Prior to hitting the road and boarding the team’s charter in a cross-national hop to St. Paul, Minnesota, the Oilers held a quick and spirited, one-hour practice at Rexall Place early Wednesday morning.
Rather than pushing the pace with high-speed, up-and-down line rushes, Head Coach Tom Renney approached the session with calculated drills intended to help counter the Wild’s repressive style.
It’s a good thing, too, because the Oilers are still sporting a losing streak like no other; coming out un-victorious in 16 straight contests in the land of 10,000 lakes, with the team’s last win coming on Jan. 16, 2007 by a 2-1 score.
EXCELLING AT XCEL
"We always approach it like we're going to go in there and win," Renney remarked. "I don't think we place as much weight on this thing as [the media does]. It's not like it's a heavy load or a cross to bear. It's another hockey game in a building where we've had limited success."
When asked about whether or not the streak was by coincidence or some other matter, Renney was mum but highly-assured with his club’s preparation.
"I don't know," he said. "That's a good question and I wish I had an answer. I'm really not that concerned about it. I'm concerned about winning every time I go to the rink.
"We prepare exactly the same way. I think our intensity, preparation and readiness is as good as anybody's in the league."
It depends on how you look at it, I suppose. The team may be on a 16-game winless skid in the regular season, but did come out on top vs. the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center only 12 days ago in a pre-season matchup.
Buoyed by victory, exhibition or not, Ryan Jones has put plenty into the club’s pre-season success in St. Paul.
"It always seem like there's added stress going in there when you haven't won in a while," said the 27-year-old winger, who's been moved up to play with Shawn Horcoff and Magnus Paajarvi on the team's third line. "Even though it was a pre-season game, it’s good knowing you can win in there.
"It's still a win and we're on a high going in there right now."
PETRELL ON PATROL
With Linus Omark donning the non-contact, baby blue sweater at practice, expect to see Lennart Petrell draw in vs. Minnesota. The 27-year-old Finn missed Sunday’s action as a healthy scratch, but is understandably thrilled to embark on a new opportunity.
"I'm really excited," he said, smiling. "I was nervous before the last game and I didn’t even play – but I think it helped me prepare and match tomorrow's preparation. It’s like I’m ready for my first NHL game already, even though it didn’t happen. It’s good.
"It's not disappointing," he added when asked about sitting out vs. Pittsburgh. "It's something you get used to in this business. There are always last-minute changes and you never know. Everybody has to be prepared to play – and we've got some extra guys, so we know two guys aren't playing every night.
"It's not disappointment. It's something you've got to learn to live with and it gives me extra energy for tomorrow's game against Minnesota. I'm really happy."
Petrell is slated to skate on the right wing, opposite Darcy Hordichuk and with Anton Lander down the middle on the team’s fourth line. According to Renney, it's "a job description right up [Petrell’s] alley."
"We've played him enough in the exhibition games to know what he can bring to us," he said. "All things being equal, he will start tomorrow night. I'll rest on that and make a decision in the morning, but I anticipate he'll play.
"He has the wherewithal to know what's going on around him as he plays that exuberant game, because sometimes you can get lost out there and not accomplish a whole lot, but he does. He's got a good physical presence to him, he goes to the net hard, he's an honest two-way guy and he's a very good penalty-killer."
It’s still to be determined whether Omark has been diagnosed with a leg injury or is a simple strike-through on the coach’s lineup card. Either way, Petrell will be looking to show what he’s got in the Swede’s place.
"I don't think I have to do anything special," he explained. I need to be energized, be good up the ice and in my own end. That's probably what [the coaches] expect and that's what I’m going to do."
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Sunday’s win was an emotional 60-minute clash, but as the players admitted, it sure as heck wasn’t a Picasso.
"We've had a lot of good practices and I think they've helped us out," Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "We've been working on some systems.
"We know that [Minnesota] will come hard at us. They're a hard-working team and they like to put pressure on us and, even on the power-play, they'll send two guys down on the ice on the PK.
"We need to be ready."
Renney is equally as determined to right some early-season struggles, but is more concerned with rolling with emotion and capturing another victory while his squad bonds on the road.
"It's critical to get our wins on the road," he said. "With being the visiting team, you don't have any control over some things to the degree that you want, and I think that's a good thing because you have to have the resolve to push through those things.
"That can be very galvanizing for a team and we're looking forward to that."
ODDS AND ENDS:
Ben Eager, Sam Gagner and Ryan Whitney all skated today. Whitney continued to wear the regular white sweater, but Eager and Gagner rolled with the baby blues. Regardless, all will remain at home while the team embarks on this quick, one-game roadie.
After an off-day on Monday, the Oilers hit the ice on Tuesday for the first time since their dramatic 2-1 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in their 2011-12 season opener on Sunday night at Rexall Place.
Concerns with the number of turnovers they committed in their first game were addressed, but overall the team was still buzzing with a lot of positive energy as they look to ride their momentum into Thursday night's road game against the Northwest Division rival Minnesota Wild.
On Cloud Nine-ty Three
One of the heroes from Sunday's season opening victory was rookie centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who tallied his first NHL goal in his first NHL game to knot the score at 1-1 with just 4:55 left in the third period, forcing overtime and the eventual shootout.
The 18-year-old 2011 first-overall draft pick said he's still riding the wave of opening night but is focused on continuing to contribute as the season continues this week.
"It definitely was exciting and I enjoyed the win that night, but you've got to move on and I'll take the same approach on Thursday," said Nugent-Hopkins, who received a deafening ovation from the Rexall Place faithful following his pivotal goal. "It was pretty nice seeing all the support and congratulations I got. It's pretty incredible how loud it was."
Eager For Action
One player who didn't get a chance to compete in the season opener on Sunday was power forward Ben Eager. The off-season free-agent acquisition has been sidelined since the Joey Moss Cup intrasquad game on Sept. 18 when he suffered a concussion and whiplash on a body-check into the end boards from defenceman Kirill Tulupov, who has since been assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound left-winger has been cleared to participate in full practice and will travel with the team for their one-off road game against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. The 27-year-old Ottawa native said he's feeling good and can't wait to get back in the lineup, though it's still be to determined whether he'll be ready to return against the Wild.
"The last week or so I've been pushing pretty hard, and I'm starting to get my legs back and get back into game shape," Eager said. "There's been no (post-concussion) symptoms, so it's been nice. I haven't been cleared to play in a game yet, but hopefully that's not too far away. A few more practices, probably."
Chorney Claimed By Blues
On Monday, the Oilers placed defenceman Taylor Chorney on waivers for the purpose of assignment to Oklahoma City, but the 24-year-old is now headed to St. Louis after the Blues claimed him off the wire early Tuesday morning.
The Thunder Bay native played 56 games with the Oilers over the past three seasons, scoring one goal and six assists with 16 penalty minutes. He spent the majority of his time in the organization with the Springfield Falcons and Barons AHL affiliate squads, tallying 50 points in 146 games.
Head Coach Tom Renney replied "not really" when asked if he was surprised to see the North Dakota alum claimed. The bench boss also said he would "have that discussion" with General Manager Steve Tambellini should the Oilers have an opportunity to re-acquire Chorney in the future.
"I was hoping (he didn't get claimed) because I think he's a good player and we needed to get him playing, but I wasn't sure exactly when that was going to happen here," the coach said. "We were hoping to get him down to Oklahoma City to get him playing. If we get another crack at him — great."
Fellow up-and-coming defenceman Jeff Petry said it's tough to bid farewell to a teammate and friend, but he ultimately wishes Chorney the best of luck in St. Louis.
"I played with him last year in OKC and got to know him even more this year," Petry said. "You never like to see a teammate go, but it's a good situation for him to move on and get a chance with the Blues. It's part of the game and you've got to go with it."
No Hordichuk-MacIntyre Mash-Up
There could have been even more fireworks during Sunday's season opener had Oilers tough guy Darcy Hordichuk gotten the chance to drop the gloves with former Oilers enforcer Steve MacIntyre, who was acquired by the Penguins during the off-season. But with both players receiving limited ice time in the tight game, the showdown never played out.
"There's no doubt (it would have happened)," Hordichuk said. "He was already chirping on the bench. Pretty much every game you get into when the other team has a tough guy, if he's willing to go, I'm always willing to go. There was a couple times where I thought I was going to get on the ice with him, but we never got that chance to match up. I was just trying to get my feet moving out there and do what I do best, which is throw the body around."
The Saskatchewan natives first encountered each other in the WHL when they were trying out for the Saskatoon Blades in 1998. Hordichuk said they fought three times during training camp and then had a few more scraps when MacIntyre was traded to the Prince Albert Raiders.
The Oilers' 2011-12 season record improves to 1-0-0.
The Oilers hit the road for one game on Thursday when they visit the Minnesota Wild. Game time is 6:00 p.m. MDT and it can be seen on Sportsnet West.
It’s here. The 2011-12 Edmonton Oilers hockey season has arrived.
The team’s game day morning began with a brisk, up-tempo, 30-minute morning skate at Rexall Place. Head Coach Tom Renney’s line combinations remained the same (although Darcy Hordichuk will replace Lennart Petrell), but the morning’s headline story was who would be getting the start between the pipes.
As 10:30am approached, the summer-long question was answered. Devan Dubnyk will get the call vs. Pittsburgh.
"It's crazy," the young netminder said. "I was able to be on the bench for [the home-opener] last year. That was a pretty exciting game vs. Calgary. It's real important to go approach it like any other game; certainly a game that matters, and make sure I'm ready to go."
Dubnyk posted a 2-0-0 record, along with a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save-percentage in four pre-season contests; besting 38-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin who sported an identical record.
"A little bit," Dubnyk said when asked about whether or not he was surprised to be getting the start. "I was certainly preparing for this situation. When you haven’t [started on opening-night] in the past, it’s a little surprising when it does happen."
Head Coach Tom Renney admitted that his decision didn’t come easy. Both ‘tenders did well in the pre-season, but one stood out as the team continues to develop a younger core in all positions.
"I've liked both goalies' camps," he said. "There's a point where you've got to give a young guy a chance to assume that responsibility and see how he deals with it. We're still growing people here. We need to do this to see where [Dubnyk] is and where he handles everything. It's the next opportunity to learn what we've got.
"Khabby is still a good mentor and excellent goaltender. He's going to play games for us this year and be really important to our success."
Khabibulin took the news very well and is motivated to earn his next opportunity.
Last year on Oct. 7, 2010, media congregated around three prized rookies inside the Oilers’ locker room: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi. This time around, 367 days later in the same location, another No. 1 overall pick drew the most attention as media scooped the pre-game story from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
"I'm really excited to get started," the skilled 18-year-old said. "The last couple years, especially, have been building up to this day. I'm extremely excited."
Hall and Eberle combined to score 40 goals and 85 points last year. So while Nugent-Hopkins’ nerves are likely out in full-force, the Oilers’ 20 and 21-year-old sophomores have helped guide him through.
"I’m a little nervous, even though it's my second time around," Hall explained. "It's always fun to start a season and you want to start it well. Everyone's nervous for that part. Everyone knows we've prepared as best we can, and now it's time to show it."
"I'm excited to play hockey again," Eberle added. "We’ve been watching teams play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and we don't play until today. It's been an anxious, but exciting wait."
The Penguins roll into Rexall Place with a 2-0-0 record, having beaten Vancouver in Calgary in high-scoring, early-season battles. The Oilers know they’ll be in tough to match Pittsburgh’s game-legs, but will, perhaps, be able to gain an edge in intensity.
"They've played two games that have been pretty high-level games," Eberle said. "We're fresh, we're ready to go and we're raring because it's our home-opener and we don't want to disappoint."
Hall agreed, adding that he expects to see a physical, hard-working Penguins team tonight.
"It's tough," he said. "You want to get at it. It may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing. We've prepared ourselves well and as best we can with this long break.
"[Pittsburgh is] a very hard-working group. They've got great depth in all positions and their coach has them playing a pretty straight-laced game; and they do it as well as they can without Crosby. It's going to be a little easier not having to play against him."
"They've got their game-legs under them and they're ready," Renney added. "We have to push the pace."
READY TO GO
The Oilers have a 35-25-5 all-time record vs. Pittsburgh, including a 22-9-1 mark at home at Rexall Place. Edmonton is also 16-11-4 all-time in season openers, which includes a 14-7-3 line at home.
Tom Renney is also an NHL-best 7-0-0 in season-openers as an NHL head coach. The pre-game stat-line is a positive one, but Renney is cautious in approach to this especially lethal Penguins squad.
"They concern me," he said. "They're a good team. I think the big thing is that their attack game is very quick. They get pucks up and out and in as quick as anybody I've seen. They're playing a very complete game right now early in the season. That's the biggest thing we'll have to contend with.
"We've got to play a mature game, play to our strengths and try to force them to defend, because we know how well they attack."