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.”
The Oilers said this morning that they had a plan for what they wanted to do against Steven Stamkos and the top line of the Tampa Bay Lightning. That plan was apparently to entrust their young top line with the bulk of the work, while relying on 22-year-old defenceman Martin Marincin and his partner Mark Fayne on the blueline.
“We wanted Fayne and Marincin against them,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins explained. “We thought they’d match up real well size-wise and responsibility-wise. Between Nuge and Hallsy and Ebs, they have to not only want that matchup but they’ve got to enjoy it. For Nuge, I know he was looking forward to it and we had a couple of game plans ready to go depending on how it was going. But early on, I thought Nuge was really engaged and was driving the play out there. I thought he was excellent against that line and Hallsy and Ebs were going as well.”
Eakins continued, “We really liked that matchup, we didn’t come off it very often. (Jon Cooper) is an excellent coach over there and he was changing his rotations it seemed almost like trying to get away from it, which if I’m Taylor, Nuge, Ebs, Fayner or Marincin that’s a big compliment when you see that trend happen.”
Nugent-Hopkins was impressed with the team’s ability to defend against Stamkos and the Lightning.
“He’s a guy who can take advantage,” the centre said. “You give him an inch and he’ll put the puck back in your net. I thought we did a really good job, not just our line but every line that was out there against him and especially the d-men, of not giving him too many opportunities and trying to limit him to the outside shots.”
Two players were on the injury report during Head Coach Dallas Eakins’ post-skate press conference. Both Viktor Fasth (groin) and Luke Gazdic (shoulder) got a positive prognosis from their head coach.
“Fasth was on the ice, always a good sign,” Eakins said. “It’s not as bad as we thought, which is good. He’ll just go through his process of rehabilitating that. At first he had heard something pop, which usually means six weeks. But everything has come back way better so we’re encouraged by that.”
Gazdic is getting closer to returning to action as well.
“Luke is on the cusp now of getting closer and closer. He’s not months away, he’s weeks away.”
Luke Gazdic gave an update on the status of his injury on Sunday after practice, noting that he was cleared for contact a few days ago.
"I'm real close," he said. "I'm taking some pretty big contact, doing all those battling drills and feeling strong."
When asked about timelines, Gazdic felt that he should be back relatively shortly.
"I'd say a couple of weeks away. We'll see how these next few practices go and then re-evaluate here."
Gazdic said it was nice to get battling again in practice after many weeks skating in a non-contact jersey.
"That practice yesterday, we had a ton of battle drills in the corner. It's great to get into that physical aspect," he said. "It's nice to finally hit somebody."
The Oilers have had a couple of days to practice and prepare ahead of a busy week in which they'll play two high-powered Eastern Conference foes Monday and Wednesday in Tampa and Washington followed by the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.
"The things we're doing well are our forecheck and ability to close quickly on our forecheck in the neutral zone," said Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins after practice. "We're also continuing to try and get better in a couple areas. Our power play's come off a little bit. We're not overly worried about it but we worked on that."
Eakins added that he also worked a lot on the team's play in its own end.
"Our D-zone coverage. That's nonstop with every team in the NHL. Just looking at the goals from last night (in the game between Vancouver and Tampa Bay), that area in front of the net is critical to every team. We spent a couple of days working hard on that.
"You need compete drills and battle drills in practice. Our guys worked extremely hard on that yesterday."
That means Brad Hunt will be the odd-man out again. Eakins was asked if he was tempted to put Hunt back in considering the power play has dropped off.
"Huntsy's done a great job but we do have to weigh five-on-five play. We feel Nikitin's coming up to speed now. He got hurt in camp and that held him back a little bit but now we feel he can take the minutes on that second power play right now," Eakins remarked.
"That leaves Huntsy on the outside but he's ready and waiting for the call."
Acton & Gazdic are rotating in on the fourth line.
Hunt is rotating in.
Hall-RNH-Eberle, Purcell-Draisaitl-Perron, Hendricks-Gordon-Joensuu, Pouliot-Arco-Yak— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) October 19, 2014
Ference-Petry, Marincin-Fayne, Niktin-Schultz, extras Acton, Gazdic and Hunt— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) October 19, 2014