Four former Oilers captains gathered at Rexall Place on Wednesday to share their thoughts on Glen Sather and his banner-raising ceremony, which will take place on Friday night when the Oilers host the New York Rangers.
Al Hamilton, Craig MacTavish, Kelly Buchberger and Kevin Lowe spoke with the media and answered questions about Sather and what made the former coach and manager a valuable piece to the franchise’s success.
“One of the true strengths of Glen was his ability to let people do their job,” said MacTavish. “I think that’s maybe one of his most defining qualities. Glen also cared very deeply about the players. We always knew that he cared about us. Glen had a little bit of a rule that we all tried to abide by in that if you ever got into any situation at all, any questionable situation, make sure he was the first guy you called. And if you did that, you had an ally and if you didn’t do that and he found out about something, then you had a real enemy. He was very loyal to the players.”
Sather showed his caring of the players by holding them accountable and insisting that if they ever needed anything to come to him first.
“With Glen, he always wanted to make our team a family. You’re always accountable for yourself. Like Mac said before, if you got in trouble, you’d have to contact him first. But unfortunately sometimes, I didn’t contact him and I’d get scolded. Maybe that’s why he left me unprotected in the ’99 expansion draft and never told me,” Buchberger laughed.
On Friday night, Oil Country celebrates one of their legends. Sather will join Hamilton, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson and Rod Phillips in the Rexall Place rafters.
“If you ask any or all of the banner guys, they’ll conclude or agree that Glen is an equal part to the success of the team, regardless of the lofty status of the banner guys and what they were able to achieve on the ice. I’m not sure any of this happens without Glen,” said Lowe.
Todd McLellan spent seven seasons in San Jose as the head coach of the Sharks. He missed the playoffs just once in that span, his final season with the club, last year.
Tomorrow night will be McLellan’s first time facing his former team as the bench boss of the Oilers.
“It’s always a different night when you go back and play against your old team,” said McLellan. “I remember going into Minnesota, going into Detroit and now playing against San Jose. San Jose was a long period for myself and my family there. We absolutely loved it. The organization, the ownership, the management, Doug Wilson and his team treated me tremendously well. They gave me an opportunity to enter the league as a young coach. They gave me a tremendous team to work with and the players, from the older ones… all the way down, I have a ton of respect for them. It will be nice to see faces but when the puck is dropped our job is to go out and win a game and that’s what we’ll try and do.”
The Oilers may get a little bit of an edge in their pre-scout with McLellan on their side, as he knows the players well.
“Individually, he’s going to be able to say a few more details about players,” said Matt Hendricks. “He understands the way they play and what they want and what they look for. Maybe we can have some cues on how to frustrate them more than the average team.”
In addition to the “inside info,” McLellan facing his former team could provide more emotional motivation for the players on the bench.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Hendricks. “I think we want to win for him, for sure.”
The Oilers were excited following their Sunday night game against the Buffalo Sabres. Following that 4-2 victory, the club was only three points out of a playoff spot when exactly a year before they were 15 back.
Knowing they’re still just a couple games back of the playoffs energizes the players in the locker room.
“I think, last year, you look at this time of the season, going into the Christmas break, we were out of the playoffs,” said Matt Hendricks. “You could count us out. Mathematically, maybe not 100 percent out but we were a long way from the playoffs. Now, for me, this is why I play. I love this. This is the best. Playoff hunt. We’re a long ways away from the playoffs, but we’re in a good position right now.”
The Oilers don’t need any reminding about what lies ahead for them. They want to continue to progress as they have this last stretch and stay in the hunt. Despite numerous injuries, Edmonton is 4-1-0 in their last five games. They have at least a point in five of their last six.
“Everyone on the team right now knows where we are in the standings. It’s not ‘well, why do I need to look today? I know where we are’ type of thing,” said Hendricks. “We have an opportunity here. We’ve got 50 games to go, or whatever it is, this year. We’ve got a lot of hockey left. We’re in a position right now where we kind of hold our cards. We hold our own destiny right now. We’ve battled. We’ve overcome some tough injuries and it’s a good spot to be sitting in this time of year.”
On Tuesday, it was announced that Khaira, in fact, had assisted on the goal and he could finally celebrate a career first.
“Guys kept bringing it up,” said Khaira. “I wasn’t really too worried about it. As long as I’m playing well and the team is playing well, that’s really number one right now. I wasn’t too worried.”
Even though he says it wasn’t on his mind, it’s a relief for Khaira to know five games into his NHL career he does in fact have a point.
“It’s nice. It is nice just to say I’ve got one,” said Khaira. “Now that that is over and done with I can move forward and just try to build off that.”
Stay tuned for more updates.
Anders Nilsson inspires confidence in his teammates, as he should. The Oilers goaltender has started 13 times in the last 15 games. His season numbers continue to get better as he added a 32-save performance in a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres tonight.
“We talk about confidence. From the crease out is the best way and right now we have that,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “He feels good when he’s in there. I can tell you that the 23 guys, even the ones that weren’t dressed tonight, feel good from the crease out. They feel good about him. They believe he’ll make that save when we make mistakes and we’re not going to be perfect. Again tonight, he made some big saves when we needed. We got him some (goal) support and we all get a win, so that’s good for us.”
Nilsson has a .951 save percentage in his last five games. He is also 4-1-0 in that span.
“I’m trying to stay in the present moment all the time and not look back too much and not get ahead of myself. I felt alright today, definitely not my best game,” Nilsson said after the win over Buffalo. “I think I could have had the first one, I definitely want to have that back. It was nice to see after that first goal how the team responded and how we bounced back and scored three unanswered goals right away. It feels good as a goalie when you let in a weak one but then you see your teammates really step up for you and score a few goals. That’s a really nice thing.”
Two games removed from scoring a shorthanded goal, the Oilers penalty kill was aggressive again. In Wednesday’s game against Boston they had a few shorthanded rushes, and they had some again tonight against the Buffalo Sabres, including a backhand off the post from Anton Lander.
While the Oilers couldn’t capitalize against the Sabres, their aggression on the penalty kill has been a little bit of a theme in recent games. It’s not a scheme or system thing though, it’s just consistency of the players now that they’re healthier there.
“We haven’t altered anything tactically or technically with the killers,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “They just feel more confident. We just started the year really well penalty killing and took a dive for a while, but most of our penalty killers were hurt at that point. Now we’ve got them back and we’re able to roll them out and feel better about that. In turn with our power play now, we’ve lost some key people and we’re giving some others opportunities there and we don’t see real good numbers. But once we get our bodies back, we think we’ll have two good units of special teams.”
The Oilers PK is 14-for-17 in their last five games (82.4%).
Following the Oilers 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, their third-straight victory, the club could look at the standings and see they were three points out of a playoff spot.
Exactly one year ago, the Oilers were 15 points out. It shows that this team has a chance to continue to play meaningful games as they progress.
“That’s great. I think it’s really important for us just to stay in the race,” said Taylor Hall. “As we start getting bodies back and as we keep improving as a team, we just want to stay in it and make sure that by the end of the year, there’s some important games in the mix there. You never know what can happen if you stay within four or five points. You get on a roll, you get a hot goalie or a line that really gets going at the end of the year, it can be dangerous.”
The head coach isn’t watching the standings now, however, as it is still early and there’s work to be done.
“I’m not going there,” said Todd McLellan. “The schedule, the standings, the wins, the points, will all shake out when it’s said and done. I want our guys to know we’re slowly improving and we’re evaluating based on progress. We’re not going into the newspaper or stat sheet and pointing anything out as far as that goes. We’d like to keep this homestand going. We’re going to face two very good teams coming up.”
Much of the focus in the Oilers locker room was on the next game, not the playoff race.
“Winning is why we play hockey. It’s fun,” said Jordan Eberle. “It’s nice to be on a bit of a streak here. The way I look at it, as most of us do, is this is one game. We can be happy about our effort and move forward. We’ve got a good team coming in Wednesday. We’ve got to be ready for that. That’s our mindset.”
Regardless of where their focus is, the team has won three straight and has managed points in five of their last six.
“Everyone is excited, excited to go play for each other,” said Darnell Nurse. “We go out there and we’re making plays for each other at big times… It’s a great feeling. With that said, it’s only December. For us, it’s continuing to get better on a daily basis with the way we want to play. It’s definitely very positive when you string together wins like this.”
Brandon Davidson has sat out the last two games due to injury, but the Oilers defenceman was close to returning last night when the Oilers faced the Dallas Stars. However, he took the extra day and is now nearing his return, which is likely tomorrow against Buffalo.
“He should be ready to go tomorrow,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “Coming off the ice today, he was smiling and said it felt even better.”
That skip in his step means Davidson feels he’s ready too.
“Yeah, I’m very excited,” said Davidson. “I think that will be a good game for me to get back in. I’ve missed the last couple because of injury but I’m ready to go on Sunday. It’s nice to come back to a team that has won two (in a row). It’s good.”
Davidson started the year in Edmonton out of camp but had to earn a regular spot in the lineup. Watching from the press box when he’s worked hard to get more games is a tough pill to swallow.
“It’s painful for sure,” said Davidson. “I think watching your team struggle or win is hard either way. If they’re struggling, you want to be there for them and if they’re winning, you want to be a part of it too. It’s tough, but as long as you have the right mindset and luckily enough it was only a minor injury and I can get back into my groove.”
Oscar Klefbom and Jordan Eberle were among those absent from practice today but Head Coach Todd McLellan says they should both be good to go tomorrow against Buffalo. Those two are among the several Oilers players nursing bumps and bruises after a rigorous schedule.
“Maintenance days. Expect both of them to play tomorrow,” said McLellan. “We’ve played eight games in 14 nights. There’s a lot of guys who could have used maintenance days. They were a little further along. Hope that they’re feeling real good tomorrow morning when it’s time to report.”
One player who will miss more time is Benoit Pouliot. The Oilers winger has missed the last two games and could go on IR. An official announcement has yet to be made, but the Oilers will likely recall a player from Bakersfield.
“He’s going to be a little bit longer now than originally thought,” said McLellan. “He had a day-to-day window where we thought he could make it through. He won’t play tomorrow and now we’re into a week and he’s potentially an IR-type player.”