Finally, after four days of non-game action in the books, it feels as though the wheels of the hockey season are in motion once again.
Just prior to the team’s departure to San Jose, the Oilers participated in a 45-minute skate at the Leduc Recreation Centre; one final tune-up as Edmonton looks to carry over the momentum gained from a strong finish to the six-game homestand.
Waiting to return to the game routine was painful for some.
"Brutal," said Head Coach Tom Renney of the extended layoff.
"I guess we'll know tomorrow night. The guys get a chance to sort of regroup a little bit and kind of have some Christmas fun. That's all good, there's nothing wrong with that at all. The bottom line is that there are a number of days there where you're just not playing."
"As everyone here understands, we're certainly a work in progress and any time we don't get a chance to work at it through playing, that's one opportunity missed. I'm glad we're getting back on the bike here." PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
While the head coach was more vocal in his concerns of the lengthy break, forward Sam Gagner
expressed a different take on the matter. The 21-year old centre believes the extra practice time may help to correct bad habits and refine the positives.
"I feel like the last couple days of practice have been good, and we're looking forward to going on this road trip here."
"We've had a good few days of practice here where we've gone over a lot of the things that are going to make us successful going forward. If you look at the Columbus game, we could have just as easily been down after the first period. Because of that, we worked a lot on our defensive game and making sure we're breaking the puck out properly, getting the puck moving, and keeping the puck in their end." BATTLE READY
The Oilers are certainly not expecting an easy outing against the ferocious and offensively dynamic Sharks attack. With some extra time to assemble game-plans and structured system play, players and coaches alike are ready for the test.
"You've got to have a good start," said defenceman Ryan Whitney
. "It seems like every time there, they get like 15-20 shots in the first period and they come out hard. It's on us to get pucks in deep and be able to not give them momentum in the first period. "
Fellow defenceman Theo Peckham
agreed, and further added that simplicity and discipline are key.
"When you go into places like that, the best thing is to keep it simple. When we went out east, that's why we were having a lot of success. We were keeping it simple, getting pucks deep. We weren't trying to beat guys one-on-one, so that's definitely something we've got to focus on. "
"The best penalty kill is not taking penalties. If we stay out of the box, I think we should have some success against them. We don't want to get their top powerplay line out there. Obviously with Thornton and Heatley and guys like that, they've got a lot guys who can put the puck in the net."
Head Coach Tom Renney believes the upcoming challenge will be an excellent test for his club.
"San Jose's a very good team. It's a great place to play. It's a great energetic building and they'll come hard, so this will be really good for us."
"Don't hand the puck over to them. They like it when you give it to them and we've accommodated them so far. I think the bottom line is to really manage the puck appropriately, keep our shifts short so we can keep the energy level high, and attack them as much as we can and force a real good team to have to maybe spend more time in their own end than they want to." GROWING FAMILIARITY
The Oilers begin this pre-holiday road trip with a 6-3-1 record in the team’s last ten contests. One of the leading reasons for this impressive run has been the steady dose of offensive production from Sam Gagner
. Since Captain Shawn Horcoff
went down with a knee injury, Gagner has stepped up in the role between Taylor Hall
and Jordan Eberle
. Quite simply, he’s done an admirable job in relief.
Gagner has now recorded ten points in his last ten games, as he continues to improve and develop chemistry with his linemates.
"I feel like it's getting better," Gagner said of the trio’s growth. "The first couple games there, I think we were kind of getting used to each other and the way we play. All three of us like to carry the puck and have the puck on our stick, and the biggest thing for us is making sure we're always supporting each other and giving the puck up to get it back. We've been doing that the last little while here and getting better. "
"I just want to keep improving with them."
Gagner also spoke of his leadership role with the absence of veterans Shawn Horcoff
and Ales Hemsky
"I don't want to change much. At the end of the day, I just want to continue to keep improving. I feel that we've got a good team here and we're going to have a good team in the future. I think as a group, that's been our mindset all year -- to continue to get better."
Gagner isn’t the only Oiler who’s been recently enjoying a solid run of production and chemistry with his linemates. Defenceman Ryan Whitney
is coming off a two-point, plus-four outing against the Columbus Blue Jackets this past Thursday.
Whitney has had a number of defensive partners this season due to his calming influence and high skill level. The dynamic blueliner says that he can play with anyone, and is currently enjoying his time with veteran Jason Strudwick.
"It's been good. We're pretty vocal out there. The more you talk, the more it helps make a difference -- knowing where you are and knowing how much time you have with the puck. He's played 600 games, so he knows what it takes to make it easy on your partner."
"His first game back in a while, I just tried to keep it simple. Now that he's getting into more of a rhythm, you're able to kind of jump up into the play and maybe leave him back a little bit more. It depends on the situation of the game, the score and things like that."
"I feel good with him," Whitney concluded. BRULE ABSENT
Gilbert Brule was notably absent from this morning’s practice, as Renney later confirmed an illness had sidelined him for the time being.
"Early this morning, we got word that he was a little under the weather, so we've tried to keep him away from the troops. We'll see how he's doing in a few hours and take it from there."
It’s still unclear at this time whether or not Brule will join the team on its two-game swing this week.