The Oilers have lost 11 straight games, eight of those being by just one goal. Four have been decided in overtime. The team is right there, they just haven’t been able to finish off games.
Oilers winger Luke Gazdic says that’s why the team has been working on upping their battle level.
“I think our battle level, our compete level needs to come up for sure,” Gazdic said. “All these games, out of the 11 that we’ve lost, eight of them have been one-goal games and four have been in overtime. That’s something you can’t really practice. That’s just got to be a compete level and a battle level that we have to switch on. We’ll be looking to get after that for sure.”
It’s been a mental struggle, but the Oilers believe that if they can refine little things in their game and up the compete, they can turn some of those one-goal games into two points.
“I think it’s been tough mentally in this stretch here. It’s just things we have to work on and finding a way to win here. We’ve been close, but at the end of the day a loss is a loss, whether you lose by five or you lose by one. We’re still finding a way to lose games but we have to find a way to turn that around and find a way to win it. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
The Oilers will try to end their losing streak starting on Sunday, but that task gets tougher considering their next opponents. Edmonton hosts the Sharks Sunday, then heads to California for a back-to-back road swing against the Sharks and Ducks. They then return home to host the Ducks again with one day in between.
The California teams always bring a physical matchup, but the Oilers are just focused on getting that first win to shake off this difficult stretch.
“First of all, we’ve got to get a win here,” Oilers winger Luke Gazdic said. “I think that’s the most important part. We’ve been working hard the last couple of days on different things. We know what kind of teams they are. They’re big and heavy, you hear that word heavy all the time but we’ve got to bring it and we’re looking to get a couple of points against San Jose here tomorrow.”
Gordon, Hendricks and Nikitin are all absent, having missed yesterday’s practice as well.
The Oklahoma City Barons remain unbeaten in their last nine games, a franchise record (8-0-0-1), and have not lost since November 14.
Andrew Miller scored two goals to lead the Barons to a franchise record-tying seventh straight win, a 4-1 decision against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The boys are hot right now #bluesteelbarons— Brandon Davidson (@bdavy3) December 6, 2014
The Barons (13-4-2-2) are third in the American Hockey League's Western Conference with 30 standings points.
The Barons will try to stay hot with a game Saturday night in Milwaukee.
The Oilers worked on their conditioning today at practice, skating sets of lines.
“It’s on the calendar,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins explained. “When we sit down at the start of the year, I sit down with our strength staff and our exercise physiologist and we break the season down into places where we’re going to do some hard work. Then there are parts of the season where we pull right off. We haven’t had a stretch so far where we’ve been able to get some extra work in. The conditioning day was on the calendar, and it ended up being a little tougher because of our numbers out there. Usually you have eight D or an extra forward or a couple of extra forwards out there. With the bare minimum of four lines and six D, it taxes them fairly quickly.”
In addition to their conditioning, the Oilers ran battle drills all practice.
“Our practice showed today that we’re upping our compete level, upping our intensity and upping our work ethic,” Jordan Eberle said. “Like we’ve spoken about before, it’s not on the coach, not on the GM, it’s on us in here and we know that. We’ve addressed that in the locker room, guy to guy and we’ll be better.”
Oilers players and Head Coach Dallas Eakins reacted to General Manager Craig MacTavish’s press conference on Friday.
Andrew Ference: “It’s exactly what we’ve been saying. It does start with us in the room. We all have to be accountable, not only to each other and to this team but, the accountability has to come from yourself. As players, we all know that everybody has a role in what’s been going on, we all have a role to be better and to improve our game. All of us have different facets to work on and improve on, which collectively will make us more successful.”
Taylor Hall: “I think it just puts a little more pressure internally. Whenever your GM has to speak to the public and speak to the media, that’s usually not a good thing. For us, we’re looking forward to defending him and playing well for him because for a lot of us, he brought us in here, he’s believed in us and we’ve got to play better.”
Dallas Eakins: “I spoke to the team this morning… It’s the worst day. There are days when the GM may come in and talk to the players himself and that’s a bad day. But the worst day is when my boss and the players’ boss has to come in here and get pelted with bullets and questions about the team. That responsibility falls on me, my staff and the players in that room. It’s something that I take personally and certainly all of our players should be taking it very personally.”
As Dallas Eakins, in just his second NHL season as a head coach, continues to try and evolve, he has created personal goals and benchmarks for his development. However, with the Oilers recent 11-game losing streak and the heartbreaking string of close losses, Eakins has put more of a focus on keeping an eye on the mental aspect of the team.
“It’s always a moving target,” Eakins said of what he’d like to improve in his coaching style. “You have a plan going into the start of the season and benchmarks you want to move forward on. Those haven’t changed a whole lot. What has changed is our last month of hockey, being on the wrong end of a bunch of one-goal games and one ugly night at home especially. Then the target changes and those benchmarks you wanted at the start of the season are still there, they’re still on the list but you’re trying to get the players out of this so you can get back on track and keep putting in the necessary building blocks to become a playoff team. That stunts the process a little bit when you get into these things.”
He continued, “Right now, our main concern and my main concern is the mental part of the game for our players. You take that last game in Winnipeg and those rip your heart out. You’ve played a textbook game on the road and there’s a goal late with whatever was left on the clock. I know it wasn’t much because I could hear it ticking down. That puts your whole group back in the funk of, what’s it going to take? What’s it going to take? We played well enough to win. That’s the biggest adjustment now, trying to get them through it.”
"I’m not naive enough to think there isn’t going to have to be personnel change here over time.”
In an address to the media, Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish admits that he sees personnel changes in the future, but one at head coach isn’t on his list.
“We could bring in a fifth coach to deliver the same message to this group,” MacTavish said. “The thing that gives me optimism is that I’m hearing the same messaging from the players that I haven’t heard in the last number of years. The players are holding themselves accountable. I think you have to credit the current coaching staff for that, in getting the message through.”
MacTavish says, despite the win-loss record, he sees the evolution of Head Coach Dallas Eakins and that the messaging is still on point.
“When we asked Dallas to commit to us 18 months ago, he had plenty of opportunity and for obvious reasons,” MacTavish said. “He’s a sharp guy and as a very sought after coach at the time. I’ve seen, I felt at that time, as I do now, that he is a good role model for our players. He’s a passionate guy about the game and he’s evolving as a coach. Your question is where he’s evolved and I think with the way he deals with this situation, I think with his resiliency as a coach, I think it’s no easy feat to have the record that we’ve had at this time and still, in my mind, have the support of the whole group in there.”
That being said, much like the rest of the organization, coaching will still be under observation as the Oilers continue to evaluate every aspect of the club’s operations in an attempt to turn the team’s fortunes around.
“Coaching is under scrutiny, make no mistake about that,” MacTavish said. “Coaching is under scrutiny but, in my mind to make a coaching change, we’ve changed assistant coaches, we’ve brought in co-coaches, former head coaches… Those coaches were all delivering the same message and we need a higher level of execution. I feel our team is evolving to a point where the expectation internally with our players is that they do have to execute at a higher level and that gives me optimism that this thing is going to move forward.”
The team is running lines at the end of practice.