It’s quite impressive how many times the Oilers line of Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu has stuck out positively in games this season. Those three have proven to be defensively responsible, but also create offensive chances consistently.
When Head Coach Dallas Eakins thought the line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle needed a break from the Alex Ovechkin line of the Washington Capitals, he went his toolshed and let loose the wagon line.
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Eakins said of having the Hendricks, Gordon and Joensuu line in his back pocket. “It was turning into that Nuge’s line was trying hard but they just couldn’t quite get it together. The pucks were bobbling on them, they were a little out of sync I thought. There effort was excellent but then I thought it was time to switch that matchup a little bit and start working Gordo’s line in there, and they love it. They love the challenge. That’s the great thing about our depth now and that’s when you get into people looking at minutes. We have four lines that can all play, and when you have that those minutes start getting very evened out.”
The Oilers could have easily packed things in. The Capitals had scored two straight to take the 2-1 lead and they’d eventually outshoot the Oilers 34-20 (13-5 in the third period).
But the Oilers didn’t quit. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made one of the best players in the league, Alex Ovechkin, pay for a costly turnover. Nugent-Hopkins tied the game 20 seconds after the Capitals second goal and Nikita Nikitin netted the winner on the power play later in the second period.
The Oilers withstood the onslaught of shots in the third period to close out the win.
“They’re maturing, they’re getting some gamesmanship,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said of his team’s response. “It’s not like there’s a big fire drill going on anymore. It’s just alright, settle in, they scored so let’s get back to it. There’s a lot of different ways to look at a score and react to it. A good example is, let’s say you’re up 2-1 and the team ties it at 2-2. You can react to it like, ‘Oh my god, they just tied it.’ Or the score is still 2-2. What if the score is reversed? You were down 2-1 and you made it 2-2. You would be, ‘Hey! We’re coming, we’re coming.’
“The score is 2-2. You’ve got to handle it better mentally and our guys have had amazing progress in that department.”
The Oilers took the ice at Rexall Place for their game against the Washington Capitals with the tragic events of the day still very much on their minds.
“It’s a terrible day,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “I think it’s days like this where everyone is reminded of what is very important and maybe what’s not so important. I know we love this game and our town and we’re all passionate about it. But for me, and all of our organization and I know our city too, it’s one of those days where you just take a step back and remember what is very very important and, in the end, we’re playing a game here.”
In Ottawa, an armed attacker shot and fatally wounded a Canadian Forces member at the National War Memorial. It is an event that sticks out to the players on the Oilers roster, who were part of a team-building visit to a military base before the season.
“Honestly, that thought did kind of cross my mind,” Goalie Ben Scrivens said. “Normally I try to not think too much outside of just preparing for the game. But on a day like today, we had the honour of doing a little team-building with the Canadian Forces in October. To see what they go through day-in and day-out, I didn’t see the video but from what I saw on twitter it takes a special person to run towards gunfire.”
Scrivens continued, “We’ve got to have our hats off, not just tipped, we’ve got to have a lot of respect for our military and people that are putting themselves in harm’s way so that we can live our lives and do what we love to do. It’s a terrible thing what happened today. We have to make sure we have respect for our military and we have support for everybody, not just the family who lost somebody today but anybody who is going through PTSD or guys who are coming home from deployment. Those are the people who sometimes get forgotten.”
Captain Andrew Ference spoke of how the tragedy of today hits home.
“It’s not just today, but the last two days I think and in Quebec as well,” Ference said. “We were glued to the TV this morning, probably like most of the country. Those guys put themselves in pretty brave situations every day, it’s not just when they get deployed. Obviously, that was evident in the last two days. It makes you sick to your stomach. Obviously, a lot of us have gotten to know some of those guys. It makes it more personal I guess because you can picture it happening to guys here on the base. It’s just sickening that there’s people out there that would do that. Obviously, it’s a sad day for us and for the whole country.”
The Oilers held a moment of silence for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo prior to the start of the game.
“It’s a good reminder today to make sure that we have those men and women in our thoughts, our actions and making sure we’re doing everything we can to help them,” Scrivens said.
The Oilers planned all along to play Mark Fayne and Martin Marincin against the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top line last night. Them, along with the Oilers trio of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, had the responsibility of playing against the dynamic Steven Stamkos and company. They did very well in a 3-2 victory.
“I thought we played pretty solid, I thought we limited a lot of their chances,” Fayne said. “Also, you’ve got to get a lot of credit to the forwards, they controlled a lot of the puck. I felt like we had a lot of possession when that line was out there, which is always the best defence when they don’t have the puck.”
Fayne was the easy choice for the Oilers. The defenceman got a lot of experience against Stamkos while playing with New Jersey.
“He’s one of those tough guys to handle,” Fayne said of Stamkos. “He can change the game on one shift, he’s a tough guy to cover. I don’t think you really can contain him, you just try to limit the amount of chances. Last night we were lucky enough to do that.”
The Oilers in the locker room had complete trust in the veteran defenceman and knew the 22-year-old Marincin had it in him as well.
“We all knew Fayner could do it from playing against him in New Jersey,” David Perron said. “It was good to see Marty play as good as he did. He was assertive, he uses his body well and we obviously need more of that.”
Fayne has been impressed with his new defensive partner, who he says has played well since being recalled from Oklahoma City.
“The last two games, I thought he’s been playing great,” Fayne said. “We’re talking a lot at practice, working on some stuff. I think the chemistry is there, I’ve really enjoyed playing with him and I thought last night he had a real good game.”
When Taylor Hall lined up for his penalty shot last night he wanted to take his mind off the moment. So the Oilers winger gestured for the fans to get on their feet and make some noise before scoring in the eventual 3-2 win over Tampa Bay.
“It’s just kind of one of those things that happened,” Hall said. “It was a split-second decision. It got the crowd going and they gave me some energy for the penalty shot. Throughout the whole game they were loud, they were boisterous and they kept us going so that’s great for the fan base.”
For at least one teammate, Hall’s pump up of the crowd was exciting.
“That was pretty cool I thought, just to get the crowd into it and then he scored,” David Perron said. “If he didn’t score it might have been a little bit different, it probably would not have mattered in the game. He’s definitely one of our biggest leaders and to see him come through at a big moment like that, and same with (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) there at the end of the third when we allowed that second goal. It was awesome to see.”
For another teammate, it was a nervous moment.
Defenceman Mark Fayne said, “I was a little nervous, I hadn’t seen that before. It worked out for him. He said he was just trying to calm himself down and if that’s what it takes, it worked.”
Fayne was the player who set up Hall on the play that led to the penalty shot.
Third-overall pick Leon Draisaitl has played six games this season. He has three more games in his nine-game rookie window. The Oilers have not yet made a decision on whether or not they want to assign Draisaitl back to junior or give him more NHL games.
“We talk about every one of our players every day,” Eakin said. “That’s the way it is in pro sports. We’re all being evaluated every day. Yes, we’ve talked about Leon but it goes back to the process. There’s a process to this. I think it’s dangerous to lean any way until it’s time to make the decision.”
Eakins says Draisaitl has played well so far in his rookie season as he continues to develop as any young player will.
“I think he’s played very good for a kid, in a tough league, who’s 18 years-old. We spoke about him last night, I think he’s been well-supported by his linemates, he’s been very very good on our power play and he’s finding his way like any player of that age.”
The Oilers are on the ice for an optional skate at Rexall Place.
The Oilers on the ice are as follows:
The Oilers got a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, largely due to the play of their top three forwards. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle each contributed with at least a point in the win. Hall scored on a penalty shot and Nugent-Hopkins scored the game-winning goal.
It’s the maturity of those players and their growth on and off the ice that has impressed their head coach.
“Our top guys were our top guys tonight I thought, along with our fourth line guys who played excellent,” Eakins said. “It’s amazing to watch the growth of a player and it’s a special thing. (Watching Hall) mature and watching what he’s turned into already this year, not only for our team on the ice but off the ice is an amazing thing. You see it with others as well, like Nuge. You forget how old he is because he has an older soul. Great night. It was a tight game, evenly matched I thought, and tonight we were able to find a way to win it rather than wind up on the other side.”
Hall says it was fun playing with his linemates but the entire team deserves credit for the win.
“We had some chances,” Hall said. “Nuge was really skating well, Ebs was making plays and it’s fun to play with those guys when we’re working as a unit like that. Not only our line, but it seemed like every line had a chance every five minutes or a good shift so it’s good to keep the momentum going when every line is going like that.”
The Oilers have to be happy with the play of their fourth line so far this season. Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu have shown to be defensively responsible and have flashed an ability to turn the puck the other way and create offensive chances.
That continued tonight in the Oilers first win of the season against Tampa Bay. Those three players have even begun earning more ice time as a result of their play.
“That line has been excellent for us,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “They’re proving to be a problem for some of our other players. They’ve been playing well and they’re taking minutes. We’re doing everything we can to win the game and those guys have been able to give us some confidence in our game. They’re all students of the game because of their skillsets and they just do almost everything right. We’ve been real impressed with them up to this time and they do a lot of heavy lifting for us and tonight they were excellent.”