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THE TEAM TODAY: Sharpening Up

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers


Edmonton, AB - Amid news that the NHL would be realigning for the 2012-13 season, the Oilers continued on, business as usual Tuesday morning as the orange and blue assembled for a one-hour practice at Rexall Place.

In preparation for tomorrow's game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Oilers spent the bulk of the morning session working on special teams; power-play, penalty kill and even-strength play all received equal attention, as the home town club searches for a rebound outing in tomorrow's clash.

Having endured a tough stretch in which the Oilers played six games in nine days (amassing a 2-3-1 record in the process), the men in the locker room were thrilled to have gotten the appropriate practice time to help correct lingering issues.

"We need to get back to playing with good habits, which always starts in practice," said Ladislav Smid, who's notched a pair of goals and as many assists in 27 games in 2011-12. "In the last couple weeks, we haven't had the time to practice since the schedule has been really busy."

Head Coach Tom Renney didn't want to make excuses for the Oilers' less-than-desired nine-game run, but did add that the challenges associated with a troubling schedule are very real: "In my mind it is."

"[The schedule has] had a lot to do with it," he explained. "I think it's kicked the crap out of us; and I think it's kicked the crap out of a young team, and we've got to overcome that. One of the best ways to do that is to not talk about it."


Earlier in the season when Nikolai Khabibulin was sporting a goals-against average under one, and his save percentage rocketed above anyone else's, the Oilers started the campaign with a strong 9-3-1 record. The Oilers have since gone 4-8-1, giving up 39 goals in the team's nine losses for an average of 4.33 per game.

"I think we haven't been following the system the way we'd like," Smid said. "We have problems that we need to work through as a unit. It's good that we've had some practice time; a couple straight days we've worked with some one-on-one battles and D zone work, so I think it's going to help us."

23-year-old Jeff Petry blocked a shot in Saturday’s Battle of Alberta and missed yesterday’s practice, but will available for tomorrow’s matchup vs. Carolina: "The swelling has gone down and I could get my boot on, so it’s all good." He also agreed with Smid’s own-zone assessment.

"I think we need to get back to having better communication out there," he said. "We've gotten away from that a little bit. We need to sharpen up with our one-on-one battles, stick our guys and not let them drive to the net. Communication will help there and I'm sure we can clean it up.

"It's huge when you're going back to the puck and your partner's talking to you, so you know where he is and where the outlet is," Petry added. "We've got a lot of speed and skill up front, so we want to make sure we're getting it up; and if the pass isn't there, we've got to burst up to the line and chip it down deep so we can start to wear on the other team."


It was announced today that former NHL player Derek Boogaard, 28, who died from a drug overdose in May had been dealing with a chronic brain disease linked to concussions.

Veteran rearguard Andy Sutton, who's patrolled the blueline for 14 NHL seasons, commented on the NHL's desire to eliminate headshots and prevent concussions across the board.

"He was a tough guy for a long time," he said about Boogaard and the role he played. "It was his path and I'm sure my brain doesn't look too good either. You're always thinking about it. You try to manage it as best you can, but this is the career we choose.

"It's the progression of our game," he added. "The game is still great, it's faster than it's ever been. I think the skill level is higher than it's ever been, too, and if we can do our best to protect the players, that's the best thing in the long run."

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick



Edmonton, AB - Following a 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames over the weekend, the Oilers returned to Rexall Place for a one-hour, 11:00am practice as the team searches for answers amid a disappointing 4-5-1 stretch.

Head Coach Tom Renney pushed the pace with a back-to-basics approach, running numerous line rushes intended to work up a sweat and encourage his personnel to engage with hard-nosed board play.

With an extra day in between games (Wednesday vs. Carolina), the added practice time is a welcomed addition; and although the orange and blue's struggling power-play is need of attention, the bench boss is preaching patience.

That was still the day's hot topic, mind you. The Oilers went 0-for-6 with the man-advantage vs. Calgary, generating only a single shot on goal in 12 minutes on the PP. Although the Oilers came into Saturday's contest fourth in the NHL with a 21.6-percent success rate, opportunities (and points in the standings) were squandered.

"Teams look at tapes and they're going to take away our options," said Eric Belanger, who's been manning the point on the team's second unit. "We have to make sure we take shots and things will start to open up. It's going to happen when we go through games when we're struggling, so we have to make sure we don't get mad at ourselves.

"Everybody has to be on the same page," he added. "We have to [outnumber] them in the corners to get pucks back, and I think that's where my speed and vision can help."

Belanger has been pillar in the Oilers' power-play plans, notching four assists on the season, as he's been counted upon to provide a blistering shot to help generate scoring chances.

That hasn't happened, and so No. 20's up-a-man presence is now being questioned.

"I've played on the power-play throughout my whole career, although being on the point is a little different," Belanger explained. "I love playing there; you can see the ice well and you've got so many options to shoot or distribute the puck."

Belanger is still without a goal 27 games in, which has only compounded the veteran's disappointment. Even so, he's dedicated to working through his struggles by "sticking with it."

"I went through a streak last year, too," he said. "It wasn't at the beginning of the year; but it seems like it's worse when it's happening then. But that being said, there are so many things that I need to do to help the team out there, so I'm making sure I'm continuing to do those things and the goals will come."

Renney still sees value in the 33-year-old's skill-set when it comes to providing a threat on the man-advantage. Still, there's some improvement to be made, especially since he continues to sport a donut in the goal column.

"Timing, moving into the one-timer [need to improve]," the coach said. "Pulling people out and then distributing the puck from there and then creeping back into that one-time location.

"I think his experience under the circumstances, and the most important thing of all, is that he's got a good shot when you get ahold of it."

Another veteran, Ryan Whitney, who's now played in 10 games this season, added that the power-play is a correctable issue. Doing so, however, will require a committed 20-man effort to conquer the opponent's counteracting game plan.

"[Calgary] pressured really hard and I don't think we were really ready for that," he said. "Tomorrow we'll probably work on it. I'm sure teams now are going to see what Calgary did and pressure us harder than other teams have been, because we really didn't prove ourselves on Saturday.

"If you support the puck when teams pressure, you can almost have a better power-play if you're moving it quick. I'm sure it will be better next time it happens."


Anton Lander (hand) skated again today and remarked in his post-practice interview that he'll be ready to play on Wednesday. With Ryan O'Marra being sent down to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons during practice, it appears as though No. 57 will be slotted back in.

Ben Eager also skated and has shown no ill-effects of a lingering back issue that has kept him out of the lineup for the past three games. Upon his return, Renney wants to see a more vigorous impact from the nine-year NHL veteran.

"The big thing for Ben is that he's a big, strong player that has to add that element to our lineup and help protect his teammates in the way that he can; create an advantage for us, intimidate with his size, strength and checking ability.

"We need more blue-paint activity and I think he can help us with that, too."

Shawn Horcoff, Jeff Petry and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were also absent at today's practice. Renney described it as a "maintenance day" for all.

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick



1. Jarome Iginla - CGY
2. Sam Gagner - EDM
3. Rene Bourque - CGY
The Oilers' record drops to 13-11-3 as the team remains in 10th place in the NHL's Western Conference (for the time-being).
The Oilers' six-game homestand continues on Wednesday when the Carolina Hurricanes visit Rexall Place. Game time is 7:30 p.m. MT and it can be seen on TSN.
The Calgary Flames scored three goals in the third period, including an empty-netter by Olli Jokinen to burn the Oilers 5-3 Saturday night at Rexall Place.

Lennart Petrell, Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored for the Oilers, while Nikolai Khabibuiln stopped 27 shots in the loss.


Edmonton, AB - I guess you could say there's some added incentive this time around. As the Oilers embark on the second night of a back-to-back set, the team opted to forego the morning skate, holding an 11:00am meeting before addressing the media at Rexall Place.

Nikolai Khabibulin is slated to get his 18th start of the season tonight, looking to improve on his 9-5-3 record, 1.88 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

As the Oilers and Flames prepare to battle in the season's second installment of the Battle of Alberta, the home side's locker room intends to silence critics.

Prior to the season at a Calgary event, Flames GM Jay Feaster blasted the Oilers' rebuilding plans with a stern comment that, it appears, has rattled the orange and blue; not to a dangerous degree, however:

"They're wandering the desert. And they're no closer to getting out than they were 10 years ago." - September, 2011

Words can hurt. Or motivate.

"I'm aware of it," said defenceman Ryan Whitney, regarding Calgary's early-season struggle (recording a 10-12-2 record and sitting 13th in the West). "I'm also aware of when Feaster took a shot at us at the beginning of the year. It's a pretty easy game to get up for because of the way he talked about us, and how poorly we've been doing the last couple years.

"It seems like the tide's starting to turn a little bit."

Ryan Jones, who recorded a hat trick in last night's third-period outburst, agreed with his teammate's assessment but was mum in details.

"I did see them," he said of Feaster's lambasting. "Sports are emotional and sometimes people say things that they really don't mean to say, and they get taken out of context. I'm not sure if that's what happened with those comments, but it's hard for me to say.

"Dot dot dot."

Head Coach Tom Renney was aware of his competitor's comments, too, but backed Jones' statement of hockey mending an emotional backdrop.

"Jay's a good guy," he said. "He's a pro, he's doing his job. We haven't talked brought it up at all [in the locker room, as group]."


Who's that guy named Ryan Jones? He scored three goals last night, netting a hat trick as the Oilers hemmed the Blue Jackets by a commanding 6-3 score. The 27-year-old recorded 18 goals in 81 games last year, but is already at the midway mark to that total this season, a mere 26 games in.

All told, he's registered 14 points in 2011-12 and showing no signs of slowing down.

"It was big," he said of the Oilers' come-from-behind win last night. "Columbus is a hard-working team that really took advantage of some mistakes that we were making throughout the game; but we went out in the third, played hard and played the game we knew we could play, and got the win."

"I'm continuing to do what got me success last year," Jones added about his impressive three-goal outing last night and nine-goal season total. "I've said it all along: when you go to the net, you're going to score goals. It's a bit of a lost art in the NHL these days, but the guys that do it well continue to score."

On the backend, Whitney has now played in nine games this season, posting one assist and a -2 rating as he works his way back into the routine. The 28-year-old is eager to put the boots to the visitors tonight, citing last night's late-game surge as a reasonable point of optimism.

"Tonight will be a tougher test, playing back-to-back games against a real desperate team. It's a rivalry, but I think we can beat anyone."

"Our game last night for two periods was a really good practice," Renney added with a smirk. "We had the game in the third period, so we're ready."


Scoring one goal and adding an assist in last night's win, Ales Hemsky had a strong third period that helped propel the Oilers to victory. Buoyed by a hit on Columbus' Fedor Tyutin, the 28-year-old was rolling; but there's still some untapped potential that needs to be reached.

"His shoulders are much stronger than they've been," Renney said. "What he does now have to do is make the decision to shoot. Once he starts to do that and has success, he'll feel much more comfortable with his ability to carry on.

"He really has to understand that he's as capable a shooter as we have."

"It's nice," Hemsky added, recalling the crowd's explosion when he crunched the Blue Jackets. "I can't do it all the time because of my shoulder, but if I can do it, I'll do it."

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick


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