Nail Yakupov has struggled to find an offensive rhythm this season. Aside from a stretch of five games, in mid-November, in which Yakupov scored six points in six games, the 20-year-old skilled winger has not consistently contributed to the stat sheet. He has five goals and six assists in 30 games this season. However, last night Yakupov might have had a game he can build off of.
Against Carolina last night, the forward finished the game with two points, a goal and an assist. It was the first time all season that Yakupov has scored an even-strength goal. His previous four were all on the power play. It was also only his second time all season to tally a multi-point night. His previous two-point night was on November 19, against Columbus, amidst that aforementioned six-game stretch.
Yakupov was pleased with the results last night, not only for himself but also for the team who managed to get the win.
"I felt good actually, and I think everyone felt pretty good after the game when you get two points," he said.
Yakupov has recently been placed on a line with Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall. Head Coach Dallas Eakins told the media that it is his hope that Hall can get Yakupov going offensively. It seemed, at least for the start of last night's game, that Yakupov was definitely benefiting from his linemates.
His goal was courtesy of a nice feed by Hall from the boards in the first period.
"It's good for me. I had pretty good help and it was a good play by (Hall) and everybody who was on the ice. Hall made a good pass and I just better shoot that thing and put it in."
Yakupov has a lot of respect for his fellow former first overall pick, as well as Gagner.
"(Hall's) a great player, has great speed and I think I've got to use my speed too when we skate together, kind of swing around. We get more chances on the rush and I think it's pretty easy to play with that speed. We have a good centre, Gagner moves the puck pretty well when we play in the middle. He sees the ice and gives us a good chance and good speed…"
Yakupov moved well last night and had a couple of other chances that could have easily turned into goal opportunities. One of the bigger chances was when Yakupov ringed a shot off of the inside of a post and out. From now on the forward knows just what to do from that area of the ice next time; just shoot it.
"I just hit the post. It was a good pass again by Hall and Gagner. I've just got to use my shot. It you're around the net, like a few metres from the net, you've got to shoot it… I've got to shoot it and I'll try next time to score from there again."
Oilers defenceman Jeff Petry skated again today as he hopes to be cleared for game action following a hard collision with between his head and the glass against Calgary on Saturday night.
Now it is Wednesday and Petry says there are no lingering effects of that hit.
"No headaches, nothing, no symptoms," he said. "I skated yesterday, went out early and was cleared to skate and do the pre-game skate, skated, did a little bit after and went through the whole skate today."
Petry is hoping to be cleared and ready to go tomorrow night against Boston.
The Oilers are happy to escape tonight's game with a victory and the two points. Particularly because of the strange way the game played out.
"It was a weird game," said forward Jordan Eberle. "I thought we played extremely well in the first and a little bit in the second. Then we completely took our foot off the gas pedal. That five minute power play in the third period, just no sync and not the way we want to play. You can't be happy with that third period. We found a way to win. We got the two points."
Eberle pointed to the series of events that ended the game as a further example of how the game played out.
"It's funny how it works," said Eberle. "We go down one way (in overtime) and I almost tip it into my own net on the backcheck on the 2-on-1, then coming back you score a goal. We found a way to win."
The fast start by the Oilers which included three goals by the team's three former first overall picks, was key to the Oilers outlasting the pesky Hurricanes as they battled back.
"We got dominated in the first period," said Carolina Head Coach Kirk Muller. "They're a skilled team. We sat back and watched and they took it to us. We said after the first period, 'Guys, we've got to get involved here, we've got to play our game, we've got to get involved and get pucks going their way. I thought in the second period we had a much better period, we kind of just slowly pecked away."
Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins team is 7-3-1 in their last 11 games. They've slowly began to negate their rough start to the 2013-14 season by steadily improving. Despite the teams new found success, Eakins says he does not expect the fans to be overly excited about the team just yet.
"I don't expect people to be jumping up and down, if that's our record over the last little bit," said Eakins. "The thing that we've done to ourselves is we've put ourselves in such a large hole that even when you are playing well over a stretch, everybody wakes up in the morning… if they're opening up their newspaper or reading the newspaper on the internet, they look at the standings. Even a game like tonight when you put two in the bank, the standings still have you where you're at and that's the hole we have to climb out of.
"We've done this to ourselves, so I don't expect people to be jumping up and down with whatever the record you said it was. I'm very rarely cognizant, I'm just like, okay… what's next?"
Despite watching a 4-1 lead dwindle and eventually turn into a tied game at the end of regulation, the Oilers are not too concerned with the way they won the game. They are just happy to get the points.
"I'd love to have a win every night," said Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "I don't care how we get them, that was two points. Would we like to end that game, 4-1? Absolutely, but the important thing is there's two points in the bank."
After a rough start to the season the Oilers are 7-3-1 in their last 11 games, but the team is still last in the Western Conference with 25 points and 15 points back of Colorado in 8th place. The Oilers can not afford to be choosy when it comes to points.
"We're not getting ultra picky about points," said Oilers Captain Andrew Ference. "It's nice to get wins, but I think the focus really does have to be on the bigger picture of what we're trying to do here. We're trying to build a foundation for this team, this year and for years to come of playing the right way and making the right decisions on the ice as individuals. When we've done that, this whole year we've had success. We've had individual success where guys get to score more goals and have more fun and we've been more smooth in our own zone. Every time we get away from that and complicate things, it turns into a bit of a mess. We just have to continue to harp on that and not revert back to old habits as a team and as individuals."
There is no denying the offensive abilities of Taylor Hall. The Oilers forward has 25 points (11-14-25) in 24 games this season. Today, he was named the NHL's 2nd Star of the week for the period ending December 8. During that span, Hall scored four goals and added two assists.
"It's good," said Hall. "I feel like I've been playing pretty well lately. I've definitely improved in my own end since the start of the year, and I feel like I'm trending upward. I hope that continues."
Hall has shown his ability to put the team on his back and lift them up offensively, but now his focus has turned to the defensive part of his game.
"Taylor Hall is always going to get his offence, he is," said Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "He's strong, he has speed, he's got good vision and he has good hands. The place that Taylor is improving, not only from the eyes of the coaches but our people upstairs, is his defensive play. It's small, little things that we have been promoting with him and he's taken to heart and he's getting better at. He's turning into a much more rounded player and he's a horse. When he's on, he carries our team. He gives us energy and he's a guy that we look to, to produce in a number of different situations. He's been very good as of late."
Sometimes improving defence has everything to do with slowing things down.
Eakins said, "It's awareness, it's what's going on around him, it's protecting the 'good ice'. We call it the 'good ice' all the time. Taylor's about speed and he's about momentum. Speed is your friend until it isn't. Coming back into our zone, talking about protecting that 'good ice', a lot of times you have to stop in it. It was one thing that was not there at all in his game early, but he's taken the necessary strides to get better at it. He still has work to go, he knows that, but he's taking great notice of how important the defensive game is…"
Hall is happy with his improvement defensively and says that team success has been a factor.
"I like the way that I'm playing defensively and obviously, our team is scoring a lot of goals lately and that's helping," said Hall. "We're winning games and in turn, that's going to create some individual success. I've been shooting the puck a lot lately, I've been getting shots to the net and whoever I am playing with, we seem to have some good chemistry. Like I said, I hope that continues and it has to. It's fun to win. Even though we're not winning every game, I feel like we're doing the right things and we're on the right track."
Boyd Gordon played just nine shifts in Columbus on November 29. He has not played in a game since that night, sitting out due to injury. Head Coach Dallas Eakins told the media Gordon was ailing from a number of injuries, but today he narrowed it down to his shoulder.
"Honestly, it was just the shoulder," said Gordon. "If I didn't hurt my shoulder, I wouldn't have missed any time. It kind of came slow. You get to a point where it gets better and you kind of peak a little bit. I'm definitely close, I'm not there yet, but we'll see how it goes the next few days, skating here."
There is no timeline for his return to game action, but he has begun skating the team with a non-contact jersey.
"It's just a little bit sore but that's a pretty common shoulder injury. Like I said, it's getting better. We'll see how it goes the next few days."
The Oilers didn't have a traditional practice today as part of the team participated in fitness testing, part of rookie Head Coach Dallas Eakins' devotion to his team's conditioning.
The coach says he hasn't seen the results of the testing but, just from observing, the team appeared to be working hard.
"I haven't seen the results," said Eakins. "It looked like they were working hard but looks aren't the important things, it's the time. We had tested about half the team a week ago, on a day, and we had the other half today."
Ilya Bryzgalov skated this morning, taking some shots, as he works to return to game action since leaving the game against Dallas on December 1.
Bryzgalov has remained out of the lineup due to 'concussion and whiplash-like symptoms', but he says he is feeling much better, but couldn't clarify if it was a concussion or not.
"It's much better," the goaltender said. "I don't know exactly what the term is but, like I said before, I feel much better."
Bryzgalov described his symptoms for the media following practice today.
"It was headaches most of the time and there was trouble with sleeping and right now, that's pretty much it."
Both Head Coach Dallas Eakins and Bryzgalov could not provide a timeline for his return.
"Whenever the medical staff says he's ready to go," said Eakins. "You've got to watch those head, neck, or whatever you want to call it, injuries. You don't want to fool around with them. When you start getting closer and it's your knee, it's easier to say, ' four more days'. When it's anything above the shoulders, it's open-ended."
When asked if he has ever experienced upper body injuries in his career before, Bryzgalov said yes with the most recent one being in 2010.
Oilers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov talked to the media this morning after skating briefly. The goalie is working his way back from 'concussion and whiplash-like symptoms'.
Bryzgalov told a story of when he was a young child, pertaining to a past concussion experience.
"I had a concussion when I was 12 and was hit by a motorcycle," he said. "That was really bad. I was in the hospital. It knocked me down for like, two weeks. (This time is) not as bad as I've had before."