The Oilers have taken the ice for practice at Rexall Place.
Hamilton-(Lander & Pitlick rotating)-Fraser
he Oilers beat New Jersey and then followed up a great effort against the Islanders with a 4-3 overtime win in Montreal. That was followed by a 7-2 loss in Ottawa. They bounced back with a 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg and then a shootout win over Boston, again followed by disappointment with a 4-0 loss to Minnesota. That shutout was followed by a nice effort against Anaheim and a win against the very same Minnesota Wild. A 2-1 loss to St. Louis followed, not short on effort. Then came the disappointment last night in the form of a 5-2 loss to Los Angeles.
Two or three solid showings, followed by a letdown game. The Oilers are striving to weed out the latter.
“We’ve got to figure out why we play two or three good games in a row and then, not only are we playing bad but we’re almost embarrassing ourselves,” Luke Gazdic said. “The 4-0 loss to (Minnesota) was brutal, last night was brutal against LA. St. Louis, we lost but I thought we played a good quality game. It wasn’t the result we wanted, but we’ve got to find a way to bring a good, consistent effort every night. We can’t be playing two, three, four good games in a row and then come out and just stink up the joint. We’ve got to find a way to be a little more consistent in our starts and our efforts.”
Gazdic, along with several Oilers players showed anger and disappointment after last night’s result.
“We were frustrated,” Jordan Eberle said. “It wasn’t our best night, not even close. I think we’re trying to find a level of consistency where we’re playing our game every night. When you have a step back like that, it pisses you off. We addressed it today, we talked about it and went over the video. It was ugly. We strived to have a really good practice and we did.”
The search for consistency continued today at Rexall Place, where the Oilers pushed the pace of practice.
“I liked today,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “We had a very good video session. We went over the things that we want to develop more consistency with and then we had an excellent day on the ice. If we can apply that work ethic on the ice we had today in practice to a game then we’ll be a much tougher team to play against. I think the guys are getting the concept, I think they’re understanding how we have to play consistently. We mentioned it last night that we have three decent efforts and then you have a game like last night where it wasn’t a very good game at all… Our goal is to play consistent the rest of the season.”
Nelson wasn’t the only one pleased with the response of the team today, following last night’s loss.
“It started today in practice for sure,” Nelson said. “We had a little video session before it and Todd was talking about things we have to work on, but the thing he focused on was we can’t think about next game with Chicago, it’s got to start in practice. We had an up tempo, good paced practice. It was tough, but we did well at it. We pushed through it and the next goal is to get ready for a good Blackhawks team.”
The Oilers begin a five-game road trip in Chicago on Friday.
Oilers centre Anton Lander has been nursing a shoulder injury, but could return to the lineup soon. He skated today, participated in all of the drills and took line rushes, despite wearing a non-contact yellow jersey.
“It feels pretty good,” Lander said. “It’s nice to be out there and skating again. We will see. It was a good practice today, it feels fine shooting the puck so I’m exciting to see when I can play on this road trip.”
Lander and injured defenceman Nikita Nikitin will both be on the upcoming road trip, with Lander being closer to return.
“Anton skated today, looked really good,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “He’s coming on the trip with us. We’re hopeful he’ll get in some action. We’re not sure when on the trip, but that’s why he’s making it. Same thing with Nikitin. (Lander is) coming on the trip as well so we’re hopeful that he can get into some games.”
Matt Hendricks had a maintenance day and did not practice.
For five straight games, the Oilers offence hasn’t been able to generate more than two goals. That comes after averaging 3.2 per game in their previous five.
Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson says the key to igniting the offence comes from just generating more zone time, and that takes execution.
“I think our offence has to start from our own end, so we have to play less there,” Nelson said. “We have to do a better job of winning loose puck battles, breaking out the puck efficiently and then managing the puck into the offensive zone. If we’re able to do that more consistent, we’ll be able to have more offensive zone play and we should be able to create more opportunities. It’s a full-ice game so we have to manage the puck correctly and have better execution. I think those chances will come once we get the puck in the offensive zone.”
With Jeff Petry’s status as a pending unrestricted free agent and the looming trade deadline, the Oilers began making inquiries with other clubs weeks ago, while keeping dialogue open for a contract.
In the end, the eve of the deadline came and Petry was destined to be moved. Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish broke down the trade that eventually sent Petry to Montreal, in exchange for a second and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
“As well as Jeff played all year, we can’t lose sight of the big picture here, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re the 29th team in the league and we have to handle our assets appropriately,” MacTavish said.
MacTavish said the Oilers, “talked to a lot of teams over the last number of weeks.”
When the Carolina Hurricanes sent defenceman Andrej Sekera to Los Angeles — in exchange for Roland McKeown and a conditional first-round pick — on February 25, the landscape changed.
“I was optimistic one day and a little more pessimistic the next day, then it looked like the price was climbing when Sekera went to LA,” MacTavish said.
But soon MacTavish realized that maybe Petry wasn’t the top priority for the bidding clubs.
“I felt that Jeff was of interest to a lot of teams but he wasn’t necessarily most teams’ primary interest,” the general manager said.
Originally, the plan was to come away with a prospect in the return package for Petry. Unfortunately, the Oilers couldn’t get the right deal done, although at one point there were talks with a team other than Montreal.
“I said all along my emphasis on this deal was a prospect, and there wasn’t that level of interest back,” MacTavish said. “If I was making the deal with media I might have gotten more, but unfortunately I wasn’t. The market really is what the market is and there’s nobody that’s lazy enough not to make the calls and try to gauge what that market is. Then going into the last day, there’s a considerable risk. There’s a downside risk, as well as an upside risk. We were chasing a deal that made a little bit more sense to me into the later hours last night and it didn’t materialize. So I was circling back to Montreal who really throughout this showed the greatest level of interest and then that was going a little sideways and then later on in the evening we were able to come to an agreement. But I really wasn’t comfortable going into today with a chance that we’ve got the last guy standing and there’s no chairs at the table anymore so there was some downside risk to prolonging this.”
The Oilers didn’t prolong things, announcing the deal with Montreal around 7:00 a.m. MST this morning. It’s a deal that now has them with six picks in the first three rounds of the draft.
MacTavish says they’ll be in a position to draft some exciting players in a, “extremely” deep draft, as well as make moves to fill some of their, “obvious holes going forward.”
As the season continues to move towards its close and the trade deadline has passed, the Oilers continue to evaluate their roster, along with the important position of head coach. Todd Nelson wears the interim tag right now, in an audition to have that label removed at the end of the year.
General Manager Craig MacTavish was asked how Nelson would be evaluated down the stretch and it comes down to a level of consistency in play and compete, as well as they continue to respond to adversity.
“I think just level of competitiveness,” MacTavish. “I’ve said enough about how I think we’re competing. I think the coach has to be on the dial. One thing for me that’s important is when the team has a poor game, a poor showing or a poor effort, that he’s able to grab them quickly and get their performance level to a much higher level. So there’s some response there and that’s optimistic. We’re not going to make any decisions coaches or the coaching or the head coach until the season is over. I’ve been clear about that from the outset, but we’re all seeing the types of things that we’re going to need to see on a continuing basis to get into a longer term agreement with Todd.”
The Oilers might be in the business of hosting auditions at the end of the season for a few prospects, currently down in Oklahoma City playing in the American Hockey League. General Manager Craig MacTavish listed a few of the players he’d like to see against NHL competition this season.
“The guys I’d like to give a chance to, we hope we can,” MacTavish said. “We hope we get an opportunity to see Brandon Davidson again. He played very well the last time he was up here in San Jose, so he’s got lots of promise. I’d like to see Andrew Miller come up here and see what he can do, he’s been a good player down there. Curtis Hamilton, I’d like to give an opportunity to. Bogdan Yakimov and all those guys. The goalie, Laurent Brossoit, has played very well and we’d like to see him come up and hopefully give him a game pretty soon. As disappointing as it is to be selling it this time of year, I’m looking forward to the end of the year where I couldn’t say that last year.”
Davidson has played 41 games for the Barons, scoring three goals and five assists. Miller has blown away his goal production from a year ago, scoring 21 and adding 26 assists in 51 AHL games this season. Yakimov has played better in recent months and has nine goals and 12 assists in 50 games for OKC. Brossoit is carrying the load with Richard Bachman up in Edmonton. Brossoit has a record of 18-11-2 in OKC, with a .920 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.
At the end of this season, Nail Yakupov’s three year entry level contract will be up and he’ll be a restricted free agent. Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish spoke about the young winger following the NHL’s trade deadline and the relationship between the club and player moving into the future.
“I see it to continue to evolve the way that it has,” MacTavish said. “We all see the promise now that we had when we drafted him. I had zero interest in trading Nail Yakupov. I think we’ve gone this far, we’ve got to see the end now. It has been some ups and downs, some sideways play and some head-scratching stuff and he’s on top of his game now. He shows all the assets that we saw when we drafted him: the speed, the physical power, the shot, he’s making good plays with the puck and who knows what unlatches all that for him, but he’s really figured it out. He’s playing with confidence, he’s a hardworking guy and we’ve got to see how it finishes. I’ve have no question that Yak is going to continue to develop and he’s got a reference point of what he needs to do now because he’s hit a new level. I’m as curious as anybody to see where that level goes because I think it’s sky high.”
Yakupov has eight points in his last nine games.
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish spoke to the media after the trade deadline had passed, and one of the topics he touched on was the organization’s young defensive prospects. After trading Jeff Petry to the Montreal Canadiens, the Oilers will get a look at a couple of young blueliners the remainder of the season. But MacTavish is also excited about the future of the blueline in coming years.
“We’ll see what Jordan Oesterle has coming forward (this season), we’ll see what Brandon Davidson has coming forward. They’re both young players that have some optimism there that they can develop,” MacTavish said. “We’ve got Darnell Nurse coming forward. Who knows what we’ll get in the draft? We could help ourselves not only at centre but on defence, depending on how this team finishes and where the bingo balls fall.”
Oscar Klefbom is another young defenceman that MacTavish singled out at the press conference. The GM is thoroughly impressed with the 21-year-old Klefbom, who is 41 games into the season with the Oilers. MacTavish is hopeful that adding another player like Klefbom to the Oilers will help make the team more competitive a a whole.
“We’ve seen the benefit of Oscar coming in and playing those minutes,” MacTavish said. “He just gives you 20 minutes of flawless hockey, and he’s had a great effect on Justin. We bring in one more player who has that effect on our group and a couple other key pieces and all the sudden we’re not only competing with Boston and St. Louis and the better teams in the league, but we’re winning those games.”
The Oilers are on the ice for Monday's practice at Rexall Place.
The line combinations are as follows:
Nikitin, Pitlick and Lander are on the ice in non-contact yellow.
Keith Aulie, who cleared waivers, is on the ice.