SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers play waiting game

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:26 PM ET

EDMONTON - Allen Iverson would be going out of his mind right now.

Because we’re talking practice, man.

Not the games. Not the games that everyone loves watching and playing. We talkin’ practice.

Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

In a scheduling quirk that comes back to bite them later in the season, the Edmonton Oilers will be spending most of October running drills.

With just six games in a 22-day span, the Oilers have more down time than a city road crew.

They’re not exactly leaning on shovels, head coach Tom Renney is working them hard during the current lull of two games in 10 days, but, like Allen said, we talkin’ practice, man.

“At this time of the year it’s good for the team to get a lot of practice in, get used to each other and get a game plan and systems down,” said defenceman Kurtis Foster. “But you can only practice against each other for so long. You want to get in there and use what we’re learning.

“And I think we’ll be disappointed when it’s later in the year, January, February and March, and we’re playing every second day. That’s when we’ll be wishing they would have mixed a couple of those games into right now.”

Like the six games in 10 day stretch they have in January, or the five games in eight day run in February, or the seven in 13 torture test in early March.

“It’s nice to ease into it,” said Foster. “But, at the same time, when you’re fighting for a playoff spot and you’re playing every night you want that extra day off.”

In the meantime, they’ll try and make the best of all this time between games.

“There are some things we definitely have to get clear in our game and in our systems,” said Andrew Cogliano. “Last game kind of exposed us a bit, so a few days of practice will give us some confidence heading into the next one.

“You want to keep playing and get in the groove a bit, but this can be a good thing. The thing I’m trying to take out of this is chemistry with the linemates. And we’ve done a lot of battling and game-situation drills that will help us.”

You hate to be talking about rust almost three weeks into the season, but Oct. 21 against Minnesota will be just their fifth game in 17 days.

“We have to try and jump in as quick as possible,” said Cogliano. “We don’t want to give other teams a step by being rusty or not ready.”

Tender mercy

The scheduling lull is even worse on the backup goalies. With all the rest time, Nikolai Khabibulin might not need a day off until Oct. 28 against Columbus.

“Certainly the schedule permits him to run with it for a bit,” said head coach Tom Renney.

And it permits Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers to sit.

“It’s one of those situations,” shrugged Dubnyk. “He’s a great goaltender, a big part of our success in the last two games. I’d love to play but it’s great to have him in there, we just have to stay ready.”

Unlike an Olympic year, when a compressed schedule means more work for the relievers, there won’t be a lot of help wanted signs in their near future.

“It’s going to be a bit of a different situation than it was last year,” said Dubnyk. “I got a little spoiled at the end of last year, playing as much as I did. But the role of a backup is to settle in, be a good teammate and wait for your turn. That’s the job.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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