The Oilers have racked up four straight wins and they’ve come against quality opponents. Perhaps their toughest task yet was tonight against Montreal and they shut them down, 3-0.
A large contingency of Habs fans were in attendance at Rexall Place and they energy in the building was high. The Oilers and Habs fans chanted and screamed throughout the game. It was loud and exciting.
The Oilers fed off their crowd, as they have all throughout this homestand.
“I know one thing,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “Since we’ve been home here our crowd has been able to push us along, whether we’ve been even in the game, down by a goal or up by a goal. The guys are talking about it on the bench, when they get behind you like that. It happens when these teams like Montreal or Toronto comes in there are lots of people that want to wear their colours. When you’ve got your own fans up there fighting with the other ones, our guys want to get in on the action too. It was electric down there on the ice. There was a lot of stuff going on down on the ice, a lot of players yapping back and forth and you saw the battles. It made for a fun night here in the building.”
The Oilers have rattled off four straight wins, all against Eastern Conference opponents. They’ve been quality opponents too, with the Oilers beating Montreal, Tampa Bay and Washington.
But why haven’t the Oilers had success against teams in their own conference?
“It may be a confidence thing, I’m trying to figure it out,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “It’s easy to sit and say that word ‘heaviness’ in our division and things like that. I’m starting to not buy that. It may be a confidence issue and we’re going to look at that. That’s a very good hockey team that we played tonight and we were able to play with them, we got some excellent goaltending, we were able to kill penalties when we needed to and we were able to score when we needed to. I can’t see why we can’t have that same type of confidence that our players exuded tonight against teams in our own division.”
The Oilers still have plenty of hockey left to prove they can get their own conference record on par with that against the East. As they’ve shown, starting 0-4-1 wasn’t the end of the world either. They’re sitting at 4-4-1 with two games left in their homestand.
“I think it’s great,” Benoit Pouliot said. “Our start wasn’t the best but it’s a long season. We’re only nine games in so there’s a lot of hockey left. Even though you start bad… we’re not going to be winning every night for sure. It’s just a matter of being consistent at doing it and not going into a slump like at the beginning of the year and we’ll be fine.”
Nail Yakupov had a difficult season last year. It resulted in some frustrations with the winger, who saw his successful rookie season get overshadowed by a less productive sophomore season.
The first-overall pick in 2012 has bounced back to show marked improvement in his third NHL season.
“Night and day,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “His confidence level is much higher, he has a firm grasp on how to play without the puck and he’s getting good looks at the net. Last game he had a couple of incredible (Grade A) chances that just missed. He knows that if he keeps getting those chances they’re going to go in. All that stats stuff will look after itself if he keeps playing the way he is. He’s been a real physical play for us as well. He’s come in not afraid to throw his body around, he’s providing some electricity with the puck.”
Eakins says he’s a better player having gone through a disappointing year like he did.
“He’s a far different young man this year than he was last year and that was a hard year for him last year. It’s tough to go through, but the silver lining in all that is that it’s important to go through because it makes you stronger, you learn lessons and then he’s able to help out players coming on behind him that will go through it too. He’s a far better player and he’s maturing nicely for us.”
The Oilers have shown an ability to rebound when their opponent takes the lead or steals back momentum by tying things up. It’s been a theme for them in their three straight wins.
That mentality that they can bounce back in the face of adversity has been a turnaround from last season.
“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Jeff Petry said. “It has really been said by the coaching staff but also from the players, maybe even before the coaching staff had said it, that it was just our feeling as a group to move forward we’ve got to a team that if we do go down one or we’re up one we’re not changing the style of play. We’re going to play that style for 60 minutes and that’s something that we’ve just got to sustain.”
There is a calm demeanour on the bench when the Oilers get pushback from their opponent. They’ve been able to erase the memory of a negative play and turn things around on the next shift.
“It is more calm,” Petry said. “It’s not if a bad play happens it deflates the bench. It’s the next shift that’s the most important. Whoever is going out there is going out there to do a job and to focus on that next shift. That play that happened just prior is done. I think that’s something that we’ve done a lot better. If we do get down a goal it’s not, ‘here we go again,’ it’s let’s turn up the pace even more to get back in there, get down there and score a goal to tie it up.”
Oilers goaltender Viktor Fasth expected the worst when he felt something happen to his groin in the game against Los Angeles on October 14. Luckily for him, the MRI was much more encouraging than anyone expected it to be.
“That was really good news,” Fasth said. “I thought it would be more serious than it was. I was really glad to hear it wasn’t that bad.”
Fasth was on the ice for practice with the team for the first time since injuring his groin.
“It felt good to be on the ice today,” he said. “I’ve been skating for a couple of days here and today was the first real action with reacting and stuff but it felt good.”
There may be some recovery left to do for Fasth, who said he doesn’t know when he will return to game action.
“I don’t know. Today was the first day with real practice. I’ve been skating and doing a lot of work with the goalie coach and the trainers here. But I hope to be back soon.”
Oilers goaltender Viktor Fasth (groin) is practicing with the team today at Rexall Place.
Bachman is skating with the team as well.
The forward lines are as follows:
Oilers third-overall pick in 2014 Leon Draisaitl scored his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes, and it just so happened to be the game-winning tally. That was a big moment for the 18-year-old.
“It was really exciting,” Draisaitl said. “That’s something that I think every hockey player as a kid dreams of. To make this happen tonight, with this team, is even more special for sure.”
Up until the goal, Head Coach Dallas Eakins says that Draisaitl was just going about his business. The goal was a big lift for the young centre.
“I thought he was fine,” Eakins said. “He was playing well, no issues. He was just going about his business. It was good that he stayed with that puck there. He had had a chance real quick and then to get it was obviously a big burden off his back. I don’t know if a kid that age ever in his life has gone that many games with only a point or two. It’s not mandatory for him to have points every night but it’s something that wears on those guys who are used to getting points.”
It may not have been the prettiest goal, but that doesn’t matter to Draisaitl. That’s a big moment no matter what it looked like.
“I don’t think it matters what kind of goals you score,” he said. “I think the important thing is that the goal is behind the goal line. It definitely wasn’t a pretty one. It was more of a greasy one, but I’ll definitely take it.”
The Oilers have won three straight. During this stretch, they’ve battled back from being down and they’ve overcome momentum swings in which the other team has tied the game. Their battle and confidence to face adversity are signs of growth in a team.
“It’s maturity, it’s character, it’s a new mix of guys, it’s everything and it’s a mindset that we’ve been able to put in place with our guys and good on them.,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “They’re embracing it, they’re supporting each other. I’ll tell you, after these goals when a team come back or maybe you go down by one I don’t have to say a whole lot on the bench anymore. Excellent job by our players.”
Carolina tied the game three times, but the Oilers came away with the 6-3 win.
The Oilers line of Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu is an ongoing topic of discussion. Their play has been excellent so far this season. The system that the Oilers coaching staff employs seems to fit their style very well. They’ve been able to contribute with solid defensive play and consistent offensive pressure.
“I think we all compliment each other real well,” Hendricks said. “I think the system that we run, that the coaching staff has put in place really helps us. It gives us the ability to skate and pressure teams all over the ice. We don’t sit back at all, we try to make them move the puck as quickly as possible, which causes turnovers. That allows us to jump on it. We talk as a line too and we still think we can be a lot better.”
One area the three forwards might want to improve upon is just putting some of those generated chances into the back of the opponent’s net. Aside for a late third period goal in a game against LA that was out of reach and a shorthanded tally, that line has been kept off the board.
“It seems like we’re hitting posts every night,” Hendricks said. “Last night, I had a real good chance off Gordo’s rebound late in the third. Niskonen just kind of threw his stick out there and it hit his stick. I think I had an empty net. We don’t really want to worry so much about goals. We want to produce, we want to help the team statistically but we can’t start pressing or trying to do things differently trying to score goals.”
Not recording a lot of goals doesn’t mean those players aren’t contributing offensively. The little things they do to create chances and set the Oilers up for offensive zone starts helps the team in the end.
“We want everybody to provide offence just the same as we want everybody to provide defence,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “Can some do it better than others? Yeah, absolutely. Their great strength so far this year has been to be able to start in their own zone and then end up in the other team’s zone with chances or shot attempts. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting the attempts in the other zone or if you’re just cycling the puck, hanging onto the puck or winding down the clock. The more that we’re in their zone, the less they’re going to score in ours for sure. Then that equates to the less we have to get to win the game. They’ve been very very effective. All three guys on that line are important to our hockey team, all three guys are critical penalty killers for us. They’re serving a number of purposes. They’re able to get us o-zone time, they’re doing some heavy lifting on draws in our zone, they’re killing penalties and then, at times, they’ve got to go out and play against another team’s top line as well.”
Of course that line would like to pot a few goals here and there. But hemming the opponent in their defensive zone has been a solid way to contribute here at the start of the season.
“In a lot of games, that can be just as beneficial,” Hendricks said. “We hem them in, force them to ice the puck, we get an offensive zone draw and we can get our young guys out there, our offensive guys. In our opinion, that’s just as good, well not quite as good as good as scoring a goal, but it feels pretty good to do that too because (the offensive guys) are going to have a great opportunity that shift. We know that.”