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THE TEAM TODAY: Mixing it up

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers


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.

Visit our website 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: Marc Ciampa |, with files from Tom Gazzola

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