The Oilers were determined to have a better outing against the Capitals last night than they did a month ago in Edmonton. They did just that, limiting the Caps to just one goal when they scored seven in a 7-4 win on October 23.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, they couldn’t score a goal themselves and were shutout by goaltender Braden Holtby’s 33 saves.
The good news for Edmonton, is their game against Washington showed improvements on the defensive side of things.
“I thought we played a great defensive game,” said goaltender Anders Nilsson, who made 29 saves. “The guys helped me out a lot. We had a great penalty kill last night. Washington has a great power play but we were able to shut them down there. They didn’t have that many grade-a scoring chances. Of course they had a few, because they have a lot of good players, but we didn’t see a lot of backdoor plays. The guys took away that. I think our defensive game last night was great and hopefully we can keep that up.”
“I definitely think it’s getting better,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of the team’s defensive game. “I think once we can do it consistently, then I think we’ll be a lot more successful. We show it for a lot of periods and a lot of games but it’s just about doing it consistently right from the get-go. That’s when we’ll start finding wins.”
With a few younger blueliners, growth takes time. However, progress is visible.
“I see them improving,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “Last night in Washington was a prime example. We couldn’t handle their skill level and their speed a month ago. Their movement, their motion in the o-zone, their power play. Specifically talking about our d-group, we did a real admirable job last night.
“We’re not perfect, but nor is any team in the league I see growth in young players. I see old dogs learning new tricks, which is a good thing for some of our veteran players as well. I think guys understand the parameters of what’s acceptable and not acceptable now, where at the beginning of the year they were trying to figure us out. all of those are positives. With that being said, we haven’t won enough games so we have to take it a step further.”
Justin Schultz is close to returning from his back injury, but it won’t be tomorrow in North Carolina.
The Oilers defenceman practiced fully with the team on Tuesday at PNC Arena but confirmed he wouldn’t be ready for game action right away. However, he is shooting for later in this road trip. The Oilers have stops in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Toronto this week.
“Doing contact. Today was the first time I really did any of that and felt pretty good,” said Schultz. “As long as I feel good tomorrow and keep improving, I’ll be ready to go soon.”
The Oilers are encouraged by the progress Schultz has made as he recovers from a bulging disc in his back.
“Today was a bit more of a practice than a pre-game skate and that’s a good sign for him to be involved in that,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I haven’t got a post-practice report on him but the fraction I saw, he looked OK. Is he ready to play tomorrow? No, but we’re still hoping on this trip we can activate him and get him involved. Part of it is going to be the confidence that he has in his own body to play and play hard and to execute the way he would any other game.”
The Oilers are on the ice for practice at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC.
No Hendricks today at practice in Raleigh.— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) November 24, 2015
Klefbom not on the ice, either.— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) November 24, 2015
Justin Schultz is rotating in.
The team will wear Edmonton Eskimos jerseys after practice for a team photo to support them in their quest for the Grey Cup.
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The ultimate reward in hockey, or sports for that matter, is a win.
Moral victories only get a team so far, but as the Oilers continue to progress under Todd McLellan in his first season as head coach, it’s all part of the process.
“We, me, I, the players and the coaching staff come to the rink every night wanting to win and that’s the ultimate reward,” said McLellan. “Even some nights when you don’t play a real good game and you win you can take something away from it and you bank some points. That’s the ultimate goal. We haven’t been obtaining that very much lately.”
The Oilers once again came from behind to tie a game late last night, but they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime. Even in a loss, it’s one the players and coaches to see the progress and continue to push.
“We also have to look at some of the things implement systematically and individually as players,” said McLellan. “They have to be rewarded with some of the things they do well on nights we don’t win. It’s called progress. It doesn’t show up in the wins and losses but we are moving forward. We had a good video session today where we picked out a couple things I thought we did a really good job at and we needed to do that against Chicago or they would have created a lot more and spent a lot more time in our zone. They need to be rewarded and recognized for doing things well in those areas. Still many areas we have to improve on to eventually get the wins, but baby steps right now.”
The players see the positives and that’s why the mood in the room remains upbeat.
“I think we’re improving,” said Taylor Hall. “It seems every week we get better and better, but there’s a fine line between winning and losing and we’re experiencing that right now.”
But the Oilers can’t get comfortable with close.
“There’s a bit of a turning point,” said Hall. “We’re at that line right now where it’s ‘are we going to go back or forward?’ and I think we all know what we want to do. The signs are there. We can’t get discouraged. We have to keep doing the things we think we’re doing well. Eventually the wins are going to come if we play well. That’s just the way it works.”
Mentally, Hall says the Oilers, who sit at 6-12-1, are still in a good place mentally despite their record.
“I don’t think we’re too bad,” he said. “I haven’t really looked at the standings and I’m not too concerned with it to be honest. In the past, it would discourage me a lot looking at our record. But this year, not so much. I think that’s a good thing for our group. Saying that, we have to get some wins.”
The Oilers will continue to look for the ultimate reward when they host New Jersey tomorrow night.
The Oilers are on the ice for Thursday practice at Rexall Place.
Andrew Miller also on the ice in dark blue.
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As the Oilers continue to feel their way out in net and try to get both goaltenders going, they will start Anders Nilsson against the Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow.
Nilsson started two games on this most recent road trip and went 1-1-0 with an overtime win in Anaheim.
“We have confidence in both of them,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We are trying to develop two goaltenders that are figuring their way out and trying to establish themselves as starters in the league. They’ve both proven they can play and play well. To say ‘win and stay in’ or ‘win and you’re in’ isn’t accurate. It will continue to be our job to develop both, get them both confident and get them playing. We’re just going to go one game at a time and Nilsson is playing tomorrow.”
Nilsson is 3-4-0 on the season with a 3.21 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
Oilers winger Teddy Purcell didn’t like his start to the season and sought to change that. He has a candid discussion with Head Coach Todd McLellan after a handful of games.
“I didn’t like where I was at and he wasn’t pleased, he knew I had more to give,” Purcell said. “He talked about moving my feet and executing. That’s two things that are easily correctable and I’ve been trying to build off that. When I move my feet more, I am more involved in the play, I come up with more pucks and you have the puck more so you feel good about yourself. It can change pretty quick. This game can get nasty at times so you’ve got to keep it simple, keep going, keep trying to build that chemistry.”
Purcell has been playing better hockey in the recent stretch of games. He has points in three of his last four games and goals in two of his last three, including an overtime game-winning goal against Anaheim last Wednesday.
“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling more confident out there and moving my feet. I’m not the fastest guy anyways and I think when I missed 12 days in camp I kind of fell behind a little bit. It took me a little bit to get up to game speed where guys had some more exhibition games. Anytime you get the chance to play with two guys that are feeling it right now, in Leon and Taylor, it’s nice when the coach puts you up there and puts you in different situations. It can change pretty quick so you’ve got to ride the momentum and keep building.”
Purcell has eight points (4-4-8) in 18 games this season.