The Oilers worked on a drill Friday that’s familiar to those who watched Todd Nelson coach in the American Hockey League. The team pushed the two nets to either side of the centre circle and worked on 3-on-3 battles in tight quarters.
The thought process behind the drill is to get the puck off your stick quickly and decisively and score as much as you can in a short period of time.
“It’s like a game, you don’t have much time,” Benoit Pouliot said. “At the same time, it’s a fun drill for the guys to have fun and try to score the most goals possible. I’ve done that drill a couple of times on other teams too and it’s just good for your quick passing and quick release. You have 2-3 seconds with the puck in the offensive zone too so you have to make a quick decision.”
Practicing quick decisions with passing and shooting could help the Oilers bolster their offence, which hasn’t produced at a satisfying level to the players.
“It’s just in tight and bearing down on goals,” Luke Gazdic said about the drill. “We need to get some more goals for a team that’s known for its offence. We haven’t been scoring a lot lately. The production has mainly been from one player (Benoit Pouliot) the last couple of games. It’s nice because it also lightens the mood a little bit. It’s fun. It’s a tough drill but it has a purpose and it’s nice to get stuff like that in.”
“It’s fun,” Oscar Klefbom added. “We did that a lot together in OKC. It’s a fun drill. The puck is going to go fast out there and it’s good for the forwards just to have a quick release and their head up all the time.”
How did the players fare in Nelson’s drill?
“I thought they did fine and moved the puck quick and shot when they had to,” the Oilers interim coach said. “It’s amazing that defence in that drill always seem to do better than forwards just because they check more in a game, so they’re used to the checking aspect, and then when they get a chance to shoot they like to shoot the puck. It was good. I thought the guys moved the puck quick and shot when they had to.”
“It’s a fantastic accomplishment.”
Oilers bench boss Todd Nelson summed it up perfectly when asked about veteran centreman Boyd Gordon playing in his 600th career NHL game last night in Tampa. After stints in Washington and Phoenix, the 31-year-old Saskatchewan native has endeared himself to the Oilers organization and their fans for his work ethic and unsung hero mentality.
“Gordo’s carved out a very nice career for himself,” Coach Nelson added. “He really plays a good, hard game and is always in the trenches. He’s a guy that goes in the faceoff dot for key draws and carries the lion’s share of the penalty kill. He’s a guy that tries to do things right every time and be consistent.”
Always humble and typically a man of few words, Gordon said he feels lucky to be in the NHL and relishes each day at the rink.
“It’s something I'm proud of and it was definitely a special night for me,” he said. “You just want to keep playing games and play for as long as you can. It’s a privilege to play in this league. Any time you get an opportunity to play in the NHL, it’s something you want to treasure.”
Gordon has done 600 games the hard way too, considering his top performance traits are winning faceoffs, blocking shots, marking opposing teams’ top players and killing penalties. He scored 81 points in his final WHL season with the Red Deer Rebels in 2002-03, but became a faceoff-winning, shutdown specialist in the NHL.
“I put up some points in junior, but when you’re a pro you have to figure out what you’re good at and what your niche is, and and I think I found that,” said Gordon, who credits his father, as well as his Rebels coach Brent Sutter, for teaching him the game and how to develop his faceoff prowess.
Gordon ranks second in the NHL in blocked shots by a forward this season with 53 (Ryan Getzlaf has 57), sits eighth in the league in faceoff success at 56.5% and sixth in total faceoff wins with 843. He’s also scored five goals this year and has a career-high 12.5% shooting success rate.
When Oilers interim Head Coach Todd Nelson glances over to the Tampa Bay Lightning bench during tonight’s game, he’ll see a former American Hockey League colleague guiding the opposing squad in Jon Cooper.
Nelson and Cooper share quite a few similarities. Both grew up in small Western Canadian cities (Nelson in Prince Albert, SK and Cooper in Prince George, BC). Both have worked their way up through the minor league coaching ranks, and both were mid-season NHL head coaching replacements.
Cooper guided the AHL's Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch from 2010 to 2013, while Nelson was bench boss of the Oklahoma City Barons. He took the reins of the Lightning in March 2013 when Guy Boucher was relieved of his duties and proceeded to lead the team to a 101-point 2013-14 campaign. Tampa Bay is also off to a strong start this year with a 27-14-4 record.
Many of the prospects Cooper coached in the AHL have turned into impact players with the NHL club, like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Brett Connolly. Nelson said his goal is to enjoy similar success with the Oilers and see some of the guys he’s helped develop in OKC grow into NHL regulars.
“Jon’s done a fantastic job here,” Nelson said. “He has his team playing well. They’re an explosive team. It’s a situation where I'm going to relish the fact that we get to coach against each other. Hopefully in the future, we as an Oilers team can accomplish what Tampa Bay is accomplishing right now.”
Tonight’s Oilers vs. Lightning game marks a bit of a homecoming for winger Teddy Purcell, who spent the last four and a half seasons playing in Tampa before he was dealt to Edmonton in the Sam Gagner trade this past summer.
The 29-year-old from St. John’s, Newfoundland started his NHL career with the LA Kings but was traded to Tampa during the 2009-10 campaign. Purcell played 310 regular season and 22 playoff games with the Lightning, scoring 203 regular season points and 18 more in the post-season.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited,” said Purcell, who ranks fourth in Oilers scoring this year with 19 points. “It’s nice to come back and see some familiar faces. It’s a little different, but I’m excited to play tonight. We had a lot of successful seasons here, and I give a lot of thanks to this organization for giving me the chance to become an every-day NHL player.”
Purcell said he got a chance to meet former teammate Steven Stamkos for lunch yesterday and also visited his former Tampa home, which is now occupied by current Lightning forward Brian Boyle, who’s in his first season with the Florida squad.
The Oilers are on the ice for practice in Tampa Bay.
Gordon is absent
The Oilers newest centre will play his 700th career NHL game tonight against a former team. Derek Roy has played 699 career NHL regular season games with the Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and the Oilers.
“I honestly didn’t know until they told me,” Roy said of the achievement. “I knew I was pretty close to getting there sometime. It’s just a number, but I’ve played on some great teams and played a lot of games in this league. It’s just good. I’m healthy right now, so that’s good and I’ve just got to keep rolling.”
Roy has seen it all in his career. He’s played for different teams under different coaches so it’s easy for him to transition to a new club. When the Oilers acquired Roy in a trade from Nashville in December, it didn’t take long for the new guy to settle in.
“Pretty easy,” Roy said of the transition. “The guys are great here. It’s a great young group of guys, good coaching and the transition was pretty smooth. I’ve played a lot of systems with a lot of different coaches so it’s no different here. It’s just a matter of going out there, battling, winning battles and working hard.”
Roy has six points (2-4-6) in seven games with the Oilers so far, contributing offensively along with providing veteran leadership.
“I think the opportunity helps,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “I think anytime you get a fresh start somewhere you get a little bit of jump in your stride, you play with more energy. He’s a guy that’s always been a smart player and he’s able to create some offence. I think right now, he’s just accepting the fresh start and he’s been taking advantage of it.”
“We’ve got a great young group here and I’m just trying to work as hard as I can every day in practice and in games to show some leadership and get some points, put some numbers up and help guys score, that’s my job, and play some tough defence,” Roy said. “I’m just trying to do that every game.”
In 699 NHL games, Roy has scored 180 goals and 328 assists for 508 career points. He has 27 career points in 49 NHL playoff games.
Oilers prospect Richard Bachman has been named the AHL's Player of the Week. From the AHL's Press Release:
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. ... The American Hockey League announced today that Oklahoma City Barons goaltender Richard Bachman has been selected as the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Jan. 11, 2015.
Bachman made three appearances in net last week and stopped 60 of 61 shots, registering a 2-0-0 record with a 0.40 goals-against average, a .984 save percentage and two shutouts to help the Barons take over the top spot in the overall AHL standings.
Bachman stopped six of seven shots in 29 minutes of relief work on Tuesday vs. Texas, then drew the start on Saturday night and made 28 saves to backstop Oklahoma City to a 2-0 win at Rochester. Bachman followed that up with another shutout, turning aside all 26 Hamilton shots in a 3-0 Barons victory and helping the club set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive road win.
Bachman is 11-3-3 in 18 games for Oklahoma City this season, with a 2.20 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and three shutouts. The sixth-year pro from Salt Lake City, Utah, has a career record of 81-52-15 in 154 AHL appearances for Oklahoma City and Texas, registering a 2.56 GAA, a .916 save percentage and 14 shutouts. Originally drafted by Dallas in 2006 and signed by Edmonton as a free agent in 2013, Bachman has gone 14-12-2 with one shutout in 35 career outings in the National Hockey League with the Stars and Oilers.
In recognition of his achievement, Bachman will be presented with an etched crystal award prior to an upcoming Barons home game.
Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was named on Saturday to the NHL All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. For Nugent-Hopkins, it will be his first NHL All-Star Game and he will be the Oilers lone representative.
“I think it’s an outstanding honour," said Oilers interim head coach Todd Nelson. "This year he’s elevated his game and he’s been playing some very consistent hockey. We’re very happy for him. It’s a great honour for him to go there.”
Nelson also coached Nugent-Hopkins in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons during the lockout in 2012-13. He added that he is very happy with Nugent-Hopkins' overall game.
“Right now he’s playing both ends of the ice very well. He’s playing in all situations and he’s very dependable. It doesn’t matter if he has a couple goals or doesn’t, he’s contributing to the hockey team’s success.”
Nugent-Hopkins was excited for the honour.
“It’s definitely pretty exciting. I got the news, cool to hear about it. I think it’ll be a lot of fun,” he said, adding it will be quite the experience to play with the League's best.
“It’ll be a little bit different. I got a chance to play with a lot of great players when I went to the World Championships so I know some of them from that but a lot of these guys have been to the all-star game many times.
“Any time you get a chance to talk to guys like that it’s really cool to see how guys approach it from different teams, especially the top guys around the league. It’ll be cool to talk to them.”
The Oilers centre added that he was looking forward to just having fun and playing in what is normally a high-scoring affair.
“You watch it every year and it’s just a fun game. A lot of guys having fun, moving the puck around and trying to run up the score as much as possible.”
Thankfully, Nugent-Hopkins didn't have any plans made during the all-star break that he would now have to cancel.
“I didn’t have anything completely planned yet. I was thinking of going somewhere close.”