The Oilers have struggled to produce offence in their last two games, scoring just a pair of goals combined in losses to the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. As a result of the dry spell, Coach Todd McLellan shook up the forward combinations during Friday’s practice in Denver.
The top trio featured Taylor Hall with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl, while Matt Hendricks skated between Teddy Purcell and Jordan Eberle. McLellan said the Oilers 4-0 shutout loss in Chicago on Thursday signalled he may need to spur his scorers with a fresh formation.
“Last night I didn’t think we got very good performances out of some of our upper-end players,” said the bench boss, adding he may try a variety of combos depending on how Saturday’s game against the Avalanche progresses. “It’s a starting point, and it could change quickly.”
Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle had been getting into a bit of a groove together during the team’s six-game winning streak, but the centre acknowledged a shakeup may be just what the doctor ordered to snap the mini losing skid.
“When you’re struggling to score, I think change is always a good thing,” RNH said. “Especially with the group we have here, guys can play with each other, guys are comfortable playing in all sorts of combinations. We’ve got to take it upon ourselves to go out there, make a difference and find chemistry right away.”
Draisaitl had been playing between Hall and Purcell, but he’ll likely move back to the right wing with Hall and RNH, a change he's made before and enjoyed success with.
“It’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment, but it shouldn’t take too long,” said the German sophomore, who ranks fourth in the NHL in points per game, with 23 in 27 since his recall from AHL Bakersfield. “I’ve played with them before, and I think we play really well together. Hopefully it’ll give the team a push.”
Both Draisaitl and RNH said there’s an added level of comfort having two centres on a line. If one guy is struggling in the face-off circle, the other can slide right in for the draws.
The Oilers have hit the ice at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Practice has just begun in Denver, but real possibility that RNH centres Hall & Draisaitl. Hendricks between Purcell/Eberle.— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) December 18, 2015
There has been some shuffling of the lines. Matt Hendricks is between Jordan Eberle and Teddy Purcell. Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl are centred by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Iiro Pakarinen and Lauri Korpikoski are with Mark Letestu. Luke Gazdic and Jujhar Khaira are centred by Anton Lander.
Stay tuned for more updates.
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- PRACTICE RAW | Taylor Hall
- PRACTICE RAW | Eric Gryba
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Oilers President/GM Peter Chiarelli provided some encouraging news following Sunday’s practice in Boston, announcing that Oscar Klefbom’s injury is minor and the defenceman could rejoin the team during the road trip.
The Swede won’t play Monday vs. Boston, though, meaning either recently-recalled Nikita Nikitin or former Bruin Andrew Ference will draw into the lineup. Head Coach Todd McLellan said that decision will be made later today,
Klefbom has been debatably the Oilers top defender this season, scoring 12 points in 30 games and averaging 21:53 TOI. It’s a big, albeit temporary, hole to fill on the back end.
“For a young player, he’s given us some very, very good minutes,” McLellan said. “We’ll definitely miss him, but as he goes out there’s an opportunity for somebody else to step in. We will be tested and that individual who comes in will be tested too. It gives us a good evaluation tool.”
Brandon Davidson is one of the Oilers blueliners who will have to shoulder a greater load with Klefbom out.
“Oscar does a tremendous job out there and is a big part of our team,” he said. “The rest of us, as a group, will have to step up and fill that void. It’s a great opportunity for all of us.”
Edmonton’s D was effective against the Bruins on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at Rexall Place, limiting them to just two goals in a 3-2 shootout victory.
Oilers winger Taylor Hall is absolutely on fire right now, as he’s been for the majority of the season thus far.
Hall has scored four goals in four assists in the last three games, bumping him up to 34 points, which slots him fourth in League scoring behind only Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
“Together with our line and the team, this is probably the best I’ve felt and probably the most positive I’ve been in the last six years,” Hall said. “It’s a nice feeling.”
“This is the best I’ve seen him play,” said Oilers President/GM Peter Chiarelli. “He’s playing with confidence, he’s seeing the ice better and there’s obviously something going on with him and Leon.”
“Taylor has a team-first mentality right now and he’s committed to winning,” added Head Coach Todd McLellan. “He’s been a catalyst for our team. I’ve used the word bully a number of times, and he plays that way… He’s becoming a very complete player.”
“We’re different players, but we think the game the same way,” Hall said. “A lot of non-verbal communication out there, which you look for when you have chemistry… It’s been a lot of fun playing with those guys.”
Sunday’s Oilers practice at Agganis Arena was a homecoming for defenceman Eric Gryba, who played four NCAA seasons with the Boston University Terriers.
Following a strong campaign with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers in 2005-06 (15 points, +13 in 56 games) that resulted in a third-round NHL selection by the Ottawa Senators, the Saskatoon native accepted a scholarship to BU and took his career further east.
Gryba played 153 games for the Terriers, accumulating six goals and 16 assists during his tenure. The highlight of his college career came in 2009 as BU captured the national championship with a roster that featured several other future NHLers like Nick Bonino, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colin Wilson. The Terriers edged out Vermont 5-4 in the semifinal and beat Miami (Ohio) 4-3 in overtime to capture the national title.
“It's the first time I’ve gotten to skate on this ice since leaving school, and it brings back a lot of good memories and a lot of good times,” said Gryba, who even skipped the bus ride from the team hotel to the rink so he could return to the BU campus early and go for breakfast at one of his old favourite spots, T Anthony’s.
“Having such a rich history of great players and great athletes at a great school, it was everything I could’ve asked for in a collegiate experience. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Gryba is +2 with three assists in 26 games this season, logging 19+ minutes in three of the last four games, including 22:35 vs. Dallas, his second-tightest TOI this season. He’s currently paired with a fellow Canadian prairie boy, Taber native Brandon Davidson.
The Oilers have hit the ice for practice at Boston University’s Agganis Arena.
Klinkhammer, Nikitin and Pouliot are also skating.
In the words of Lauri Korpikoski, “It was one of those ’80s games.”
A battle of will and determination saw the Oilers and New York Rangers vying for the lead, with Edmonton stealing the 7-5 win and securing a five-plus game homestand sweep, an accomplishment that hadn’t been achieved since 1987.
Prior to puck-drop, Rexall Place saw it’s last banner raised to honour legendary and former Oilers Head Coach and General Manager Glen Sather, achieving five Stanley Cups during his tenure.
“They’re a team that moved the puck really well,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “They find openings, obviously we need to understand where goals are scored, and that’s in front of the net but again it’s my responsibility too to make sure I come up with that extra save.”
|Photo by Andy Devlin.
Less than four minutes into the third period, Rangers goaltender Antti Raanta was subbed in after Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse fired a shot past Lundqvist to give Edmonton a 5-3 lead.
Though it was a tough night for the Rangers goaltender, Lundqvist said the team just needs to regroup, and can certainly do so in 24 hours, as they head to Calgary for a back-to-back game against the Flames.
“We can definitely turn it around,” he said. “The difference between winning and losing is so small in this league and it comes down to some decisions that I make that our team makes — we just need to be better, bottom line. We have to push each other here to find our best.”
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The player the Oilers have this year in Leon Draisaitl is different than the wide-eyed rookie they drafted third overall in 2014.
Now Draisaitl has Oilers fans opening their eyes wide with some of the plays he has been making on the ice in his second season. Draisaitl has 22 points in 19 games when he had only nine in 37 last season.
A lot of his on-ice improvements this season boil down to his training this summer and what he did to ready himself for NHL competition.
“I think we’re seeing more of (his playmaking and speed) as the year goes on because he’s more confident,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I remember coming to the summer camp and watching some of the scrimmages. I think Connor (McDavid) has six or seven points in a summer scrimmage and Leon was doing this or that, and I remember making the comment ‘Leon spent a lot of time bent over, resting.’ I don’t see that anymore. I don’t see it in practice, I don’t see it in games, but I did see it in the summer. I did send him a couple texts throughout the summer and told him to think about the end of a shift. Not just the beginning of a shift, but what are you doing at the 35-45 second mark. Train like that. I think he’s done a good job of that.”
Draisaitl took his coach’s advice and challenge to heart and attacked it, making him into a much more dynamic player this season.
“I think it’s a reflection of his character, his passion for the game,” McLellan said of Draisaitl’s path for self-improvement. “They do it for themselves, first of all. They want to play in the NHL, they want to excel as individuals, but it’s also important for the team and he’s done it. I think he would have done it the year before too but he didn’t know. He came to training camp and he didn’t know how fast you have to be or how strong. He was junior strong. Now he knows.”