|Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
Coach Eakins spoke after the game about how he liked how the team came together in their game against the Jets, particularly late when the game got chippy.
“Right before we let them loose in there and said ‘Happy Holidays’ my message was I love winning the game, I love the goals that you scored, but my favourite moments were us sticking up for each other. I was so excited on the bench. Luke comes to Yak’s defence, we line up there and then all of our guys were in. Everybody was in there sticking up for each other. And that is a huge step for our team. It’s great to see. They’re together."
The game had a total of 103 penalty minutes, 78 to Winnipeg and 25 to the Oilers.
“The win’s great, the goals are great, the electricity in the building was great. But that moment, when Winnipeg was trying to flex their muscles, I thought that was excellent for our hockey team.”
Not a whole lot was said after the game by Dallas Eakins surrounding his comments from the morning, but he did add that it did not come up in the room prior to the contest.
“To be honest, I don’t even know if they knew about it. We didn’t talk about it before. We were preparing for the game. Some of our guys could have been aware of the hornet’s nest being shaken up a little bit but it wasn’t something that we talked about. It didn’t come up in the room and I didn’t think it was important to talk about it. Our focus was trying to win the hockey game.”
Nail Yakupov didn't play a whole lot tonight but when he did, he made it count.
The Russian winger had a goal, an assist and 12 penalty minutes in a limited 6:29 of icetime. Through the first two periods, Yakupov only played a shade over three minutes.
|Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club|
“Out of all the games Yak’s played this year, I was most proud of him tonight. I was so proud of the way he handled himself. That whole fourth line, the way they handled themselves," stated Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins. Tonight was a night where I was going hard on the match-up. I wanted certain lines against certain lines and I wasn’t going to come off it. Winnipeg wasn’t hardly playing their fourth line at all, so our guys ended up suffering because of that."
Yakupov netted an assist on the crucial fourth goal, scored by Jeff Petry. The winger made a nice play to get the puck over to the pinching blueliner.
"When they went out there, they came off the bench well and Yak got an assist. Then when we got up a little bit more I tried to reward them because that whole line, they were working their butts off."
Yakupov scored the sixth goal and shortly afterwards tempers erupted on both sides.
"And then to see him make a stand at the end there. I was excited for him. The kid plays limited minutes tonight because of a match-up situation and it’s a goal, assist and almost the start of a donnybrook. I was proud of the way he handled himself and the way that he played."
For the second day in a row, Dallas Eakins made a point to talk about understanding fan frustrations as the team struggles to pick up points.
“I understand the booing. It comes when you’re not playing well and you’re not producing the results. Obviously, there’s been some losing going on for quite some time in the past so I firmly respect that," he said.
At the end of Saturday night's game, a fan threw their Oilers jersey on the ice. Eakins was asked about that this morning.
"In regards to the guy or girl throwing the sweater on the ice, that’s about as bad as it gets for me. I have great sympathy, I respect our fans but that’s a bunch of bull crap to me."
Eakins talked about the signs in the dressing room, stating that 'I am never out of the fight' and portrayed with a large Oilers jersey and crest. He said the team is not giving up.
"I think we would be severely dumped on if we totally started mailing it in and giving nothing. We’re not going to do that here."
The bench boss added he did not think that this type of behaviour was characteristic of Oilers fans.
"Whoever threw that jersey on the ice, they’re out. They’re a quitter. The people who work in the oil industry, they’re not quitters. For some fan to show us that he quit, he’s done, he threw in the towel, I think that speaks volumes about this individual. I don’t believe this city was built on people like that.
"They’re tough, they’re hard working and I highly doubt that they’re ever, ever out of the fight. Are they frustrated? Absolutely. But I don’t think they’re out of the fight."
Clarity. Today my passion for our Jersey was clearly on display. Our Jersey is sacred and the passion for it will never calm.— Dallas Eakins (@dallaseakins) December 24, 2013
My comments were intended to show that we will continue to try and emulate our citys hard working, blue collared approach.— Dallas Eakins (@dallaseakins) December 24, 2013
We will continue to fight to get better… No matter the circumstance.— Dallas Eakins (@dallaseakins) December 24, 2013
Tonight, Sam Gagner will not be wearing a face guard for the first time since returning from an injury sustained in the pre-season which saw him break his jaw.
"They told me about three months so I think I'm pretty much there. It's nice to get it off. I guess we'll see how it goes tonight. I think the biggest thing for me is I still get to dangerous areas. I've got to do that early, get it out of my head and just play."
It has been 11 weeks since Gagner returned so he is hovering right around that expected 12-week mark.
"It impedes your vision a little bit but I felt like I was getting used to it. It's nice to get it off now and just focus on playing."
“It’s two guys who are very strong on the puck. We’re really trying to establish a cycle game so we’re hoping with those two guys and Nuge we can get some zone time,” Eakins stated.
Perron was looking forward to lining up with Hall.
“It’s the first time I’ve played with Hallsy tonight, in 35 games. I’m excited about it," Perron remarked. "He’s a guy who you can give him the puck in the neutral zone and he has a lot of speed going. That’s what I’m going to try and do tonight.”
“We were looking for a match for Gagner. Ebs seems to be that match. That’s a pair that we like. It was kind of two thought processes that went into it," Eakins began.
"The way David has played and the way Taylor has played, that should be a really good line. And given some chemistry with Gagner and Eberle we hope that bears some fruit as well.”
The Oilers are on the ice for the morning skate ahead of tonight's game against the Jets. The skate is optional, with 12 players participating. Devan Dubnyk is in goal, meaning Ilya Bryzgalov gets the start. Notably, Sam Gagner is without the jaw shield for the first time since returning from his broken jaw injury.
Optional skate for Oilers today. No face shield for Gagner, who is on ice. We'll see come game time.— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) December 23, 2013
Sam Gagner is only about a week or two from having his face guard removed. It should be of huge benefit to him as he has been unable to play a more physical style or fight -- something that he has done in the past to try and spark himself and his teammates.
"It's something I like to do when things aren't going well. You look at it from a teammate perspective. When I'm on the bench and Luke (Gazdic) has a big fight or there's a big hit or guys are playing really hard, it gives you a lift. And I think individually it does as well, if you're able to do it."
|NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 28: Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his goal with Sam Gagner #89 and Justin Schultz #19 against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on November 28, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)|
Gagner added that he has had to try and find other ways to get that lift.
"It's tough not being able to do that, but for myself I just have to find other ways to make sure I'm contributing every night.I can still get to the net and still create chances that way, play hard in my D-zone, and that's got to be my focus."
Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins said that Gagner has gotten better as he's played more since returning from the injury. He also added that perhaps Gagner came back a little sooner than he should have, partially due to the team's play at the time.
“When he came back, we were in such a horrible place. I think he felt like the team needed him — and we did. I think he rushed getting back, maybe before he was quite ready or comfortable, for the good of the team. If you’re not quite ready physically or mentally, it’ll show in your game. When you’re off that little bit, it’s easy to go into a deeper hole.”
At the time of Gagner's return on October 29, the team was 3-8-1.
"Regardless, it's hard coming back when you've missed the first part of the season. I think it would have taken me some time no matter when I came back. There might have been some hesitance with the jaw but that's not an excuse for me. There was as stretch there where I was producing and helping the team win, and I can do that again. I can't use any of those things as an excuse."
Eakins feels there has been an improvement from the 24-year-old centre.
“I think he’s been slowly getting better. Sam and I talked as recently as yesterday morning. He feels it. He’s committed to getting better. He knows he can get better. His expectation on this team is to be the number one centreman — as does Nuge. And that’s the competition you want there.
“He’s not shying away from it. He knows he hasn’t played his best hockey yet but he’s fully committed to getting there.”
Gagner talked about moving up and down the lineup as he has been recently.
"I just want to win," Gagner stated. "I've been around this long enough that, obviously, there's personal success you want to have but at the end of the day it just sucks losing. I think for myself I just want to find a way to help contribute to some wins. It's a matter of continuing to push through and getting better."
Coach Eakins spoke about the play of Taylor Hall this season and how impressed he has been with the winger's play, not only on the offensive side of the puck but defensively as well.
|ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 15: Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers stands in front of a shot from Ben Lovejoy #6 of the Anaheim Ducks in the second period at Honda Center on December 15, 2013 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)|
“Taylor’s a smart kid. He understands the game. I think he thinks about the game a lot,” said Eakins.
The bench boss has been impressed with the play of Hall defensively as the season has gone on. Hall leads the team in points, with 30, despite having only played 31 out of 38 games. Hall is -11 on the season but is only -2 since November 15.
“Taylor’s defensive game has gone from one that I thought was very, very shaky with no habit to now starting to lead the way in how we play in our zone. He’s still got work to be done but if you wanted to go ‘most improved’ — who has improved the greatest in his understanding of what’s in our D-zone, it’s Taylor. And he’s quietly gone about his business in doing that."
Hall wants to continually improve on that. And his goals are lofty.
"The goal for Taylor is that within a period of time, Taylor Hall is going to be the best defensive left winger in the game. And he’s still going to get 100 points a year. That’s the goal.
“He wants it. And that will be a great, great thing for our organization.”
Taylor Hall was on CBC's After Hours on Saturday. Click here to watch the video.