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THE TEAM TODAY: Shinny Shuffle

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers


After skating away with a single point on the back of a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche one night ago, the Oilers returned to Rexall Place Friday morning for an upbeat practice to help quell the negative vibes surrounding the team’s fifth consecutive loss.

The team took to the ice at noon with smiles and an energetic attitude as a series of drills were completed in the session’s opening 15-minutes. After engaging the players with tactics designed to test precision passing and playmaking, Head Coach Tom Renney politely ordered his players to one end of the rink to begin a cross-ice three-on-three shinny game.

Sam Gagner, who has now recorded 13 points in his last 15 games after tallying another assist against the Avalanche, says that the different approach was good for the collective mentality of the players.

"We want to keep a loose atmosphere in here," Gagner said. "We felt like we battled pretty hard last night and could have come out with the win. At the end of the day, it's about winning and we want to stay focused and stay on the job. But I think part of turning this around is about being positive and making sure we're focusing on the right things."

"Today was a good day for that and hopefully we can build off it."

Although today’s practice provided both a mental and physical break, Gagner was keen to explain the workmanlike attitude being shown by the team in the midst of the current five-game losing streak.

"I think [Head Coach Tom Renney] understands that we're not losing because we're not trying. It's not a case of that. I think everyone is pushing themselves in here and focusing on doing the right things, and Tom's doing a great job of giving us the resources to try and help us get better."

"We feel like we've played some good hockey and we haven't been fortunate to come out with wins, but we're going to continue to push forward here and continue to try and get better and things are going to turn around."

"Guys want to win for him," Gagner said of his coach.


Compounding the frustration of a five-game losing streak is the fact that the team is currently experiencing a myriad of injuries, particularly on the backend.

With Ryan Whitney’s injury expected to be long-term, Tom Gilbert had assumed control of the defence corps. Last night, Gilbert played 26:27 but was noticeably absent from the overtime period. As such, Gilbert’s absence carried over into today as the 27-year old blueliner was not present for this afternoon’s skate.

Head Coach Tom Renney
"Today is basically a maintenance day for him," explained Renney. "He was just out of gas and he has a couple of things that are nagging and that we thought we'd take care of as we could. We got ourselves back in the hockey game. We felt that we had a good enough roll going where we could do that at Tom's expense, quite honestly."

While Gilbert took the afternoon off to recover, defenceman Jim Vandermeer continued his road to recovery as he heals from a nagging ankle injury. In addition to participating in the full practice, Vandermeer skated for 30-minutes prior with Renney as the two pushed his ankle and conditioning levels through some intense skating drills.

"Every day it's getting better. It's something that we'll take an extra game here and there to make sure I'm back in for the rest of the year. Ankles are kind of funny -- you can kind of tweak them real easy. We're just trying to be real careful with it."

"I don't think it takes a whole lot of time, but I think you definitely need a couple of full practices where everybody's going full speed. Right now, I've had a couple of full practices and we'll just take it a day at a time."

Regardless of the ongoing injury battle, Renney remains firm in his approach to dealing with the adversity.

"Injuries are a part of the game. This is a full-body contact sport and those things are going to happen. If we felt otherwise, then we probably shouldn't be in this game as coaches or players."

While the injury situation has certainly created voids, it has also opened the window of opportunity. Specifically, rookie Jeff Petry looks poised to take on a greater role with absence of Whitney and the uncertainly of Gilbert’s status for tomorrow night.

Jeff Petry
"It's never good when somebody goes down, especially a player like Whitney, but it's a great opportunity for me to step in and get some games in and hopefully succeed," said Petry.

"The learning process is quick. It's kind of similar to the systems that we're running down in Oklahoma; but definitely the speed and the depth of each team is a difference. It's been great just learning from the coaches and picking guys like Strudwick and Whitney's brains."

Like any young player making his NHL debut, Petry admits that there were some early nerves associated with his first game. Since then, however, they seem to have subsided.

"They've definitely settled from the game-to-game. I felt a lot more comfortable on the ice yesterday and I think each game is going to continue to go away."


The Oilers will be getting some additional help on the blueline with the uncertainly regarding Tom Gilbert's status for tomorrow night. Later in the day, it was announced that defenceman Shawn Belle had been recalled from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons.


After watching Thursday night’s game from the press box at Rexall Place, Linus Omark was sent down to the Oklahoma City Barons this morning.

As the bench boss described, the decision had a lot to do with circumstances considering the injury shuffle.

"He's one of those guys that can go. I don't have many of them, obviously," Renney explained.

"The most important thing under circumstances like this is that guy has certainly proven that he can play in this league. What we want him to be able to do is do that over the long haul, naturally. That's up to us to provide that opportunity, but it's also up to him to make sure that he garners that chance. He's done a good job here and I don't think we've seen the last of him."

Renney further commented on the relationship between the organization and their talented prospect, as the pair continues to work on an open line of communication.

"He certainly took it as a professional and as an Oiler -- and as a guy that cares about this organization. I think the dialogue that we had made it very clear that we care about him, too."

"Often times when you're sent to the minors or whatever, you don't get an opportunity to make sure that's in place; that there's a genuine care and appreciation for what a guy's all about and what he's trying to do. Certainly today we were able to describe that to him and I think that helped things."


With the provincial rival Calgary Flames set to visit Rexall Place tomorrow night, the Oilers hope the infusion of energy in the first game of 2011 will help to set a new bar and leave the losing streak in the old calendar.

"You just keep working. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to accept our circumstances as they are. You can overcome a lot of things when you work hard. I think the big thing for us is that we've done that."

"What we've got to do is string three periods of hockey together to get wins."


In the latest edition of our fan question series, Jeff of Winnipeg submitted a question for Taylor Hall.

JEFF: "How have you found the travel schedule this year compared to what your travel was like playing in junior in the OHL last season?"

Taylor Hall
TAYLOR: "It's a little different and little more extended. You're on the road for 12 days at a time, and then you're at home a lot. It's tough playing on the road, but it's been a lot of fun going to cities like Chicago and New York and LA. It's been really cool.

The plane's awesome. The only thing we don't have is to be able to use your phones to text and stuff. It's certainly been nice. It's a lot better having the bus in junior and the eight hour rides on a cramped bus. "

Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.

Author: Ryan Dittrick |, with files from Jen Sharpe & Tom Gazzola



The Oilers started their final game-day of 2010 with morning skate at Rexall Place. After skipping Wednesday's practice, defenceman Jim Vandermeer participated in the drills but is not ready to participate in the match.

Forwards Linus Omark, Jean-Francois Jacques, and Steve MacIntyre will also watch from the press box as healthy scratches. To fill the forward gaps, Zack Stortini will return to action, skating with Ryan Jones and Colin Fraser.

"It's great to be back in the line-up," Stortini said. "You always hate sitting out, and I'll just try to make the most of this opportunity."

Gilbert Brule has also recovered from the flu and will be paired with Ryan O'Marra and Magnus Paajarvi.

"I had a couple of days of sickness the first two days and after that I was just wiped out basically, dehydrated, so I had to get some fluids back in me," Brule explained.


Although Brule has come off the injured reserve, the spot was quickly filled by defenceman Ryan Whitney, who injured his ankle Tuesday night vs. Buffalo.

"It was a pivot," he recalled. "I just felt something kind of almost pop a little bit. It was an innocent play. I think I might have maybe caught a rut."

Unfortunately, it will take two weeks before a proper assessment can be done on the injury, Whitney explained.

"I had obviously an MRI yesterday and there's some damage obviously in my ankle," he said. "Talking to the ankle specialist last night, I've got to wait about two weeks just to see swelling to go down. There's so much inflammation, he really can't say for sure yet what's going on."

Head coach Tom Renney said "only time will tell" how the team adapts to the absence of its leading scorer, but that adaptation must begin immediately.

"We can't sit back feeling sorry for ourselves under these circumstances," he said. "We just have to understand it as game-on and go play hard for a teammate."


The Oilers will be looking to the rest of their defensive corps to step up in Whitney's absence, but Renney admits he's unsure who can match the veteran's contributions, especially on the power-play.

"At this point in time, after having spoken about it last night and again this morning, we're not sure exactly who that might be and whether or not we've got anyone capable of that, quite honestly," he said candidly.

"At this point in time, we think we've got some pieces to move around to give us some success. We brought a young guy (Jeff Petry) up from Oklahoma City that I think will give us a chance to have a look at him on the power-play as well, so we'll see what we've got."

Although Petry has only one NHL game on his resume, Renney said he wouldn't hesitate to test him in key situations.

"Bring him in, play him -- that's what he's here for. We're not going to protect guys from playing hockey. That's what they've been doing all their lives.

"It's a tough situation, we all get that, but it's an opportunity now to look at our defencemen, for example, in the organization. And Pete, it's a good opportunity for him to have a look at it, and we'll just see if he can contribute on our power-play and how he does on our penalty-kill and what type of a hockey player he is and how close he is to being a regular NHLer," Renney said.

Taylor Hall hopes the team responds well to Whitney's absence, as they did earlier in this month when Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky were both out of the line-up due to injury.

"It's unfortunate that we've had some injuries this year with Hemmer, Horc and now Whits," the rookie said. "We're not sure how long it is or what the circumstances are, but we have to play well. We did play well when Hemmer and Horc were out, we had a good streak going there, and we've got to kind of fight through it."


The fight starts tonight as the Oilers host the Avalanche. Renney is ready for an exciting match.

"They're an energetic team, they certainly believe in their game plan, they play the game on their toes, they're relentless, they don't quit by any stretch, and they're a team that really believes in who and what they're all about," the coach said.

"We have to be very, very good defensively, we need all hands on deck. We have a back end that's gotten a little bit younger again and our forwards need to step up and help them with that. That said, transition is paramount in this league for the teams that are very successful, and we hope to be able to capitalize on that."

After Nikolai Khabibulin manned the pipes for the past two games, Devan Dubnyk gets the start tonight. He comes off a 27-save performance in Los Angeles a week ago that resulted in a 3-2 shootout loss.


After allowing three goals in the game's first 15 minutes, the Oilers pulled up their bootstraps and scored three of their own to force extra time vs. the Avalanche. An exciting overtime whipped fans into a frenzy, but Colorado goalie Craig Anderson silenced the throng by stonewalling Oilers snipers in the shootout. With the lone shootout goal, Milan Hejduk secured a 4-3 victory for the Avs.

Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky, and Andrew Cogliano crafted the Oilers comeback attempt with goals, while Devan Dubnyk made 24 saves to help secure the single point.

Author: Jen Sharpe |, with files from Tom Gazzola & Bob Stauffer



The Oilers got back to business Wednesday morning with practice at Rexall Place. Three players were absent from the on-ice activity: Shawn Horcoff (injured knee), defenceman Jim Vandermeer (ankle), and fellow blueliner Ryan Whitney.

Whitney is the most-recent addition to the team's injured list, having suffered a right ankle injury early in Tuesday's game vs. Buffalo.

"He should have had his MRI by now, I think, but we won't know until mid-afternoon, I'm sure, as to the results of that," head coach Tom Renney later stated.

Whitney is Edmonton's leading scorer with 27 points and is second among NHL defencemen in assists with 25. Players and coaches agreed his contributions will be missed.

"We're going to miss a lot of things out of him," Tom Gilbert said. "He's a really patient guy, he slows the play down really well, and that first pass is great -- he's great on the power-play."

Renney hopes his other blueliners step up and fill the gap.

"That's an opportunity for a group of guys to get it done, and that's not such a bad thing," he said. "It's an opportunity for us as a group of defencemen to share the workload, to understand the value of quick puck movement ourselves, understand the value of offensive zone play and where, when and how to put the puck where it needs to go.

"Those are things that they all have to learn and understand anyway and get better at, so this just helps maybe accelerate that whole process."


Whitney's absence isn't the only change Oilers fans will see in Thursday's game vs. Colorado: forward Gilbert Brule, who has missed the past four games due to the flu, will return to the fold, while rookie Linus Omark is expected to be a healthy scratch.

As such, the lines at practice were as follows:

Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
Dustin Penner - Andrew Cogliano - Ales Hemsky
Magnus Paajarvi - Ryan O'Marra - Gilbert Brule
Ryan Jones - Colin Fraser - Zack Stortini

Brule said he's "very happy to be back in the line-up" and wants to make an impact in his return.

"I've just got to have a good game next game and step it up," he said. "I'm going to have to be flying, I'm going to have to be checking, hitting, and just playing positionally-sound."

As for Omark, Renney hopes the highly-hyped Swedish winger will learn from the experience of watching from the press box.

This is not purgatory -- it's the development of a young player," Renney explained. "That's just an opportunity for him to watch and sort of gauge for himself what it is we're trying to do, based on our game plan against Colorado, and we'll have a good talk about it the next morning.

"(He's) a player who loves the puck and doesn't want to relinquish that, who wants to manufacture more than what the circumstance will allow, and that's noble but it's also wrong," he continued. "Skilled guys don't like giving the puck up, and I get that."

With Hemsky's return Tuesday and Brule's return Thursday, the Oilers are overflowing with forwards. Judging by practice, first-year center O'Marra will stay in, while Jean-Francois Jacques and Steve MacIntyre will join Omark in the press box. Renney isn't yet sure how he'll balance the roster as the homestand continues.

"We'll take this a game at a time," he said. "If we win tomorrow night and everybody's extraordinary, then [Omark] might have a little more difficulty getting in, but that's speculation and I'm not going to go there."


Edmonton's next test -- and final game of 2010 -- is Thursday, December 30 vs. Colorado. Single and standing tickets are available.


Author: Jen Sharpe |, with files from Ryan Dittrick & Tom Gazzola


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