The Oilers have made no secret of their intent to change the mentality of the team to that of a ‘defence first’ approach. Head Coach Dallas Eakins spoke about the defence and how they’ve improved in their own end as the season has gone on.
“We’ve cutdown on the chances against,” Eakins said. “We still need improvement, not so much in our zone but we’re really hammering on our guys, we like to call it ‘back pressure’. We want the guys coming back hard out of their zone and through that neutral zone. Early in the game, we weren’t doing it. We were much better in the third. In our own zone, for the most part, I thought we were alright.
“The last goal was just a great lesson for the defenceman there. You’ve got to win the battle. It’s a simple battle and that’s what happens when you lose a battle like that, especially 4-on-4. Defensively, OK. We still have to find more offence. We’ll go right back to it in practice and continue to get those touches. But our top guys have got to find a way. They’ve have to find a way to generate more.”
Scoring is something the Oilers look to adding to their game as they’ve scored one goal in the two games back from the Olympic break.
Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins talked in length about Luke Gazdic after the team’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Flames.
Gazdic knocked out Kevin Westgarth in a fight following the Flames first goal. The incident was a scary one and one Eakins, who says he likes a good fight, was ‘disturbed’ by.
“Luke’s game has improved greatly this year,” Eakins said. “He’s a big part of our team… I’ll admit, I love a good fight but to see Kevin laying on the ice like that, I don’t like that. That’s a disturbing thing for me and you never like to see a guy trying to get off the ice like that. But that’s the danger of those fights… Luke seems to be catching guys almost every time now, maybe not that drastic but the guy is falling out of the fight because he’s been tagged in the right spot. Luke’s doing an excellent job in his roll. He’s improving as a hockey player and his skill set and I personally, certainly hope that Westgarth is okay because that disturbed me.”
Aside from the outcomes of Gazdic’s fights, Eakins has been happy with the rookie’s work ethic and drive to improve his skills.
In today’s NHL, fighting is still a part of the game but those who fight also have to be able to take shifts and play at a high level and Gazdic can do that.
“For me, the guy has got to be able to play,” Eakins said. “The days of the guy just playing one shift and that’s it, and sometimes not even playing a shift just sitting on the bench, they’re gone. You’ve got to be able to play and you’ve got to bring something. Luke skates well enough that he’s able to get in on the forecheck and he continues to work on his skills. He’s been working his butt of in practice with our penalty kill. He’s dying to kill penalties and we may look at that, kind of after the… trade deadline to see if he can do that a little bit. He works extremely hard on his game, we all know he’s tough, the rest of the teams in the league are finding that out but it’s a great progression for him.”
Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins tweeted out a few lineup updates this morning, before their pre-game skate.
All Russia in this update. Bryz will start. Yak and Belov out with injuries.— Dallas Eakins (@dallaseakins) March 1, 2014
Hemsky says the new role is a different one but should he play there, it will only help his offensive game.
“It’s a little change than where I played in the last 30 games or something like that, or 20 games,” Hemsky said. “It’s just my game. If you play with those guys, it just helps you be better and just be better offensively. I’ll take any role they give me in the end. If they put me on the third line or first line, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just try to do the role they give me.”
Nail Yakupov’s foot absorbed a heavy shot from a teammate in last night’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He left the bench in the third period and did not return.
While Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins had not yet received an update from the trainers when he spoke to the media, Yakupov spoke sometime later and provided his own.
“Justin Schultz just (made) a shot and I was in his lane,” Yakupov said as he described the play. “But it’s okay, it happens sometimes and it’s part of the game, part of hockey and sometimes shots will get your body or your legs when you stand in front of the net. It happens. It’s okay. I think it will be better for sure and I’m just waiting to be in a game again and just play for the Oilers.”
When asked how he felt today, the prognosis is looking good.
“I feel good,” he said. “Much better than yesterday so it’s nothing serious, just got (hit with) a shot. It will take a little time.”
Yakupov confirmed there are ‘no breaks’ which is good news for the Oilers young forward. However, he is unsure as to whether or not he’ll play tomorrow night against Calgary.
“I don’t know. I can’t say anything now but I hope not.”
Yakupov said that although he left the game in the third, he knew right away it wouldn’t be serious. He says he can walk on it and move it. He was at Millennium Place in a walking boot this morning.
“It wasn’t that bad,” he said. “I just couldn’t play the third period and just left but I thought nothing serious.”
The Oilers have taken the ice at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park this morning.
Nail Yakupov is absent from practice as Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said he might be.
Yakupov took a hard shot off the foot and left last night's game in the third period.
As #Oilers Coach Eakins said last night was a possibility, no Nail Yakupov on the ice this morning at practice.— Chris Wescott (@TheChrisWescott) February 28, 2014
#Oilers Hemsky on top line RW w/ Hall & RNH, rest of lines are: Perron-Gagner-Eberle, Hendricks-Gordon-Joensuu, Gazdic-Smyth-Jones— Chris Wescott (@TheChrisWescott) February 28, 2014
Here are the line combinations:
The Oilers worked on their power play some during practice with changes to their two units.
FIRST PP UNIT:
RNH, Hall, Smyth, Hemsky and Justin Schultz.
Joensuu with Perron, Gagner, Eberle and Ference.
Nail Yakupov took a hard shot off his foot and left the game, early in the third period. The Oilers young forward did not return. Head Coach Dallas Eakins told the media following the game that an update on the injury will have to wait until tomorrow.
Eakins said that he doesn’t expect Yakupov to practice with the team at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park, tomorrow morning.
“That was a hard shot in not a good spot on his foot and I believe they were looking at it now,” Eakins said after the game. “But in my experience, when a guy leaves a game he rarely practices the next day. So we’ll have to get an update tomorrow on that.”
Both players tried their best to provide a spark of energy to their team, that was in need of a boost. Eakins singled out Hendricks as the team’s best forward in the game.
“I thought Hendy was possibly our best forward,” Eakins said. “Off the top of my head, I would say that he was.”
Eakins says both Hendricks and Gazdic tried to help their peers get their engines going, but the whole team had an off night.
“Luke is always there,” the coach said. “He works extremely hard and tries to give us momentum with his hits and his physical play. We were hoping that would get us going but it was interesting… It wasn’t even split. It wasn’t like we had guys who struggled the whole game and guys who played well. It would be, a certain player would go out and give us three really good shifts and then he’d come back and give us four bad ones. We just couldn’t get anything rolling as 18 skaters. We could get it rolling with six and then the other 12 would fall off. I just thought it was an ugly hockey game for both teams.”
The Oilers had four power play opportunities against Minnesota but failed to convert on those chances. Winger David Perron talked about the special teams play and what seemed to be missing for the team in their first game back, following the Olympic break.
“Well, we just don’t bear down,” Perron said. “There was a couple of pucks bouncing and we tried to use our sticks to keep it in. Use your body. It’s that much more thing it can hit to keep it in. Going back for breakouts, you’ve got to skate 200 feet one way, 200 feet back and once you do that once or twice, you don’t have as much energy to battle down there and get the pucks. Now it’s down the ice. The second unit goes and it’s the same deal over again.”
The Oilers rank 22nd in the league in power play percentage, converting 16.6% of their man-advantage opportunities. They worked on the power play some during their Olympic break mini-camp, but there is still some fine tuning left in break outs and the overall handling of the puck.
However, Head Coach Dallas Eakins said the rest of the installations to system play took hold well, particularly defensively as the team limited Minnesota’s shot count.
“I wish we would have handled the puck better, mostly, and executed better,” Eakins said. “But the stuff that we worked on this week, the adjustments to our system stuff, I was actually quite happy with it. We only gave up 21 shots in the game, which is encouraging and I thought our guys did a good job of implementing the new part of the system… But tomorrow we’ve got to break out pucks and handle the puck and transition the puck. These guys, we’ve got to ramp up the number of touches in practice and maybe not worry so much about the system stuff tomorrow.”