For two straight games now, Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan has expressed his pleasure with the play of the defensive partners Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle. McLellan has also begun experimenting with the former American Hockey League pairing, swapping Reinhart to the right side and Oesterle to the left.
“I think that pair has been pretty steady since we’ve put them together,” said McLellan, following a 2-0 win over Vancouver Friday night. “We’re experimenting with him on the right side and Jordan on the left. They both played big minutes, they penalty killed.”
Reinhart logged a career-best and team-high 23:37 TOI against Vancouver, while also contributing a game-high eight blocked shots. Oesterle played 21:23 against the Canucks and recorded an assist on Matt Hendricks’ big goal that gave Edmonton a 2-0 lead in the third.
Oilers defenceman Griffin Reinhart has to be feeling pretty good about his last two games. After logging a team-high six hits and receiving praise for a physical and assertive performance against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, Reinhart perhaps topped that with his night Friday.
Reinhart played a career-high 23:37 and blocked a game-high eight shots on his way to being named the game’s third star in a 2-0 win over Vancouver.
“For a segment of games, this is probably the best Griffin has been all year,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We’ve talked about some of the factors or the reasons why. He’s played well.”
Reinhart has felt more comfortable in the lineup now that he’s playing regularly, and his familiarity with his defensive partner, Jordan Oesterle, has helped him settle in.
“I thought it went well,” Reinhart said of his game against the Canucks. “I thought I was playing physical. I actually didn’t know about eight blocked shots, so that’s a good thing. That’s a bonus.”
Reinhart is pleased to be getting more minutes, saying that helps him perform better as well.
“It’s easy to get in a groove,” he said. “You’ve got to get up every second or third shift and it’s easy to play. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re in penalty trouble or on the power play and you don’t get in that regular shift, so it’s something I can build off of.”
Reinhart is feeling much better as of late and his confidence is building with each performance.
“I always knew I could play like this, but it’s sometimes tough. I think the biggest part of it is knowing I’m playing every night right now. I think that’s what helps. You get into that routine and you do the same things every day and you build off of that rather than checking the board every morning to see if you’re in the lineup and breaking it up a bit.”
Reinhart agrees with the statement that this may be the most confident and comfortable he’s felt in his short career as an Oiler.
The Oilers are comfortable, as they should be, with Cam Talbot between the pipes. With every performance like Friday night’s 40-save shut out of the Vancouver, Talbot solidifies his number-one role with the Oilers that much more.
Talbot has managed a 7-2-1 record in his last starts and boasts a .948 save percentage in that stretch. As the 2015-16 season comes to an end, one must think the Oilers would be confident in placing Talbot in a 60-70-start role next season. The Oilers would be confident in his ability to handle a heavy workload but would want to make sure his 40-shot nights are limited.
“It’s not just about me and my team, it’s our team, the coaching staff and the players,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I think you could line them up tonight in order by numbers and I think every one of them will tell you they feel really good when 33 is in the net. I echo those thoughts. 60-70 games? We’ve got to make sure we keep this guy alive.
“We’ve had some good nights where we’ve had 22-23 shots against, but you put three or four 40-shot games in a row, it’s taxing on him. We also have to be aware we’re trying to develop a real young, good goaltender (Laurent Brossoit) as well.”
Talbot signed a three-year extension with the Oilers on January 17.
Oilers defenceman Griffin Reinhart didn’t register a point against the Vancouver Canucks, but his defensive performance stood out. For those who just look at the stat sheet and see the zero by Reinhart’s name in the goal and assist columns, they don’t get the whole story.
“There were six (possible) points handed out, two goals and four assists,” Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan said after the 2-0 win. “Some guys play on teams and aren’t counted on for offence. Other guys play and move pucks and break up plays and that’s Griffin’s forte. Even in his best years in junior he wasn’t leading the league in scoring as a defenceman. It takes all types to have success. We’re still trying to find more pieces to the puzzle, we’re trying to develop the pieces we have here, trying to get more out of them so that we can grow and have more success. We’re not where we need to be. But Griffin, from the time we sent him down last time to this time, there has been some grown and it’s showing. That’s a good thing.”
Reinhart isn’t worried about offensive numbers when he can play a solid defensive game.
“There’s kind of a double standard in some ways, but I thought I defended well and I look at a good game in how I break up plays and execute breakout passes and get the puck out of our zone. All the stuff on top of that on the stat sheet is just a plus,” he said.
Reinhart played 23:37, finished +2 and registered eight blocked shots in the Friday night win over Vancouver.
For some Oilers alumni, it’s hard to pinpoint some of the small memories among the larger and more celebrated ones, but for Ryan Smyth, who retired from the game just two seasons ago, there are too many memories to count.
“There’s so many great moments,” he said. “Game 6 [of the] Stanley Cup Final, against Carolina, was probably our best game. The fans were electrifying, the stadium was — I thought the roof was going to come off!”
From the 2006 Stanley Cup run, where Smyth lost three of his teeth in Game 3 during the second round against the San Jose Sharks, to fans tossing steaks onto the ice, the 40-year-old is flooded with nostalgia.
“Not too long ago I saw the goal that [Ales Hemsky] scored with seconds left with [Jarrett Stoll] making the play to me on the blueline and just chipping it out,” he said, recalling the game-tying goal on January 4, 2007 after Dallas Stars forward Patrik Stefan misfired on the empty Edmonton net. “It’s little things along the way that you pick up and remember.”
When it comes time to say farewell to Rexall Place on April 6, Smyth recognizes the wave of emotions that will consume much of Oil Country.
“A lot of tears,” he said. “It’s more than just a hockey rink. There’s history with the old Oilers, the guys that paved the way for us, that have won Cups for these guys that are on the ice now. For sure it’s mixed emotions.”
When you build your dream home, it’s always a bittersweet feeling moving out of the old house.
That’s how Kevin Lowe, Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group, sees the upcoming transition from Rexall Place to Rogers Place.
“I’ve had a couple years thinking about it, taking time to reflect about all the memories here; personally, I’m so excited about the new building I can’t say I’m going to miss this building,” he said. “It had its time and it was a good place but the amenities for the fans and for the players, and the fact that the building is going to be downtown, it just puts aside any of the disappointment from leaving here.”
That’s not to say Lowe won’t have fond memories. After all, those memories are what have made the aged building one to remember. Aside from the numerous Stanley Cup runs that Lowe and the Oilers made when he was a defenceman with the team for 13 seasons, the arena has witnessed plenty more modern highlights.
“I think all the series, those ’90s teams, those series against Dallas, those were incredible series,” he said. “That was the David [versus] Goliath era and that’s when I think the demographic of our fan base really changed. It was a younger demographic and the building was louder than it ever was, even in the ’80s. Hockey was changing.”
In addition to the lifelong loyalists from the Oilers dynasty days, Lowe said he’s noticed a new era of fans emerge from the rafters and the important role they play for the Edmonton team moving forward.
“We’ve created a whole new fan,” he said. “We’re seeing it now. I run into kids, some of them don’t even know who Wayne Gretzky is. That’s not a bad thing, it just means life moves on, but the ’06 run was a chance for a whole new fan base. A whole new group of Oilers fans to have their time and be proud of their team and not listen to their parents or their grandparents [talk] about the ’80s.
From the top row at centre ice, a young Dave Semenko slipped into the newly built Northlands Coliseum to sit down and take in the arena view.
Little did he know, three years later, Semenko would be playing on that very surface he stepped in to admire.
“When I played junior in Brandon [Wheat Kings] we played against the Oil Kings in the old building [Edmonton Gardens],” he said. “I wandered over here, and the building was open, and I sort of remember running up to the top seat in this place — sitting up here and looking down — not knowing that three years from now I’d be playing here.”
Dressing for his first Oilers game in 1977, Semenko went on to play 10 seasons with Edmonton in the WHA and NHL.
It’s one of many memories Semenko cherishes, and as Oil Country prepares to say their final farewell to Rexall Place on April 6, he is trying to pinpoint what the night will have in store.
“It’s probably going to be an emotional time,” the legendary enforcer said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in this building over the years, after I’ve played, working with the team, being up in this press box, so it’s hard to say. To realize it’s coming to an end here… it’s going to be strange, definitely.”
BLOGS & FEATURES
- BLOG: Power-play precision
- BLOG: RNH finds his stride
- BLOG: Thursday updates
- FEATURE: Tailored fit
- FIVE THINGS: McDavid & PP lead Oil
- THE PANEL | Presented by Sport Chek
- PRACTICE | Thursday at Rexall Place
- PRACTICE RAW | Griffin Reinhart
- PRACTICE RAW | Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- PRACTICE RAW | Jordan Oesterle
- PRACTICE RAW | Todd McLellan
- FAREWELL REXALL PLACE | Stefan's empty net
Following their 6-4 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night, the Oilers went right back to business, working some more on their power play Thursday at practice.
The Blues, who were the number two penalty killing team in the NHL heading into Wednesday, saw their PK squashed by the Oilers, whose power-play performance spiked, scoring on four of their six full-man advantage opportunities.
“There was no magic wand, we didn’t come in and reinvent the wheel, we practiced and adjusted maybe two little things,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
Having received much criticism in the past this season for their failure to produce a high percentage of goals on the power play, the Oilers capitalized on the window of opportunity that lay before them against the Blues.
“We outworked the penalty kill,” said McLellan. “It doesn’t happen very often, usually the power play gets a little bit lazy at times…but I thought last night we did a good job of getting to secondary pucks in and around the net. Now, that can only happen when you take the first shot, but with all the question marks around the power play, you begin to look at a lot of the stats. We’re at the middle of the pack as far as shots-on-goal per power play in the league.”
Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored two on separate power plays, one in the first period and another in the second, while Mark Letestu and Leon Draisaitl each tucked one away in the middle frame.
It’s a work in progress that McLellan said the team doesn’t take lightly and will continue to work on, enhance and tweak where necessary.
“When you’re not scoring you have fans, media, players, coaches — they’re all yelling at the guy with the puck to shoot. It doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have a shooting lane too so we have to understand, they want to shoot, they want to score, but they take what’s given and maybe we can do a little better job of that as well.”
The Oilers are still riding the celebration high after their 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night.
Unable to produce a win against the Blues at Rexall Place since October 30, 2011, Edmonton finally snapped the six-game losing streak at home against them, closing out the season series with a 1-2-0 record.
Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who played his third game since being activated from the Injured Reserve list on March 11, produced two of the six goals.
“I think as the games go on here I’m starting to get my timing back a little bit,” said the centre. “The legs have felt pretty good throughout the three games, but timing definitely takes a little bit to get back and your hands come with that, so yesterday for the first full game I felt confident in myself.”
On January 18, the forward blocked a shot with his glove, injuring his hand during the second period of the Oilers 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Prior to sustaining his injury, the 22-year-old had appeared in 46 games with the Oilers this season, registering 30 points (8G, 22A) and 14 penalty minutes.
The Blues, trying to recover from their 7-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday night, were looking to regain their footing and secure a win until the Oilers stopped them in their tracks. Like Nugent-Hopkins’ feelings about his game, the team is feeling good about the win.
“It’s definitely a good confidence boost,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “That’s a team that we’ve struggled against in the past and this year. They’re probably the best that we’ve seen them too…to get a win against a team like that is definitely nice and gives us some confidence going into these last nine [games].”