Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins has talked this week about continuing to move the team forward when it comes to system play and his defensive system. He is looking towards continuity in the system and installing more aggression after the Olympic break.
Eakins clarified what more aggression means when it comes to his system.
“To put it simply. it’s pressure on the puck everywhere,” said Eakins. “Everytime there’s a puck movement, there would be somebody from us going to it. There’s a lot of systems where teams will just commit one guy to the puck. The one guy’s actually checking two players and the other ones are falling back. We’ve had that approach for a while to teach where we’re supposed to be. The next step will be… That’s the aggression part of it. Aggression’s maybe not the right word, that sounds a little drastic. It’s just more, to put it simply, pressure on the puck, in all areas.”
The Oilers have lost five straight games since their 4-3 overtime victory at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 10. With that kind of slide and with the team sitting at 14th in the Western Conference with 36 points, 52 games into the season, the team is dealing with the frustration of not seeing wins despite their hard work.
Jordan Eberle talked today about that frustration, dealing with it and focusing more on the positives of their play. Eberle pointed to their one-goal defeat at the hands of Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday as a sign that the team can play better.
“I think if you get used to losing and it becomes acceptable, that’s where things have really gone wrong,” Eberle said. “I think maybe in the past years, it has got to that point. As a young guy, you obviously see (the owner) send out a letter about being patient and we’re moving forward but you do get really frustrated. I can tell you first hand that myself and Taylor, we live together. There’s sometimes where you go home and you just want to punch the wall or do whatever.
“You’re that frustrated that things aren’t going as fast as they should be but I think that’s where it comes back to looking at the positives. Last game, we played a pretty good game, came against a hot goaltender, played really well and (Vancouver is) one of the better teams in the league. We have the capability. We’ve shown we can play well. It’s just the matter of bringing it every game and I think the best part about hockey is we have another opportunity to do that tomorrow. It’s not like football where you have to wait a week.”
Eberle has been one of those positives to focus on. The Oilers forward has scored a goal in each of his last three games. He currently has 17 goals and 23 assists.
The Oilers are on the ice for practice at Rexall Place on Thursday. The second and third lines have changed:
Hall - RNH - Eberle
Smyth - Gagner - Perron
Hendricks - Gordon - Jones
Gazdic - Arcobello - Joensuu
Practice today...looks like Ryan Smyth may get a shot with Gagner and Perron.— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) January 23, 2014
Matt Hendricks moves to his preferred left wing with Gordon and Jones.— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) January 23, 2014
Ales Hemsky skated in full gear with the team this morning at practice. He left the game in Dallas on January 14, and flew back to Edmonton for further evaluation after he took a shot off his ankle.
Since then, Hemsky has skated three times and looks to tomorrow’s practice as an indicator of where he’s at in his recovery.
“This is my third skate,” Hemsky said. “The first time, I skated by myself and this is the second time I’ve skated with the team. It’s getting better. It’s still sore, but I knew it would be sore for a while. But, on the other hand, it’s not broken, it’s not cracked. It just depends on how much pain you can take in the skate.”
Hemsky says the main discomfort comes from walking around out of his skates.
“It’s actually better in the skate than walking. Just like, the tight turns and I didn’t try many battles yet like in the corners. I guess we have another practice tomorrow and I’ll just go from there.”
No timeline has been set for Hemsky, however he could be ready to go as soon as the Oilers next game against Phoenix.
“I could play maybe on Friday, but I still don’t know. I’ll go tomorrow for practice and then I’ll see what will happen.”
Hemsky is happy that the injury should not affect the forward’s participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He is set to represent the Czech Republic.
“Of course I was worried,” he said about the possibility that the injury was more serious. “I just don’t want to be injured. I’ve had many problems before and like I said, I’ve felt pretty good all year, I haven’t had any problems. It was kind of a little blow for me. In the end, it’s nothing I can do and just, I’m happy it’s not broken so I can just get better and get back as soon as possible.”
Hemsky has 24 points (7-17-24) in 48 games this season.
Ryan Jones has had three fights in a week for the Oilers, which is three in four games. He fought Brenden Dillon in Dallas on January 14, and Stephane Veilleux in Minnesota on January 16.
Not only has he shown increased confidence and a willingness to stick up for his teammates, but Jones has also shown improvement in his play. He is the only Oilers forward with more than 10 games this season to have a positive +/- and has excelled on the penalty kill.
“I don’t know if this is going to be a growing trend with him, but I think circumstance has come up a couple of times where he’s been put in a position on the ice where he thought he was taken a run at or taken some liberties at him and another time, he thought one of his teammates had been maybe hit a little the wrong way,” said Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins. “I think he’s come a long, long way from training camp.
“I think he struggled in training camp and that happens. We had a couple of guys like that who had missed a lot of games… They get into camp and even though they’re all healed and everything’s good, there’s hesitation and I think that’s where Jonesy was in camp. I think now, he’s got his feet underneath him and we’ve rewarded him with a little bit more ice, with the injuries to (Ales) Hemsky and (Nail Yakupov). He’s done well there. He’s improved on the penalty kill, which we saw last night, our penalty kill was excellent. If that trend continues, I don’t know. I do like the way that he’s playing right now.”
Jones is now fully healed from a serious eye injury he suffered before the start of last season, while he was awaiting the end of the NHL work stoppage. He says he now has the confidence to engage in a fight if it comes time to do so.
“It was all confidence,” Jones said. “With the injury, I wasn’t sure all along how I would react or how the eye would react to getting hit, if it would get hit. You get one under you and you’re kind of like, oh it’s not that bad. Then there’s that little bit of confidence where I can do this and not have to worry about basically, my career being over. You’re less apt to think twice about it. If you think twice about it, you’re not going to do it. As soon as the challenge is there, you react and it’s on.”
According to hockeyfights.com, Jones had tossed the gloves in four NHL fights prior to 2013-2014. He has been in four so far this season.
Today's forward lines at practice are:
Ben Scrivens has only been a member of the Edmonton Oilers since January 15, but the goaltender has climatized himself well over the past few days.
“I think Ben, he communicates a lot with us,” said Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz. “Whether it’s during the play or on a tv timeout, he’ll be encouraging us a lot and it’s good. It helps us out a lot and we’re glad to have him back there.”
Scrivens has shown early on a devotion to earning ice time and fitting in with the new dressing room.
“I think the relationships are always important,” said Head Coach Dallas Eakins. “I was grabbing dinner by myself when we were on the road and I saw him walk in with like, seven other guys to the restaurant I was in so that was encouraging right away. As those relationships grow, you find that they’ll fight for each other a little bit more.
“I think he’s got… He’s an intelligent kid, he’ll get a real good barometer of our group real quick and I know he’s excited to play. The greatest thing he’s said so far is, after we made the deal, I called him and in two sentences he said, ‘I want to come in there and earn my ice time and I want to earn another contract.’ He knows where I come from on where you go about this.”
Scrivens is from Spruce Grove, AB and makes his first home start at Rexall Place tonight, as an Oilers goalie.
AUDIO: Dallas Eakins | Ben Scrivens | Andrew Ference | Luke Gazdic
VIDEO: Practice Story | Eakins | Scrivens | Hendricks | Ference | Gazdic
"I don’t know if Larsen’s ready yet. He was out there, but I don’t think he’s been cleared. Potter’s practiced hard, he’s played hard. We’re looking to get him back in the lineup."
“They were just going on the ice for a twirl," said Eakins. "Hemsky’s got one of those really deep bone bruises. We haven’t found any fractures or anything, but those deep bone bruises can be just as nasty sometimes.
"Yak just continues on with the protocol that I about halfway understand."
Coach Eakins talked about the process this season that has gone from the biggest issue being players out of position on the ice to now just needing some better execution.
“Early in the season, we had some guys who didn’t understand where they were supposed to be and we were teaching that. Now it’s come down to, we’ve got guys in the right spot, we just need them to finish off the execution.”
The coach said that it's not for a lack of trying in most situations.
“Every player wants to do it, they do the best they can. Sometimes it’s just not being so aggressive, overplaying the guy. Sometimes it’s not being aggressive enough. We’ve been doing a good job of installing one-on-one battles in practice, two-on-twos, three-on-threes.
"You can run whatever system you want — offensively or defensively — but the winning of the one-on-one battle is huge and the creating of a two-on-one battle is huge, when you have the puck.
"For some, it’s small adjustments and for others, it’s experience."
Eakins was asked if sometimes a player just doesn't have the make-up to have that kind of battle on a consistent basis.
"A lot of times it’s the personality test. There’s guys who, no matter what they’re doing, they’re competitive. They’re polite guys in public but you look sideways at them, they might smack you. There has to be a bit of meanness in them, too."
The Western Conference has a lot of big, mean, teams which increases the importance of having those types of players.
"This conference is nasty. The game is being played by strong men who enjoy doing hard things. Not only do we have to look at our skill set, we’ve got to look at the guy’s DNA when it comes to the level of battle that comes naturally."
Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins remarked that he was still undecided on which of his two goaltenders was going to get the start tomorrow (Tuesday) at home against the Vancouver Canucks.
“We’re going to play it by ear here based on our feel, their feel, who we’re playing, their last performance. We haven’t made the decision for tomorrow yet. It is audition time.”
Eakins talked about the fact that there's now 31 games left in the season and both Oilers goaltenders have their contracts expiring at the end of the season.
“It’s a great opportunity for both guys on a team that’s struggling to show what they can do by themselves. Both guys don’t have contracts for next year," the head coach began. "I’m not speaking out of turn, I’ve already said this to both of them. You guys have unbelievable opportunities, not only here with our organization but you’ll have all eyes on you when free agency starts as well. That’s the one position, if you could get real hot and do some things on your own — which you can do as a goalie — I think the opportunity may be even greater on a team that’s been struggling.”
The bench boss was asked whether the two goaltenders would be splitting the duties the rest of the way, but again he said that depends on perfomance.
“If we did it overall, I would guess that it would be fairly close to even but I’m not going to go back and forth. I hope they both have good stretches where they get hot.”