a little different than I think Oilers fans are used to; maybe not as much speed and skill, but I think it's a different game. Getting it in deep, banging bodies, and showing that there's a lot of hope for the future. It's definitely been fun to be a part of it."
Fellow defenceman Theo Peckham
agreed, adding that the transition has likely been challenging given the circumstances.
"They're playing hard. That's all you can ask. It's definitely tough to come into an NHL atmosphere and perform the way they have. They've carried a huge load for us, and all the power to them. They've been great."
Coach Renney also praised the work of his call-ups, noting that Teemu Hartikainen
has been a tremendous addition to his struggling Oilers squad.
"I like the upside there. I love the grit that he plays with and he certainly has the passion to play. He knows that the net is the end point."
"All of that being said on the offensive side of the puck, none of that is lost on his effort coming back and understanding the defensive job. He just needs more exposure to the NHL level and to the coaching that he would face as well as get," Renney added.
According to the coach, Hartikainen’s uprising was somewhat unexpected given his sixth-round selection at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. With more development time and proper coaching, Renney sees a full-time NHL position in the not too distant future.
"He's legitimate in my mind. If we're patient with him and again, keep our objectives for him realistic and work with him on a daily basis here and in Oklahoma City where I think the guys have done an outstanding job, I think the NHL isn't too far away for this young fella." PROGNOSIS POSITIVE
Injured defenceman Taylor Chorney
participated in his first full practice today after having missed the previous 12 games with a knee problem. Although his condition is still graded as week-to-week, positive steps are happening and the smooth-skating blueliner will be traveling with the team this week to continue his on-ice rehab.
"It's been healing faster than I've expected and the trainers as well," Chorney noted.
"Hopefully I can get back for at least a handful [of games]. I don't think there's a full timeline. We've kind of been taking it week by week, and the last couple weeks have been really good and it's been feeling a lot better. I felt pretty good on the ice today."
In addition to Chorney’s improving condition, Colin Fraser and J-F Jacques look to be on the mend as well. Both will be traveling with the team this week, with a chance that they could return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday in Nashville.
"They could be ready as early as Tuesday, but we'll see," Renney said.