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The Team Today: Practice Continues

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers


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 |


The Oilers' four-day gap between games was originally scheduled for a team-building/sponsorship golf trip to California, but with only one win in their last 12 games, the club went back to basics Friday afternoon in the first of two intense days of "mini-camp."

After a lengthy video session, the team took to the ice at 12:30 and skated for an hour, focusing on one-on-one and two-on-one battles. Zambonis then resurfaced the ice, and the players reported back for round two which concluded in a bag skate.

In the locker room at the end of the day, it was clear that both players and coaches are focused on the task at hand: turning things around quickly to salvage the season.

"We started from scratch: we had a workout, we had plenty of video today to go over the things that we've been not doing so well that has made us unsuccessful during this stretch," Tom Gilbert said. "What we get from this is hopefully get a clean slate and just review the stuff that's been hurting us these past few games."

"I don't think anybody would be feeling too good if we were down south enjoying ourselves right now when other teams are getting better," fellow defenceman Sheldon Souray added. "We're where we're at and we need to be getting better, so we'll use these days to our advantage. We'll keep a good attitude and keep it light these two days, and come Sunday, Monday, Tuesday it's back to work."

The day was long and exhausting, but Souray emphasized that the team needs to keep its spirits up.

"The bottom line is coming here to work and learn every day, but that doesn't mean we can't still have fun," he said. "We have a few days in between games to stay loose and we can still do some team bonding here at home and just make the best of it."


Head Coach Pat Quinn seemed pleased with what he saw from his troops Friday.

"They worked hard. There's lots about this team that I can't complain about -- their work habits seem pretty good, in general on practice days our spirits seem fine, it's just during hockey games when we seem to get down on ourselves badly and make those horrendous, individual sort of mistakes that change the results from what you plan on."

This weekend's mission is to "
find out why it's happening" and correct it, and the coaches plan on doing that with a lot of practice.

"I've always believe in practice. When you rehearse for success then you've got a chance for succes," Quinn said.


Call-up goalie Bryan Pitton keeps his eye on the puck during Friday's mini-camp at Rexall Place. (Photo by Steve Taylor |
One man who is learning a lot about Oilers practices is goalie Bryan Pitton. The Oilers opted to send Devan Dubnyk back to Springfield this weekend so he could get a few games in with the Falcons, and as a result, the club recalled Pitton from the ECHL's Stockton Thunder for the third time this season.

"I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable, but I've still got the jitters whenever I show up to the rink and when I'm on the ice," the young goalie said. "It's just excitement. You waited your whole life to be here and now that you're finally here it's a dream come true. It's nice practicing and sitting on the bench but I think the dream will come true once I actually get into a game. I'm not sure if that's going to happen but I got to bed every night and pray that it does."

The closest PItton has come to playing in the NHL was January 2 in San Jose, when he backed up Jeff Deslauriers. The experience was "incredible," he says, especially since some fans from Stockton made the drive to watch him in warm-up.

"Warm-up was probably the neatest part, being out there with all the guys and taking shots from them," Pitton remembers. "It was neat to know I had some support in the stands and I had some back at home as well."

Pitton isn't sure how long he'll be in Edmonton, but he's hoping to be able to dress for Tuesday's game vs. Nashville.

"It would be nice to get a game in, especially a home game on Tuesday, it would be nice to stick around for that but I'm not quite sure what's going on yet," he added.
"But so far it's been fun, I've been enjoying the ride, and hopefully it goes a bit longer than the last few times."

Author: Jen Sharpe |


The Oilers stuck to the same line combinations Thursday morning, with Dustin Penner, Shawn Horcoff & Robert Nilsson skating on the top line, and recent returnee Fernando Pisani skating with Ryan Stone and Sam Gagner.

Lubomir Visnovsky, who missed two games due to an ankle injury, rotated into the morning's drills, but Head Coach Pat Quinn later said that he will not play in the game. On the other hand, fellow defenceman Steve Staios is recovered from the knee injury he suffered Tuesday night vs. Phoenix.

"Looks like Steve's okay but I don't think Visnovsky's quite up to snuff today, although he skated alright," Quinn said.

With Visnovsky nearing return, the Oilers are as healthy as they have been all season. But without star forward
Ales Hemsky and top goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, the club continues to be challenged at both ends of the ice.

"To have that healthy lineup is something we haven't had all year long, and we won't as long as we've lost Hemsky and we're still waiting on Khabibulin's information," Quinn said. "The other two, (Marc) Pouliot and (Mike) Comrie, are still quite a ways away, although Pouliot might get to practice with us in the next day or so."

Pouliot has missed the entire season so far due to a sports hernia, while Comrie has been battling mono since November 18.

Dubnyk gets the start

After starting seven consecutive games, goalie
Jeff Deslauriers will get a break tonight when Devan Dubnyk gets the start in net. In his first career NHL start December 21 vs. St Louis, Dubnyk allowed seven goals on 26 shots, a game he says didn't go "how I'd imagined it."

"We made him nervous too," Quinn admitted. "That night we didn't start well -- it was probably our worst outing. We didn't even do what we wanted to accomlish: we wanted to give Dubnyk a game and Deslauriers a rest, and I'm sure Deslauriers was just sitting on the bench thinking 'Oh no, I've gotta go back in there.'

"But we're comfortable and ready to go. Dubnyk looks to be by those first game jitters and hopefully we start better in front of him."

"That game's done. It's good to get the first one out of the way," Dubnyk added "I feel fine and I'm excited to get another chance."


Much like in Tuesday's game vs. Phoenix, the Oilers battled back twice to tie the Blue Jackets Thursday night, but when the visitors took a two-goal lead, the home team ran out of time. Two late powerplays and an empty net couldn't push the game into sudden death, and the Oilers finished 60 minutes with a 4-2 loss.

Fernando Pisani and Sam Gagner scored Edmonton's two goals, while Devan Dubnyk stopped 25 shots in his second career NHL start.
Author: Jen Sharpe |
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