The Oilers signed Andrej Sekera to a multi-year contract in free agency this off-season and the defenceman is showing why he can be an integral part of the club’s blueline.
“He is really starting to perform the way we thought he would,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “Takes a little while to adjust to two things. One, from going from East to West, a new team. Sometimes when a free agent joins a new club he’s joining a mature coaching staff and a mature team and he just slides in. He had to learn, like the rest of us, how to act around each other and how to behave and how we’re going to play. It takes a little while, but he’s been very good.”
Sekera, 29, is also becoming a veteran leader for the Oilers young, back-end group.
“A real important one,” said McLellan. “Providing leadership and stability there. He’s a very competitive guy. He wears his heart on his sleeve so it’s good for players to see that, but he can also calm things down and make smart plays. He shows it both ways. It’s nice to have that in a leader.”
Benoit Pouliot missed eight games due to injury in early December. Now with him back in the lineup, it’s time to get him going. There have been signs that he’s getting closer to where the Oilers want him to be. He had three goals in two games on December 27 and 29.
Against Arizona on Saturday, Pouliot had five shots on goal and chipped in two points. However, it wasn’t all smiles for Pouliot in that game. A pair of penalties in the first period had Todd McLellan considering scaling back Pouliot’s ice time.
In the end, he sided with continuing to push the big winger out there in hopes he’d turn the afternoon around for himself, which he inevitably did.
“I’m trying to get Benny going,” said McLellan. “I think Benny is a tremendous player. I think he’s really important to our team. I talked to him yesterday and some of the things we talked about, he used tonight. Other than the penalties, I thought he was dangerous. He stripped pucks, he got in on the forecheck, he won body-position battles, he was really engaged, which was good to see. He was engaged on the bench. It was a catch-22. Do I strangle him and take that away or do I try and keep promoting his play and try to get him back in? I went the other way and maybe, hopefully, it was the right thing.”
Pouliot has 17 points (8-9-17) in 31 games this season.
No NHL team can rely on one line to always provide the offence, which is why it is imperative the Oilers get the line of Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle playing with the consistency they’ve shown they can achieve, particularly last season.
“Obviously, we’re working as a team here,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “We need contributions from everybody, from D to forwards. Our line definitely needs to keep producing. Since the break here, we’ve done a little bit better job of it.”
That line combined for five points against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. They scored one of the Oilers two goals on December 29 against the Los Angeles Kings, and combined for six points against the Calgary Flames on December 27.
“It’s much better now, that’s for sure,” said Pouliot. “We’re trying to get back to what we were doing last year together. We’re finding each other a little bit more. We’re talking more too, which is nice. In the offensive zone, we know where we’re going.”
Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan was happy with that line’s performance against Arizona. Eberle scored twice, while Pouliot finished the game with two assists and Nugent-Hopkins had one helper, as well as a shootout goal.
“I felt confident with that line,” said McLellan.
“Just that group alone, I thought was our most effective group throughout the night.”
Todd McLellan was bullish when he talked about the performance Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had against Arizona on Saturday.
“He wanted the puck tonight. He wanted it on his tape, he was ready to shoot it, guys were getting it back for him. That’s good for those three and that’s good for our team,” said the head coach.
The centre finished the game with an assist and three shots on goal in 21:30 of ice time, adding a shootout tally at the end of the game to win it. He also came close to ending it in OT with a speedy rush down the right wing.
“I thought Nuge had a really good game,” said McLellan. “I don’t know what anybody else thought. But standing back there, I kept wanting to put him on the ice. He battled, he stripped pucks, he created a great opportunity for (Jordan Eberle) on the (game-tying goal) and I felt confident with him.”
Nugent-Hopkins has four assists in his last four games.
“There’s been games where I could have had a few but didn’t get the bounces and a few where it’s kind of gone the other way too,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “You’ve just got to try to stay positive.”
The lone Oilers prospect participating in the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship is 2014 fourth-round pick William Lagesson. The defenceman plays for Sweden, and we will have updates on his performance as the tournament unfolds.
SWEDEN 6, SLOVAKIA 0
The Swedes stayed perfect at the 2016 World Junior Championships with a 6-0 beatdown of Slovakia in the quarterfinal.
Sweden got off to a fast start, with Joel Eriksson Ek giving them a 1-0 lead at 5:10 of the first. Oskar Lindblom would score 6:25 later to make in 2-0 heading into the intermission.
Christoffer Ehn made it 3-0 at 10:07 of the middle frame, and then goals by Adrian Kempe, Jens Looke (shorthanded) and Alexander Nylander closed out the 6-0 decision in the third.
Swedish netminder Linus Soderstrom needed only to make 17 saves for the shutout.
Oilers prospect William Lagesson did not register a point, but was +2. He had one shot on goal.
Sweden now advances to the semifinal and will play the winner of Canada vs. Finland.
It was a close call in Tuesday night’s game against Los Angeles. Oilers winger Matt Hendricks took a stick right above his eye, cutting him. He got cleaned and stitched up, but it was a frightening several minutes.
“Scary incident last night off a faceoff in the third. A stick got me pretty good. It was a scary moment for me for a while there,” said Hendricks.
The winger had previously not worn a visor, but that will change moving forward.
“I don’t know if I’ll take it off after that,” he said.
Sometimes it takes a scary moment to break traditions.
“The game is a very traditional game,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We’re very apprehensive for change. You can see that with the rules and the size of the rink and all that type of stuff. Players have those apprehensions too. You don’t want to change. You come into the league a certain way. You look at (Craig MacTavish) or Doug Wilson. I think they were the last two to not wear helmets. I think both of them were crazy. But now, as time goes on and everybody who enters the league wears a shield, the ones who aren’t you wonder why they aren’t. It’s personal preference. They’re allowed to make that choice. Matty got a scare and he’s going to put it on. Good for him.”
Anyone who knows Darnell Nurse as a player or person wasn’t surprised by him stepping up for his teammate on Tuesday night. Nurse challenged veteran tough guy Milan Lucic to drop the gloves following his hit on Lauri Korpikoski in the corner.
Nurse said after the game he was just looking out for his teammate, something that is not lost on the Oilers head coach.
“It says volumes about his character,” said Todd McLellan. “He’s all in, for one. He’s got a lot of courage, for two. He’s trying to establish himself in a real tough league, is the third one. I think he earned a lot of respect from his teammates and probably around the league as well. It takes a lot of courage to do that.”
Little things like Nurse’s courage are what helps pull a team together and ignite pushback.
“There are the unsung things that happen during a game that give people the lift,” said McLellan. “The goals and all that type of stuff is pretty evident, but the blocked shots seem to do that, the sticking up for a teammate, if you get a big faceoff win, getting the puck out at the blueline in a stressful situation. Those are all things that give groups a lift. Players recognize it on the bench, the coaches recognize it. We acknowledge it verbally. It can give teams a lift and I think Darnell did that last night for us as well.”
The Oilers could get a welcomed body back on the blueline when they host the Ducks on Thursday as Brandon Davidson has skated with the team these last few days and is almost ready to return from his rib injury.
“He had a good practice today,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I would say that he’s pretty much ready to go, unless somebody tells me otherwise after our meeting here.”
With forward Iiro Pakarinen out with an undisclosed injury suffered Tuesday against Los Angeles, one of two players could make their return to the lineup in his stead.
“Klink is getting close as well, so it will be one of JJ or Klink to come in,” said the coach.
Stay tuned for more updates.
The Oilers have hit the ice for practice at Rexall Place.
Power play seems to be a focus this morning. The units are as follows: