Edmonton Oilers defender Jason Strudwick (43) is congratulated by teammates Dustin Penner (27) and Steve Staios (24) after scoring against Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco in the third period of a preseason NHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008, in Dallas. Edmonton won the game 3-2. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Tim Sharp
EDMONTON - Given the Edmonton Oilers' performance in the pre-season, it might be fair to suggest the next five days would be better spent preparing for their season opener against the Colorado Avalanche instead of getting away from it all in Jasper, Alta.
But Jasper it is, as the Oilers will spend three days in the sleepy resort town out of the spotlight in Edmonton in the name of "team building" after a pre-season in which they went 2-2-3.
Outscored 21-15 in seven games, outshot six times and dominated in the face-off circle, the Oilers have work to do. Captain Ethan Moreau insists the Oilers will stay focused on hockey during their getaway.
"We're not going on vacation," said Moreau. "We're going to practise hard.
"When we're there, it's all we're going to think about. We're going to be going over systems play and working on the ice, doing things that are going to make us better. We need to work on those things and we will."
With a six-day gap between a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in Texas on Sunday and the drop of the puck against Colorado, the Oilers booked the trek to the mountains as a retreat from the pre-season grind.
After unveiling a retro-look third jersey at Rexall Place and trimming the roster to 26 players by assigning Gilbert Brule, Theo Peckham and Taylor Chorney to Springfield of the AHL, the Oilers loaded up a bus for the four-hour trip west.
"It's all about on-ice work," coach Craig MacTavish said. "Camaraderie and good spirits doesn't mean a lot when you're not executing on the ice.
"That's the most important thing and that's going to be the singular focus of what we're trying to accomplish in Jasper. It keeps it fresh. We're up there with the focus on conditioning, execution and all the things in the game we need to be good."
While pre-season began with optimistic talk about improved depth and more talent with the acquisitions of Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky, MacTavish has seen some troubling trends.
In final their final three games, the Oilers were outshot 41-19 in a 4-0 loss to Calgary, 47-24 in a 4-3 loss to the Flames and 41-14 in the win over Dallas. They were outshot by an average of 35-22 through seven games.
The other concern is down the middle as MacTavish's centres won just 40.8 per cent of their face-offs.
"We're going to fine-tune our game," said veteran Fernando Pisani, who is trying to make the move from right wing to centre. "This week is going to be good for us.
"Face-offs are going to be the biggest challenge for me. I feel confident in that position. I've just got to get better on the face-offs, get the timing and technique down."
With two of their best face-off men gone - Jarret Stoll was traded and Marty Reasoner wasn't re-signed - the Oilers have been getting schooled on the dot.
First-line centre Shawn Horcoff went 41-for-84 (48.8 per cent). Second-line pivot Andrew Cogliano was 14-for-55 (25.5 per cent). Pisani was 20-for-60 (33 per cent) and fourth-line centre Kyle Brodziak was 25-for-61 (41 per cent). Brule was the team's most successful centre on face-offs at 16-for-31 (51.6 per cent).
"There are some areas that are troubling for us right now," MacTavish said. "They are areas we can overcome, but we've got to throw a bunch of focus, attention and practise at these areas."
The Oilers made a similar trip to Jasper five years ago, but the team-building exercise came at the start of their 2003-04 training camp, not at the end.
On that trip, they practised at Jasper Arena, had team meals, played golf and rode mountain bikes around town together. The Oilers finished fourth in the Northwest Division and missed the Western Conference playoffs that season.
"It's going to serve its purpose," Moreau said. "There's going to be no distractions. It's going to be strictly getting to know your new teammates and getting ready for the season."
NOTES: The Oilers still have three roster cuts to make, with Rob Schremp and Mathieu Roy among the likeliest candidates, but those moves won't be made immediately. Schremp is on leave to attend the funeral of his grandfather and Roy is nursing an injured wrist. . . . Sheldon Souray has been named an assistant captain, joining Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Steve Staios as Oilers wearing the A.