The Oilers are on the ice for practice at the Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton.
The Oilers 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was no doubt a quality win and a much-needed relief for a team that has been playing much more competitive hockey as of late.
“It’s so fun to win and it does make you forget about what place you are in the standings for a couple of days,” Oilers winger Taylor Hall said. “For us, we need that. We need to be a relaxed group. That’s one thing about playing in Edmonton, is that you don’t get that relaxation. It’s just the way it is. It’s the nature of the beast but for us, winning helps out a lot for that.”
The Oilers have now earned points in five of their last six games and have wins over the Los Angeles Kings, the New York Islanders and the Blackhawks. All three of their wins have come at home.
“We want to make this a place that teams don’t want to come into. And I think our fans are starting to get behind us more than they were, not that you could blame them,” Hall said. “I think they’re starting to see that we’re playing a better brand of hockey. Wins on home ice are a lot of fun too. We’ve got to finish this home stand out well and have some confidence on the road.”
Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson is 3-1-2 since taking over solo coaching duties behind the bench.
Nail Yakupov was one of a few Oilers players to put forth an impressive performance in a 5-2 win over Chicago. Yakupov finished the game +3 with a goal and an assist. He was the game’s second star.
His goal, on a 2-on-0 breakaway, at 16:51 of the third gave the Oilers the 4-2 lead.
“I thought he was very good today on both sides of the puck,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “He contributed offensively, it was nice to see him score. He did a lot of good things tonight, I was happy with his game.”
Yakupov hadn’t scored a goal since December 7, against the San Jose Sharks. But hard work finally paid off for the 21-year-old winger.
“He brings so much speed and so much deception for the other team. They don’t know what he’s doing and sometimes we don’t know what he’s doing,” joked Yakupov’s linemate Derek Roy. “But we like to talk on the bench and keep being on the same page. His work ethic is always there and it has always been there. We just have to realize the work ethic he puts in every night.”
Derek Roy came to the Oilers from Nashville in a trade on December 29. Since then, he has tallied five points, including two goals, in six games for the blue and orange. The icing on the cake, so far, was Roy’s three-point night against Chicago.
“He had a great night, I thought that line had a great night,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “I thought all three players played exceptionally well. I thought Derek’s work ethic was just exceptional. He was working back hard on the backcheck and he was contributing offensively so it was a really solid game.”
Roy scored when Teddy Purcell set him up to redirect a pass in front of the Chicago net.
“Our job is to go out there and provide offence, provide energy and we did that tonight. We’ve just got to build on it,” Roy said of his line, which includes Purcell and Nail Yakupov.
Roy had just 10 points (1-9-10) in 26 games with Nashville. But with the Oilers, a regular role has given him confidence to make plays like he has done his entire career. He has 507 points (180-327-507) in 698 career NHL games.
“It’s always been there,” Roy said of his offence. “I have over 500 points in the league so it’s always been there. It’s about having confidence in yourself and the way you go out and play and prepare for every game. Just knowing that I’m going to play centre every night and play with two great players on a fast, offensive-based team is my style. This is perfect.”
After practice, Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins used the word “aggressive” to describe the team’s recent play, citing their system play as a reason.
“I think we’re a little bit more aggressive with our system play right now and I think that helps us out,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “We’re a fast team and we get to use that speed, using a really aggressive forecheck and having our D pinch down. I think earlier in the year, if we were pinching then our F3 wasn’t as good as it is now. That’s something that we’ve really touched on as the season as gone on and it’s something we’re getting better at.”
Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson confirmed that he recently made a few tweaks to the team’s forecheck, which allows more chances to create plays and turnovers in the offensive zone.
“We tweaked our forecheck, both in the neutral zone and the offensive zone so it’s more aggressive than maybe what they’ve played in the past,” Nelson said. “If we do it effectively, it does create turnovers and we can attack on the rush or keep the puck alive in the offensive zone. Once again, the system only works if the guys have bought in and are playing hard and working hard with it. That’s something we’re striving for, but it is more aggressive.”
Nelson admitted that it can take time for players to buy into changes to systems, but this group has done a decent job of assimilating.
“Yeah it does, but our guys have been pretty good with it,” Nelson said. “When we implemented it, when we did drills, I think they did it effectively. I think they’re seeing results from that in trying to keep the play alive in the offensive zone.”
If you watched practice today, you would have seen the players constantly moving their feet. Each drill was quick and had a purpose, with very little downtime between. You can also see examples of drills specifically designed to reinforce the game plan.
That is something Oilers players have been commenting on the past few weeks.
“We really want to get the speed of practice up, keep the tempo moving and not stay out there as long. Get in there, do our business and get out,” Mark Fayne said.
A few days ago, the Oilers held a brief scrimmage in which the losing team had to skate extra. A quicker paced practice is something Interim Coach Todd Nelson really emphasizes.
“That’s the concept to practice at a high rate of speed but also have drills that translate to our system in a game,” Nelson said. “I thought practice was really good today. I thought our execution and our tempo was good and that’s what we’re striving for here to develop that tempo as a habit so it translates to the game.”
That concept is something the players have bought into.
“We’ve taken more pride in our practices as of late,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “We know that we can be a little bit sloppy out there at times and I think your work ethic in games starts with practice and what you do starts in practice. There are a lot of things we wanted to work on and that’s one of them.”
Forward Connor Jones has been selected to the 2015 ECHL All-Star Team.
Currently with the Oklahoma City Barons, Jones has three points (2-1-3) in seven AHL games.
In the ECHL, Jones is the Bakersfield Condors leading scorer with 26 points (10-16-26) in 27 games this season. He registered seven multi-point games with the Condors, and scored two overtime goals this season.
Jones is the Condors 19th selection to the ECHL All-Star Classic.
Jones is the twin brother of Kellen Jones, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2010 draft by the Oilers.
The Oilers have taken the ice for Thursday’s practice at Rexall Place.
The line combinations are as follows, based on jersey colours:
Gazdic, Hendricks & Klinkhammer
Boyd Gordon is absent at the start of practice
The Kelowna Rockets have acquired Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl from the Prince Albert Raiders, in exchange for Swiss import Kris Schmidli, defenceman Dalton Yorke and a 2015 WHL bantam draft pick.
Draisaitl, 19, appeared in 37 games this season for the Oilers, recording nine points (2-7-9) and four penalty minutes.
Kelowna is currently the top team in the WHL, with a record of 31-6-3-0 and 65 standing points.