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.”
The Oilers beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 last night. However, they were outshot 34-20 in the game and 13-5 in the third period. There were some things from last night the team wants to adjust ahead of their next game.
“The biggest thing for me, and you can’t work on this in practice, is more of a message and you can back it up with some video,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “I thought we had a good first period, I thought we were fine in the second period, but in the third period we started to back up. We started to play that back-up game and oh, you don’t want to do that. We just don’t want to play that way. You can see what happens when you back up and play safe. Safe is going to kill you. We want to play intelligent with the lead. Then a couple of things I didn’t think we did very well is I don’t think we managed the puck very well. Breaking out, I think we had some bad luck on our exchanges. But once we got it and we were roaring through the neutral zone, we want to enter under control unless the team has done a good job. Then we want to get the puck deep. I thought we were a little too over confident that we were going to be able to enter. We turned over some pucks and that ended back in our zone, either chances against or we’ve given up o-zone time. Those were the biggest things for me. After two periods, we played a back-up game and then our puck management.”
The Oilers feel like a weight has been lifted. They’ve won two straight games after an 0-4-1 start to the season.
“It definitely lightens the load a little bit, especially getting that first one when you start out the first five winless,” Defenceman Mark Fayne said. “You’ve got to stay focused. You can’t dwell on the past of even get too happy about past games because there are a lot left.”
Even through the tough start, the Oilers were focused on just sticking through the process. That remains unchanged following two wins.
“I don’t think the mood has changed a lot in the room,” Winger Matt Hendricks said. “It feels good to get two wins, no doubt. But it’s what we’ve been talking about since day one and we’re going to keep harping to (the media) as well just like the coaches harp to us, it’s about the process. Our record, our wins and losses are going to take care of themselves as long as we continue to pay the right way.”
The Oilers are on the ice at practice this morning.
They are running the same lines and defensive pairings as last night.
It’s quite impressive how many times the Oilers line of Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu has stuck out positively in games this season. Those three have proven to be defensively responsible, but also create offensive chances consistently.
When Head Coach Dallas Eakins thought the line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle needed a break from the Alex Ovechkin line of the Washington Capitals, he went his toolshed and let loose the wagon line.
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Eakins said of having the Hendricks, Gordon and Joensuu line in his back pocket. “It was turning into that Nuge’s line was trying hard but they just couldn’t quite get it together. The pucks were bobbling on them, they were a little out of sync I thought. There effort was excellent but then I thought it was time to switch that matchup a little bit and start working Gordo’s line in there, and they love it. They love the challenge. That’s the great thing about our depth now and that’s when you get into people looking at minutes. We have four lines that can all play, and when you have that those minutes start getting very evened out.”
The Oilers could have easily packed things in. The Capitals had scored two straight to take the 2-1 lead and they’d eventually outshoot the Oilers 34-20 (13-5 in the third period).
But the Oilers didn’t quit. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made one of the best players in the league, Alex Ovechkin, pay for a costly turnover. Nugent-Hopkins tied the game 20 seconds after the Capitals second goal and Nikita Nikitin netted the winner on the power play later in the second period.
The Oilers withstood the onslaught of shots in the third period to close out the win.
“They’re maturing, they’re getting some gamesmanship,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said of his team’s response. “It’s not like there’s a big fire drill going on anymore. It’s just alright, settle in, they scored so let’s get back to it. There’s a lot of different ways to look at a score and react to it. A good example is, let’s say you’re up 2-1 and the team ties it at 2-2. You can react to it like, ‘Oh my god, they just tied it.’ Or the score is still 2-2. What if the score is reversed? You were down 2-1 and you made it 2-2. You would be, ‘Hey! We’re coming, we’re coming.’
“The score is 2-2. You’ve got to handle it better mentally and our guys have had amazing progress in that department.”
The Oilers took the ice at Rexall Place for their game against the Washington Capitals with the tragic events of the day still very much on their minds.
“It’s a terrible day,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “I think it’s days like this where everyone is reminded of what is very important and maybe what’s not so important. I know we love this game and our town and we’re all passionate about it. But for me, and all of our organization and I know our city too, it’s one of those days where you just take a step back and remember what is very very important and, in the end, we’re playing a game here.”
In Ottawa, an armed attacker shot and fatally wounded a Canadian Forces member at the National War Memorial. It is an event that sticks out to the players on the Oilers roster, who were part of a team-building visit to a military base before the season.
“Honestly, that thought did kind of cross my mind,” Goalie Ben Scrivens said. “Normally I try to not think too much outside of just preparing for the game. But on a day like today, we had the honour of doing a little team-building with the Canadian Forces in October. To see what they go through day-in and day-out, I didn’t see the video but from what I saw on twitter it takes a special person to run towards gunfire.”
Scrivens continued, “We’ve got to have our hats off, not just tipped, we’ve got to have a lot of respect for our military and people that are putting themselves in harm’s way so that we can live our lives and do what we love to do. It’s a terrible thing what happened today. We have to make sure we have respect for our military and we have support for everybody, not just the family who lost somebody today but anybody who is going through PTSD or guys who are coming home from deployment. Those are the people who sometimes get forgotten.”
Captain Andrew Ference spoke of how the tragedy of today hits home.
“It’s not just today, but the last two days I think and in Quebec as well,” Ference said. “We were glued to the TV this morning, probably like most of the country. Those guys put themselves in pretty brave situations every day, it’s not just when they get deployed. Obviously, that was evident in the last two days. It makes you sick to your stomach. Obviously, a lot of us have gotten to know some of those guys. It makes it more personal I guess because you can picture it happening to guys here on the base. It’s just sickening that there’s people out there that would do that. Obviously, it’s a sad day for us and for the whole country.”
The Oilers held a moment of silence for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo prior to the start of the game.
“It’s a good reminder today to make sure that we have those men and women in our thoughts, our actions and making sure we’re doing everything we can to help them,” Scrivens said.