After arriving from Nashville in the early hours of the morning, the Edmonton Oilers gathered at Rexall Place at noon on Tuesday for an off-ice workout in preparation for a date with the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.
It was announced that for Wednesday's game and Saturday's game, head coach Tom Renney will not be behind the bench. Instead, it will be Associate Coach Ralph Krueger manning the bench for the first two NHL games of his coaching career.
"It's an opportunity," said a smiling Krueger. "Under the circumstances, Tom's leadership allows people to take responsibility. For me to do this is not a change in scenery because he's given us all that. It's an honour for me that Tom has the trust in me to do this."
Being the head bench boss is nothing new for Krueger, who had never been an Assistant or Associate at any level before this season.
"I began head coaching in 1989 and was club head coach for nine years (two years in Germany, seven years in Austria) and then (Swiss) national head coach for 13 years."
Krueger's last game as head coach was nearly a year ago at the Olympics in Vancouver. The Swiss lost 2-0 (with an empty-netter) against the eventual Silver-Medalist United States squad. OMARK ON THE MARK
One player who truly opened some eyes on this past road trip was winger Linus Omark
Omark picked up three points in the three games -- all assists -- which included a couple of beautiful highlight-reel passes.
"I told him before to go there," Omark said of the no-look passes to Paajarvi. "The first time, I saw him when I was behind the net and believed he was there. It was a good play. I've done that with my Swedish buddy in Sweden for a couple years and it always worked."
Omark’s recent offensive production could very well be attributed to his comfort level with the North American game. It took some time, but Omark believes that was to be expected.
"I feel a little more comfortable and I'm not nervous anymore, so that's why I'm feeling better."
"It was tough in the AHL in the beginning also, and it was tough in Russia in the beginning. It just takes a few games for me to feel good."
Associate Coach Ralph Krueger talked about his strong play on the offensive side of the puck.
"He uses leverage very well. When you look at him off-ice you wouldn't expect him to be quite so strong. A lot of it has to do with technique. You can find defencemen that are 5'10" that seem to be able to control any player at any team. That's a technical skill, but also a talent and he has that offensively."
Omark has also done a great job drawing penalties. It's his use of leverage that makes him so strong at this, Krueger notes.
"The way he positions himself, the way he protects the puck and the way he uses his angles, they almost have to take penalties to bump him off," he said. "Once people start to understand his skill and the way he finds time and space and creates opportunity, where Magnus and Sam are getting better and better at leading off that.
Perhaps the key to the Oilers improving their power play lies with Omark, Krueger continues.
"The great players seem to attract one or two penalty killers and then they know when to make the play, then the openings come and we score goals. Once get gets to that level where he can get not one, but two players to come to him and he can dish it off, things will start to happen away from him. I think that's where Linus is going to be very exciting as he moves forward."
Of course, the trip didn't go without its hiccups as Omark was turned inside out on the winning goal, leaving that as the prevailing memory and not the two assists he picked up in 16:08 of icetime.
"There was a lot of pain for him after what happened in Columbus, he wasn't happy with the end of that game. He wants to get better, he gets angry in the right way. He's a good teammate," said Kreuger. DUBNYK DELIVERS
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk
earned his first career NHL shutout on Monday against Nashville, where he posted 37 saves to lead the Oilers to a commanding 4-0 victory.
"It was great to get the first one out of the way," Dubnyk said. "Been close a couple times but I think most importantly, obviously, to get the win. As soon as you get up three-four goals, it's kind of tough not to think about [the shutout] as the game winds down."
"I felt good start to finish. I've certainly felt that way in other games, too. It was a good game. I got a few bounces off posts which always helps. When you've got to keep them to zero, usually you need one or two of those in a game."
With Nikolai Khabibulin
currently mired in a personal 13-game losing streak, the increased role appears to have opened a greater opportunity for Dubnyk to make an impact as he eyes the number one job.
When asked how many games he envisions himself starting down the stretch, Dubnyk remained on an even keel.
"I'm not sure. We'll see how it goes. Maybe 10-15. Maybe more, maybe less."
"I think as this goes and I feel better with each game I play still, I just want to not start to let thoughts creep into my head about how many games I'm going to play; just realize that I'm still a young goalie -- I think I've only got 38 games or something in the league -- so I still need to be earning my ice-time every time I get out there.
"Until you kind of establish yourself, that's just want I'm going to try to continue to do."
Associate Coach Ralph Krueger has noted the improvement in Dubnyk’s game, and he credits that accomplishment to the collective work of a committed player and dedicated coaching staff.
"He's had some ups and downs during the season too, like the whole team, but things are developing nicely. He's a big future goaltender, working very hard every day and working together with Khabi and Frederic Chabot in his development."
"You have to like the way he's developing, the way he's using his size, the way he's getting more comfortable at this level on a consistent basis."
Krueger, having coached for 13 seasons with the Swiss National Team, is familiar with the ability of another NHL goaltender that has turned some heads this season.
Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, a native of Felben Wellhausen, Switzerland, plays a style that Krueger believes draws similarities to the path of Dubnyk’s recent development curve.
"There's a lot of similarities, the way they close the bottom of the ice. With the size advantage and with good angles.
"There's not a lot of space when these type of goalies learn to play aggressive.
"The picture is really, really small," said Krueger. "Including the goaltending situation. What's the situation that's right for the team right now? Both goaltenders are going to have their opportunities to be strong in the small picture and maintain that." BRULE NEARING RETURN
While most of the team was busy working out in the Oilers fitness room, one took to the ice as he eyes a return in the near future. Gilbert Brule, who has been sidelined for the past 14 games with ankle and illness ailments, participated in a number of intense skating drills with Skating and Skills Coach, Steve Serdachny.
Following the session, Brule spoke of his illness and touched on his timeline for a return to the lineup.
"I had one thing after the other with the ankle injury and then kind of getting the flu over the All-Star break took me out for a little bit longer," said a frustrated Brule.
"It's the flu. I think that's passed. I'm just trying to get my conditioning up, because I didn't skate for a week while I was sick there, basically."
"I've been rehabbing and working out every day, doing bike work, lifting, skating -- it's pretty tough to get back into the lineup, but it's the work I have to do to get back in."
After being sidelined with the flu several times in the past two seasons, Brule believes a medicinal approach may be in order for next year.
"Well, I think next year I'm going to get my flu shot. Usually I don't because I don't really believe in those shots, but every year I seem to get the flu. I'll probably be getting one next year for sure.”
Brule was non-committal about a potential date for his return, but he was hopeful that it would be sometime in the near future.
"It's only my second skate in a week today, so I'm hoping sometime next week hopefully." TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE
Tomorrow night the Oilers return to Rexall Place to kick off a three-game homestand vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. Limited tickets are still available, so act now before they sell out! Click here to purchase tickets online