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The Team Today: New Year, familiar focus

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers


The Oilers were up bright and early New Year's Day and cleared tight security in Calgary before boarding the charter to San Jose.

Because Devan Dubnyk left for a stint with the AHL's Springfield Falcons earlier in the morning, Bryan Pitton joined the NHL team on the ice when they arrived at HP Pavilion. Pitton had a short commute: the Oilers' ECHL affiliate, the Stockton Thunder, are located just over an hour northwest of San Jose.

"Right away, I looked at the schedule and I knew that they were playing in San Jose Saturday night ... so I was pretty excited to finally get a game in," Pitton said. "Last time (during first call-up in mid-December) I only got a practice. I was hoping to get a game, but it will be pretty cool to sit on the bench this time."

In 17 games with the Thunder this season, Pitton has posted a 7-8-1 record and .912 SV%. The club is three games below .500 with a 13-16-2 record.

"It seems like we're the kind of team that wins four in a row and loses four in a row," the goalie explained. "We really haven't found our identity yet, but for me and [fellow Thunder goalie Andrew Perugini] we've both been doing pretty well and I'm just happy I can get up here for a little bit."

Pitton was the last man off the ice Friday afternoon and looks forward to honing his skills against NHL shooters while he's with the Oilers.

"If you give these guys the littlest bit in net, they're going to pick it," Pitton said after practice. "Everyone can shoot the puck real hard once you get to professional, but these guys, they can put the puck where they want it, so if I'm not square, if I'm not centred, they can make me look pretty bad. But knowing the chances that I might get up here again, I'm just going to keep working hard down in Stockton and hopefully get as many games as I can because you'd rather play than practice."

Although Pitton is pleased with his current situation, the same cannot be said for the rest of the Oilers. The club has won only one game in the past nine and sits at the bottom of the Western Conference. Saturday night's battle vs. the Sharks will test the team's ability to keep their New Year's resolutions and step up their play.

"We're fighting a bit to find our game and to find a way out of this little hole we've dug ourselves," Sheldon Souray said after practice. "We're looking for answers, and we're coming to the rink and working hard every day and we're trying to keep it positive, but it's definitely frustrating."

Head Coach Pat Quinn wants his club to play smarter and showcase some of the resilience they showed the last time they faced the Sharks on November 27, when the Oil lost a thrilling match in a shootout. (Read the game recap)

"Our game against them was a really good game the last time we played," Quinn recalled. "We executed well that night -- it shows we're capable of doing it, but we need to do it longer and harder. And when you're facing this kind of opposition, with the number of really top players that  they have, that gets people's attention.

"I don't care who we play, whether it's Calgary, a very good team, or whether it's this team that we're going to face tomorrow, the tops in our conference ... You have to execute, and you have to execute with some smarts, and we're not smart."

According to Souray, the time for reflection is over.

"I think our theme right now is we're into a new year and we're just going to start fresh and look at it like it's a new season for us. There's no sense in looking behind because you're going to be pretty frustrated with what you see that we've accomplished so far."

Author: Jen Sharpe |


Pat Quinn completed six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs as Head Coach and also was the team's General Manager for four of those seasons from 1999 - 2003.

"Toronto is a great hockey town too," said Pat Quinn. "They love their players and rightfully so. At the end of the day they want to have success. That's what it's all about."

During his tenure, the Maple Leafs advanced at least as far as the second round of the National Hockey Playoffs five times and the Eastern Conference Final on two occasions.

"I'll always have great memories of my time there. I think about the people more than the organization. My thoughts are right here with our organization."


"It's not surprising to me because the coach told me like two months ago," said Visnovsky. "He was in Atlanta with the GM Peter Bondra. He said that we don't have too many NHL players, there are only 14. We have a couple of ex-NHL players in Europe but not a lot."

This Olympics will be the third in Visnovsky's career, having previously played in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah and 2006 in Torino, Italy.

"I'm not thinking about the Olympics right now, I'm thinking about the Oilers right now. We still have a lot of games before the Olympics."

"I've been skating by myself the last couple weeks so it's always higher pace and higher tempo when you get out and practice but I felt pretty good."

"I don't have a timeline just more or less getting some practices in and getting my timing down. Just getting back into skating shape."

Pisani claims that his weight is back up and everything is back to normal. He says that he's feeling great and it's just a matter of getting back to the shape he was in before.


It was a positive thing to see this morning after the Oilers finished practice. Mike Comrie took a little skate of his own. He appears to be getting stronger and able to skate without feeling too fatigued.

Mike Comrie practices his shot after the rest of the team wrapped up practice Tuesday afternoon.

Author: Kristi Hennessy |


Sunday's practice involved a lot of soul searching for the Oilers as they attempted to find some answers for their recent special teams struggles. 

The club spent a lot of time on the ice working on basic special teams drills in addition to other fundamentals such as shot blocking as they try to break out of their current six-game funk.

"We're in a stretch now where we've given up a lot killing penalties," head coach Pat Quinn remarked following practice. "Too many of them are point shots and tips or loose pucks around the front. We have to do a better job."

The powerplay has also struggled, with only three goals in the team's last 35 opportunities (8.6%) - an 11-game stretch. Two of those three goals came in the Nashville game on December 17.

"On our powerplay, we are dry right now. We're playing teams that are presisng us more quickly than in the past. That would be the scouting report," Quinn continued. "Our guys haven't responded well to the quickness that they have to start moving the puck. That's what's getting in our way right now. We want to hold onto it, we think we have time but it's not there."

According to Quinn, the issue on both the powerplay and penalty kill has been consistency.

"We are not a consistent group. We give up on plans quickly. We're a team that's been used to losing - we hope we never accept it.

"We don't stick to a program long, we go to an ad lib. 'I'm going to do it myself' kind of mode. As long as I've been around that never works."

What the team has been practicing lately is an attempt by Quinn to try and build some of that routine into his players.

"Execution is what counts. We identify our jobs then we have to do them correctly."


Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Potulny, left, has the puck poke-checked off his stick by Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
Ryan Potulny scored Edmonton's lone goal on Saturday night but he almost didn't make it to the game at all. Following the team's game in Minnesota on December 23, Potulny stayed behind in order to spend Christmas with his family in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The city is about two hours south of Winnipeg and Potulny's plan was to drive into Manitoba and catch a flight from Winnipeg to Edmonton in the early afternoon on Christmas Day. He would then charter with the rest of the club into Vancouver on Boxing Day morning.

A blizzard changed all that.

"It started out on Christmas Day. I was scheduled to fly out of Winnipeg at 1:00."

"The snow in Grand Forks was too high around the area and the roads were shut off so we couldn't fly to Winnipeg to get on that flight.

We just scratched that ticket, bought a new one to fly out of Grand Forks at 1:00. Got to the airport and that flight didn't go out because of the weather. Rescheduled again for 5:00 out of Grand Forks. Got on the runway, I'm thinking 'we're looking pretty good, finally on the runway.' Then we turned around because of mechanical problems. Temperature was too cold."

"Booked myself on the 6:50 flight. Made sure I could get my connector in Minnesota (to Edmonton), it was a late flight, a 9:50 flight."

"But that flight was delayed because they were trying to move everyone over from the one that got scratched. Got into Minneapolis at about 10:30. My flight left at 9:50 so I missed that one."

"Stayed at a hotel right by the airport in Minneapolis. Got on a flight straight from Minneapolis to Vancouver the next morning. Got there about noon, got to go on the ice, skate a little bit and got the legs moving but it was a long, stressful one-and-a-half days there.


Edmonton Oilers' Zack Stortini, right, and Vancouver Canucks' Rick Rypien fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
One of the highlights from Saturday night's game was Zack Stortini's dust-up with the Canucks' Rick Rypien.
Stortini more than held his own against Rypien - one of the best fighters in the NHL despite his smaller size. Out of three fights against Rypien, it was clearly Stortini's best showing.

"It was a good batlte. He's an honest, tough guy. It was one of the better ones, for sure," said Stortini on Sunday.

The motivation for the fight from Stortini's point of view was simple. The team was down two goals after the Canucks netted a pair of powerplay markers in 18 seconds. He felt the club needed a lift.

"Our team needed a boost," he said. "We were down two goals and they play a physical brand of hockey. We weren't backing down."

And sure enough, seconds after the bout Potulny scored to make it 2-1.

"It was a great goal by Potsy to get us back in there."

Author: Marc Ciampa |

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