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The Team Today: Moving On

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers


On Wednesday morning, the Oilers announced that goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin would be undergoing surgery on his back to repair a herniated disc. As a result, he will most likely be lost to the team for the remainder of the 2009-10 regular season.

Following a lengthy and spirited practice at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park, Oilers players and head coach Pat Quinn discussed how the team will cope with the loss of its number one goaltender.

"You just stay focused," stated Sheldon Souray. "We can't worry about who's here and who's not here. The guys who are playing each and every night just have to keep getting better individually and as a team we'll keep trying to grow. There's no sense worrying about who we don't have."

Souray is familiar with Khabibulin's situation, having gone down with a season-ending injury in his first year with the Oilers.

"It happened to me my first year too," Souray said. "You want to go out and prove yourself. He's aproving goaltender who was winning us some games singlehandedly earlier in the year. It's a big loss but we haven't had him for some time now."

Centre Shawn Horcoff also went down with a season-ending injury several years back so he knows the frustration felt by the Oilers netminder.

"I'm sure it's frustrating for him. It's frustrating for everyone," said Horcoff. "It's a good opportunity for the young guys we have here to get some games in and get some experience."

Head coach Pat Quinn felt that the finality of the loss doesn't change much with the team as it is right now. .

"We have been actually responding with our kids anyway. Clearly, he wasn't capable of even coming to the rink and participating in any fashion. It just became official," said Quinn.

"I think based on the fact that we have two young guys - both of them are considering real prospects for the future - (Dubnyk's) here now, we can't let him sit," Quinn remarked.

"I say we'll see some action out of him until the time that we have to do something else," the coach continued. "There's a good chance he'll play tomorrow but that's not decided firmly at this point."


Following practice at Millennium Place, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini held a media availability at Rexall Place to talk about the Khabibulin situation.

"Nik felt good at the beginning that it was something he could recover from. It didn't get any worse but it never got any better," said Tambellini. "He gave it eight weeks, visited a couple of doctors - one in Denver and one in Los Angeles."

The General Manager acknowledged that losing the Russian netminder was a huge blow to the team despite Deslauriers' valiant effort to keep the team in games.

"He's our MVP and we miss his presence and his ability, obviously. But it's just something we have to deal with," he said. 

Khabibulin has had back problems before, most recently in 2007-08 with Chicago, but Tambellini feels moving forward it won't be an issue.

"Nik has a disc problem. He suffered some issues a couple years ago which were minor at that time. There are many players playing in that dressing room right now with bad backs but maybe not to the extent of this," he said. "He's one of our most fit athletes and there will be no issues with him from that standpoint after this.


Pat Quinn will carry the Olympic Torch today as part of the route through the City of Edmonton.

"I was asked by VANOC," Quinn said. "They gave me an option of where I could participate and this is terrific for me. A tremendous honour. I was lucky to be in the Olympics two times and have such great memories of that."

Quinn is an ambassador for the Vancouver Olympic committee and mentioned he's very excited to see the upcoming Winter Games in his home country.

"Canadians all across this country have had a chance to carry the Flame. When you watch the daily updates on where our torch is you can really see our national pride."

Asked whether he'll walk or run his 300 metre segment, Quinn didn't hesitate.

"I haven't done a lot of running in awhile. It'll be a fast twitch sort of. I'm going to take my time on it. I want to milk it."

His torch route passes through a segment of Groat Road near Westmount Centre.

"I don't think I've been on Groat Road since 1963," Quinn chuckled.

Author: Marc Ciampa |


The Oilers took to the ice for morning skate shortly after 10am, but without Gilbert Brule. Head Coach Pat Quinn later confirmed that the forward has been sidelined with the flu for the fourth time this year.

"We're trying to do some further study on why the frequency. The past two days, he decided to practice yesterday but came in ill, and this morning was the same."

Brule is not expected to play tonight, and as a result, Jean-Francois Jacques should skate with Patrick O'Sullivan and Ryan Potulny.

The plan vs. the Predators

Tonight's game vs. Nashville will be the Oilers first opportunity to employ what they've learned at this past weekend's "mini-camp." The Oilers participated in intense video, off-ice, and on-ice sessions, and Quinn hopes that the efforts pay off in tighter systems and, ultimately, a win.

"The system is our guideline," Quinn said. "That's your plan for success. When you give up the plan you haven't got much of a chance because that's when ad-libs start and excuses start and failure starts. We have been a team that's given up the plan on a lot of nights when we've met adversity out there. Every team, 30 teams, hit adversity in very game and we aren't the team that has been able to fight through it."

Defenceman Tom Gilbert called tonight's game a test.

"This will be a good test for us to see if the effort we put in this weekend pays off," he added. "It's got to start from somewhere, and we've only got 30 some games left, take it a game at a time, and hopefully the video and the system play we worked on in practice will pay off."


Although the Oilers dominated the shot clock and finished with an impressive 41 attempts, the club struggled early in net and was unable to crack Predators' goalie Pekka Rinne until the end of the game. The late surge was too little, too late and Edmonton dropped a 5-3 decision to Nashville Tuesday night.

Jean-Francois Jacques, Ryan Potulny and Dustin Penner earned Edmonton's three goals, while goalie Jeff Deslauriers took the loss after allowing four goals on 14 attempts in the first 26 minutes. Back-up Devan Dubnyk closed the game with 13 saves.
Author: Jen Sharpe |


After taking a break from the ice Sunday, the Oilers were back at Rexall Place Monday for a normal practice. Friday and Saturday, the team conducted a "mini-camp" which included plenty of off-ice workouts, video sessions, and on-ice drills.

Players and coaches spoke positively about the weekend but the club will have to wait until Tuesday night to see if the efforts pay off in a win.

"They worked hard," Head Coach Pat Quinn said after practice. "I haven't had much to gripe about in that area because they do practice and they're trying hard to make themselves better. Hopefully we can take that into the game."

"Four days isn't going to make a major difference I don't think, because we have some room to go as far as becoming a team. But maybe we've made some steps that way. We hopefully can sustain our game for a longer period of time than we have in many of them."

Denis Grebeshkov feels that the team accomplished what it wanted over the weekend.

"We had a few meetings during that mini-camp, we watched a lot of videos, and the coaches want us to be on the same page. That was the point of that mini-camp. So I guess we learned a lot during those two or three days and all we have to do is show that during the game," the defenceman said.

According to Quinn, the Oil will try to play a simple game Tuesday night.

"We're going to play by the old maxim of the one shift, one period, let's just see if we can get where we're doing little things well and maybe big things will happen," he said. "You can't forget that we're on the journey and the journey hasn't gone the way we planned or hoped for."


Marc Pouliot
The season hasn't gone as planned for many Oilers, and chief among them is Marc Pouliot. The Oilers forward has been recovering from a sports hernia since the beginning of the season, and although he feels he is ready to play, he says he isn't rushing things.

"It's been four months and I've played zero games yet so I'm looking forward to it obviously. But at the same time, when I start playing I want to play until the end of the season. I don't want to go back to the injury so I'm going to take my time in that sense."

Some of that time may be spent in a conditioning stint with the team's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons.

"I don't know what's going to happen with me in the future," Pouliot admitted. "I might get a couple games down or whatever but I feel really good right now . . . I'm just practicing with the team right now, getting some physical contact and I'm going to probably have a chat with the coach and GM to see what's going on with me in the future."


While Pouliot's return to the line-up is uncertain, Lubomir Visnovsky confirmed that he will play Tuesday vs. Nashville. The defenceman suffered an ankle injury New Year's Eve in Calgary and has missed three games.

"I'm ready to go," Visonvsky told the media. "The coach gave me the chance -- I'm ready to play."


Select seats are available for the Oilers-Predators game Tuesday, January 11th.

Author: Jen Sharpe |


Prior to the Oilers taking the ice on the second of day of Oilers Mini-Camp, Mike Comrie skated with team strength and conditioning coach Simon Bennett.

Comrie has been out since November 18 with mononucleosis. Following the skate, he spoke to the media.

"I'm starting to feel a little better. I think it's been frustrating," said Comrie. "As an athlete you always hate watching your team play without you but when you don't have a lot of energy and feel sick there's not much you can do."

It's been a frustrating time for the Edmonton native, who has five goals and eight points in 16 games this season.

"The medical staff has been on top of everything, from blood work to ultrasounds. As a player you can't control some of those things but they've taken great care of me," he said.

Comrie's injury came on the heels of the flu. A weakened immune system resulted in him having some severe symptoms.

"Once I got mono, I didn't have any energy. I tried to play through it but realized (I couldn't)."

However, the forward is now on the road to recovery.

"I've been skating and working out. Some days I've been in the gym for a couple of hours then on the ice for a little bit," he noted.

There's still no timeline on Comrie's return as he tries to build up his strength after so many weeks of inactivity.

"I think it's a week-by-week progression. Hopefully I can start skating with the team soon."


Defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky had an interesting observation on the Mini-Camp, remarking that the team's approach is for this to be a whole new season starting this Tuesday against the Nashville Predators. 

"It's like we're starting a new season. The 'last season' was very bad. 44 games. Everybody was very mad," stated Visnovsky. "The media is mad, the players mad, the coaches mad and the fans are very mad. We need to start thinking positive, especially in the locker room and especially on the ice."

As for his own injury, Visnovsky
feels he's ready to go for Tuesday.

"I feel very good. The coach gave me time for my recovery and my ankle is okay. Every practice I feel better and better."


Associate Coach Tom Renney
commented after practice that he was very impressed with the team's compete level following two very gruelling days on the ice.

"The proof will be in how we come out and compete in our next hockey game and what we've been able to make out of these three days because of that."

The second day of Mini-Camp was much different than the first with a variety of different drills capped off with a three-on-three game.

"We've got to give our guys credit. They've come to work every day here. It doesn't matter what the drills look like or what our intentions are, they've done everything they could. It's as good a practice team as I've had."

Renney stole a page from former colleague Perry Pearn's book by holding the three-on-three competition.

"There is something to that. We did it a lot when Perry and I were in New York. There's a support game involved offensively and defensively and a quick transition off of that," Renney noted. "It pushes the envelope from a fitness perspective as well because if you get hung out there you've really got to work."

The Associate Coach agreed with Visnovsky's assessment that the next game is a fresh start, a clean slate for the club.

"The bottom line is, it is what it is in terms of history. Our intentions are to deal with this next game as game one. We haven't nailed it. We want to make sure we continue to develop and build character."


If there were three stars announced following the three-on-three scrimmage, the first star would have been defenceman Jason Strudwick, who potted a pair of goals.

"It's a really fun game. I love playing it, I've been playing it a long time and I know some ways to cheat and get open," Strudwick remarked.

"Maybe that's the deal. You just take the pressure off and let him go play and he's an offensive wunderkind. He was unbelievable out there, don't tell him I said that though," joked Sam Gagner about Strudwick's performance.
"Too bad we couldn't come out with the win."

"We're trying to keep it as loose as we can," Gagner continued, talking about the three-on-three. "We wanted an element of intensity and focus. We felt we accomplished a lot in those two days."

Despite not being able to enjoy a golf weekend, Strudwick was very happy to spend the time at the rink to try and work on some elements of the team's game the past few days.

"We're in a situation that our record is not as strong as we want it to be. A block of no games like this is a great time to work on some conditioning and team concepts."

Author: Marc Ciampa |
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