The Oilers worked on a drill Friday that’s familiar to those who watched Todd Nelson coach in the American Hockey League. The team pushed the two nets to either side of the centre circle and worked on 3-on-3 battles in tight quarters.
The thought process behind the drill is to get the puck off your stick quickly and decisively and score as much as you can in a short period of time.
“It’s like a game, you don’t have much time,” Benoit Pouliot said. “At the same time, it’s a fun drill for the guys to have fun and try to score the most goals possible. I’ve done that drill a couple of times on other teams too and it’s just good for your quick passing and quick release. You have 2-3 seconds with the puck in the offensive zone too so you have to make a quick decision.”
Practicing quick decisions with passing and shooting could help the Oilers bolster their offence, which hasn’t produced at a satisfying level to the players.
“It’s just in tight and bearing down on goals,” Luke Gazdic said about the drill. “We need to get some more goals for a team that’s known for its offence. We haven’t been scoring a lot lately. The production has mainly been from one player (Benoit Pouliot) the last couple of games. It’s nice because it also lightens the mood a little bit. It’s fun. It’s a tough drill but it has a purpose and it’s nice to get stuff like that in.”
“It’s fun,” Oscar Klefbom added. “We did that a lot together in OKC. It’s a fun drill. The puck is going to go fast out there and it’s good for the forwards just to have a quick release and their head up all the time.”
How did the players fare in Nelson’s drill?
“I thought they did fine and moved the puck quick and shot when they had to,” the Oilers interim coach said. “It’s amazing that defence in that drill always seem to do better than forwards just because they check more in a game, so they’re used to the checking aspect, and then when they get a chance to shoot they like to shoot the puck. It was good. I thought the guys moved the puck quick and shot when they had to.”
The Oilers are on the ice for practice in Tampa Bay.
Gordon is absent
The Oilers newest centre will play his 700th career NHL game tonight against a former team. Derek Roy has played 699 career NHL regular season games with the Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and the Oilers.
“I honestly didn’t know until they told me,” Roy said of the achievement. “I knew I was pretty close to getting there sometime. It’s just a number, but I’ve played on some great teams and played a lot of games in this league. It’s just good. I’m healthy right now, so that’s good and I’ve just got to keep rolling.”
Roy has seen it all in his career. He’s played for different teams under different coaches so it’s easy for him to transition to a new club. When the Oilers acquired Roy in a trade from Nashville in December, it didn’t take long for the new guy to settle in.
“Pretty easy,” Roy said of the transition. “The guys are great here. It’s a great young group of guys, good coaching and the transition was pretty smooth. I’ve played a lot of systems with a lot of different coaches so it’s no different here. It’s just a matter of going out there, battling, winning battles and working hard.”
Roy has six points (2-4-6) in seven games with the Oilers so far, contributing offensively along with providing veteran leadership.
“I think the opportunity helps,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “I think anytime you get a fresh start somewhere you get a little bit of jump in your stride, you play with more energy. He’s a guy that’s always been a smart player and he’s able to create some offence. I think right now, he’s just accepting the fresh start and he’s been taking advantage of it.”
“We’ve got a great young group here and I’m just trying to work as hard as I can every day in practice and in games to show some leadership and get some points, put some numbers up and help guys score, that’s my job, and play some tough defence,” Roy said. “I’m just trying to do that every game.”
In 699 NHL games, Roy has scored 180 goals and 328 assists for 508 career points. He has 27 career points in 49 NHL playoff games.
The Oilers are on the ice for practice at the Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton.
The Oilers 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was no doubt a quality win and a much-needed relief for a team that has been playing much more competitive hockey as of late.
“It’s so fun to win and it does make you forget about what place you are in the standings for a couple of days,” Oilers winger Taylor Hall said. “For us, we need that. We need to be a relaxed group. That’s one thing about playing in Edmonton, is that you don’t get that relaxation. It’s just the way it is. It’s the nature of the beast but for us, winning helps out a lot for that.”
The Oilers have now earned points in five of their last six games and have wins over the Los Angeles Kings, the New York Islanders and the Blackhawks. All three of their wins have come at home.
“We want to make this a place that teams don’t want to come into. And I think our fans are starting to get behind us more than they were, not that you could blame them,” Hall said. “I think they’re starting to see that we’re playing a better brand of hockey. Wins on home ice are a lot of fun too. We’ve got to finish this home stand out well and have some confidence on the road.”
Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson is 3-1-2 since taking over solo coaching duties behind the bench.
Nail Yakupov was one of a few Oilers players to put forth an impressive performance in a 5-2 win over Chicago. Yakupov finished the game +3 with a goal and an assist. He was the game’s second star.
His goal, on a 2-on-0 breakaway, at 16:51 of the third gave the Oilers the 4-2 lead.
“I thought he was very good today on both sides of the puck,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “He contributed offensively, it was nice to see him score. He did a lot of good things tonight, I was happy with his game.”
Yakupov hadn’t scored a goal since December 7, against the San Jose Sharks. But hard work finally paid off for the 21-year-old winger.
“He brings so much speed and so much deception for the other team. They don’t know what he’s doing and sometimes we don’t know what he’s doing,” joked Yakupov’s linemate Derek Roy. “But we like to talk on the bench and keep being on the same page. His work ethic is always there and it has always been there. We just have to realize the work ethic he puts in every night.”
Derek Roy came to the Oilers from Nashville in a trade on December 29. Since then, he has tallied five points, including two goals, in six games for the blue and orange. The icing on the cake, so far, was Roy’s three-point night against Chicago.
“He had a great night, I thought that line had a great night,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “I thought all three players played exceptionally well. I thought Derek’s work ethic was just exceptional. He was working back hard on the backcheck and he was contributing offensively so it was a really solid game.”
Roy scored when Teddy Purcell set him up to redirect a pass in front of the Chicago net.
“Our job is to go out there and provide offence, provide energy and we did that tonight. We’ve just got to build on it,” Roy said of his line, which includes Purcell and Nail Yakupov.
Roy had just 10 points (1-9-10) in 26 games with Nashville. But with the Oilers, a regular role has given him confidence to make plays like he has done his entire career. He has 507 points (180-327-507) in 698 career NHL games.
“It’s always been there,” Roy said of his offence. “I have over 500 points in the league so it’s always been there. It’s about having confidence in yourself and the way you go out and play and prepare for every game. Just knowing that I’m going to play centre every night and play with two great players on a fast, offensive-based team is my style. This is perfect.”
After practice, Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins used the word “aggressive” to describe the team’s recent play, citing their system play as a reason.
“I think we’re a little bit more aggressive with our system play right now and I think that helps us out,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “We’re a fast team and we get to use that speed, using a really aggressive forecheck and having our D pinch down. I think earlier in the year, if we were pinching then our F3 wasn’t as good as it is now. That’s something that we’ve really touched on as the season as gone on and it’s something we’re getting better at.”
Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson confirmed that he recently made a few tweaks to the team’s forecheck, which allows more chances to create plays and turnovers in the offensive zone.
“We tweaked our forecheck, both in the neutral zone and the offensive zone so it’s more aggressive than maybe what they’ve played in the past,” Nelson said. “If we do it effectively, it does create turnovers and we can attack on the rush or keep the puck alive in the offensive zone. Once again, the system only works if the guys have bought in and are playing hard and working hard with it. That’s something we’re striving for, but it is more aggressive.”
Nelson admitted that it can take time for players to buy into changes to systems, but this group has done a decent job of assimilating.
“Yeah it does, but our guys have been pretty good with it,” Nelson said. “When we implemented it, when we did drills, I think they did it effectively. I think they’re seeing results from that in trying to keep the play alive in the offensive zone.”