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The Team Today: Practice Notes

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers


The Oilers took to the ice at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park Monday morning, and all but two players were present. Gilbert Brule and Sheldon Souray were both missing in action, and Head Coach Pat Quinn said illness and recuperation were the reasons for their absences.

"Brule was under the weather this morning, and he was told stay home," Quinn explained. "And Sheldon, he's taking another day. He's got a little bit of a problem with his back and so he took another day today and hopefully we see what he's like when he comes to the rink tomorrow."


While the Oilers are hoping to see Souray in action vs. the Kings, the team is also counting on the return of another defenceman, Denis Grebeshkov.

After missing 13 games due to a knee injury suffered a month ago in Atlanta, Grebeshkov has been close to full recovery for nearly a week. Quinn said Tuesday should be the day.

"He might have been ready in St. Louis to give it a try. Souray was maybe not going to play that night and then decided he was ready to play, so we held Denis for another day. He has two more practices in so we think he's ready and we want to get him in (against the Kings)."


Continuing on the injury updates, Quinn said he had no new information on Mike Comrie's recovery from mono but that Nikolai Khabibulin's back injury is making progress.

"Apparently he had a good day two days ago in his workouts, although he's still not ready to step on the ice at this point."

Author: Jen Sharpe |


After enjoying a well-deserved day off Saturday, the Oilers returned to the ice Sunday morning at River Cree arena. The team skated for over an hour, and thanks to the light mood around the team, a handful of players -- including Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner, and Ryan Potulny -- stayed on to test call-up Bryan Pitton and practice deflecting the puck into the net.

After practice, Gagner said that despite the lighthearted practice, the team is focused on translating their recent road success into a home win Tuesday night.

"To win five in a row is obviously a pretty good feeling but with the position we're in, we can't really rest on our laurels at this point," he said. "We've got to continue to push forward. The first game of the homestead is going to be a big one for us, so we're excited for the challenge and will hopefully get off to a good start."

When asked if the team's game plan will shift at Rexall Place, Gagner said that isn't the case.

"We try to bring the same type of game plan to every game and same type of intensity. I think we're just kind of in a bit of a groove there where we weren't really worried about what happened and just went out and played."


Just going out and playing with the Oilers isn't something goaltender Bryan Pitton has yet experienced, but he employed the same strategy at today's practice.

On Saturday, the Oilers temporally reassigned back-up Devan Dubnyk to Springfield so he could get some playing time with the Falcons. In order to keep two goalies with the team for practices, the team thus recalled Pitton from the ECHL's Stockton Thunder.

Oilers goaltending coach Frederic Chabot tests call-up Bryan Pitton at the tail end of practice.
"We just finished a game in Alaska, and we ended up beating them 6-4, and as we were celebrating in the crease there, the coach came over to me and said 'Hey Pitts, you're going to Edmonton.' So it was pretty neat," the young goalie said. "Once I got back to the room, all the guys found out and gave me hugs and congratulations."

"Anytime you get called up to an NHL team, it's your dream to play here one day, so it's nice to get a little bit of action to see what it's like," Pitton continued. "I was a little afraid coming in here, a little nervous, but [the guys] were all really nice to me."


While Pitton quickly adjusted to the NHL game Sunday morning, he also had to adjust to Edmonton's -35C temperatures. Stockton is located in central California, but his trip to Alaska with the Thunder gave him a taste of what Alberta would hold.

"It is actually a lot colder here -- I was surprised," he said with a smile. "I never knew what the winters here in Edmonton could be like, but man, I thought Alaska was cold when I got up there. I was complaining, but this is something else."

With three seasons experience with the Oilers, Gagner wasn't fazed by forecast.

"It's a little chilly, but it's something you get used to having been here for a couple of years. I guess it's hockey weather."

Author: Jen Sharpe |


The Oilers rolled into St. Louis very early Thursday morning and thus didn't test out the Blues practice facility until 12:30pm. Not surprisingly, the mood on the ice and in the locker room has vastly improved since the start of the road trip, and everyone is feeling the good vibes.

Although they both required some recuperation and didn't take to the ice Thursday, Shawn Horcoff and Tom Gilbert absorbed the team's happy atmosphere and both credited confidence for the inspiring turnaround.

"Everyone's got confidence to go out there and make plays and do things knowing that guys are going to be there to back them up, be in the right position," Gilbert said. "We're finding ways to win which is the big difference than in the beginning of the year. We're holding teams off. We're just pushing a full 60 minutes . . . It makes coming to the rink -- practices, games, anything -- just that much better."

Horcoff agrees.

"I think the confidence is high with the guys and when you're winning games, it makes for a fun atmosphere. We have one more game left on the trip and we'd love to finish it off the right way," the centre said.

"We want to keep this going as long as we can. I think that's what good teams are able to do -- ride their streaks when they're winning games and get the most points out of those streaks as possible. For us, the situation we're in, we need the points, and we'd love to finish off this trip with a win in St. Louis tomorrow."


Horcoff and Gilbert were also quick to acknowledge how their teammates have risen to so many challenges so early in the season.

"There's big roles to fill, in (Ales) Hemsky and (Mike) Comrie, and then you've got a goaltender (Jeff Deslauriers) that hasn't had a lot of games and now he's got enough confidence to go out there and try to make plays with the puck, and he's making those big saves to keep us in games and hold teams off," Gilbert said. "So all-round, our team play has been great and we're getting a lot of help out of guys from the forward spot, D spot and goaltending."

With Zack Stortini's Gordie Howe hat trick still fresh in the Oilers' minds, Horcoff gave a lot of credit to #46 and his linemates Ryan Stone and Robert Nilsson.

"There's not much that they're not doing," he said. "We're telling them as much as we can that they should be proud of themselves. They're working extremely hard and they're giving us big minutes and big plays and a big lift."


After enjoying +30C temps in Tampa, the Oilers are gradually reacquainting themselves with winter weather. The players and staff will benefit from two days of near-freezing temperatures in St. Louis before dropping another 30 degrees when they return home to Edmonton this weekend.

Oilers video producer Steve Taylor said the time in Missouri should prevent "shock to our systems."

An interesting tactic, but Oilers head office staff are skeptical.

Author: Jen Sharpe |, with files from Steve Taylor & Bob Stauffer


On the heels of Monday's shootout victory in Fort Lauderdale, the Oilers travelled up-state for Tuesday's practice in Tampa Bay.

The team skated for an hour, but a handful of players stayed on late, including Denis Grebeshkov. The Oilers defenceman has been sidelined with knee injury since November 15th but is days away from returning to the line-up.

It all just depends on my conditioning right now," Grebeshkov said after leaving the ice. "My best guess is Friday but we'll see.

"My knee feels alright. It's not bothering me right now, so I guess I have to get back in shape and I'll be ready to play . . . It's pretty amazing how much you lose it in three weeks, but I hope it's not going to take a while for me to get back."

Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, who is in Tampa Bay with the team, is looking forward to the reunion of his club's defensive line. "It'll be nice to see Grebeshkov come back and actually see what our defence is supposed to look like," Tambellini said.


With Grebeshkov's return imminent, the Oilers are continuing to rebound from the injuries and illness that plagued them throughout October and early November. Although the depleted line-up significantly challenged the club, Tambellini said it also created opportunities for other players to shine.

"Ales is out, Nik is out, but the half-full answer is that it presents opportunity -- it presents opportunity to people we've talked about giving a chance to," Tambellini said. "They've maybe demanded a chance, feel they're not being used properly. There's opportunity here for people to show maybe they're pushing more than what you thought for that extra ice time, for special team, for more five-on-five in the last two minutes of play."

One player Tambellini may be referring to is Dustin Penner, who leads the team with 31 points and is only six points shy of last season's total.

"I think (Gilbert) Brule, (Dustin) Penner & (Sam) Gagner have done a nice job more than not of generating good things. Dustin's been there pretty much the season so far, and I like the chemistry I've seen between Brule and Penner on this part of the road trip for sure."

Tambellini doesn't say the team is out of the woods, but he does hope that the roughest road is behind them.

"I don't know if you ever get a chance to see for any type of longevity of your team being totally healthy, but at least we're getting close."


Nikolai Khabibulin
The Oilers may be getting close to healthy, but for at least one player, the journey has been slow.

Nikolai Khabibulin has been suffering from a tweaked back since November 21st, and after consulting with the team's Head Athletic Therapist, Ken Lowe, Tambellini confirmed that the goalie is "maybe 25% better"

"He's taken some treatment with our doctors back in Edmonton," the GM explained. "[He] really hasn't got to the point yet where we can say he's 100% ready to go start the kind of training needed to play at this level. So I guess we'll know better after a week where he's at, but at this point I'd say it's kind of slow."


The Oilers play the Lightning Wednesday, December 9th and the only spot you'll be able to watch the game is right here on

Author: Jen Sharpe |
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