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The Progress Report: A New Tactic

Coach's challenge requires an immediate response from the players

Wednesday, 24.11.2010 / 6:40 PM / Features
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
A scramble in front of the Coyotes goal gets turned away as Phoenix went on to the win the game 5-0. (Getty Images).
The key word being stressed to Oilers fans over the past little while is that patience is required to undergo the process of an organizational rebuild. That particular message has been received, although not always followed by fans and media alike.

After all, this is an emotional game that fans, especially in Oil Country, live and breathe by.

Although the team came up with a big win Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks, a second 5-0 loss in the span of a week ended the road trip on a low note.

Head Coach Tom Renney felt the same way, with his post-game comments featuring some of the most outspoken language that we’ve seen from the coach since he arrived in Edmonton.

"I’m not happy. Flat out not happy. It’s a joke, right there, enough. Next question,” Renney remarked to the media.

"We win a game and we figure we’re going to be hoisting the Cup or something, I don’t know. It’s a joke, I mean, the battle level was nonexistent tonight. The pride in the jersey was not close to being where it needed to be. It was an absolute joke, travesty."

RAW EMOTION OR PLANNED TACTIC?

Since his arrival to Oilers organization, everyone close to the team has gotten to know the coach as somewhat of a mild-mannered individual. While Renney has proven to be honest, his assessments are fair; carefully worded and eloquently said, but fair.

Although Renney took the opportunity to publicly criticize his team in the most dramatic of fashions, none of that has changed. From day one of training camp, the coaching staff and organization as a whole has stressed that they want to create a winning culture. That process requires commitment, hard work, and dedication that goes well beyond the early notions of wins and losses.

So that begs the question: Was Renney's post-game commentary all emotionally driven, or was it a combination that included a planned coaching tactic?

Ales Hemsky & Sam Gagner try to find a lane during last week's 4-3 shootout loss to the Coyotes (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)
Players have to want to play in Edmonton and be a part of the process. According to the coach, the Oilers showed a lack of pride in their jersey. Win or lose, such an effort is sure to drive any coach mad. And it did.

Slow starts happen, and the simple fact is that there isn’t a team in the league who doesn’t encounter them from time to time. Sam Gagner agreed, but says the team needs to show a greater sense of persistence when things go south.

"Obviously, we had a pretty good chance to start the game there and we weren’t able to capitalize and they come down and score. It’s something that you never want to happen to start the game, to be down a goal right off the bat, but I feel like as a team and as a group we have to have better resolve and be able to bounce back from things like that."

Gagner expanded on that thought and again brought it back to a diversion of the game-plan.

"Today we just weren’t ready to start the game and it showed. I think everyone saw our first period when we handled being down and being in different situations and it wasn’t good. And we came back with a better second and we weren’t able to score and that’s a problem for us, but we need to continue to stick with things and our game-plan, and make sure we’re ready right from the puck drop."

A COMMON THEORY

What we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks are lot of the same things. The team getting off to slow starts, giving up leads and, to put it bluntly and realistically, getting blown out on a far too regular basis.

It’s been a common ideology that young, rebuilding teams don’t face the everyday pressure of a more veteran squad that’s expected to win. This isn't to suggest, however, that only young players are the ones feeling pressure. This is a phenomenon affecting the entire team, and the results certainly reflect that.

But perhaps this theory works in just the opposite way. Everyone on the roster, both in Edmonton and Oklahoma City realizes that there are opportunities available. Jobs can be won with strong play and mental fortitude to move up the depth chart and create a lasting impression.

At the same time, jobs can be lost in the same way. That kind of pressure could potentially be more difficult to handle. The players know that they’re constantly being evaluated on a daily basis. Their game-night performances, effort and execution in practice and much more goes under the microscope as the coaches and management look to put together the best team possible.

The Oilers celebrate an opening night goal when the vibes were all positive in the locker room (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC).
Of course, when the team has reached that next level of success, several of the players currently making up the roster won’t be here to enjoy it.

The players are likely aware of that, too.

So what can we take away from Tom Renney’s post-game comments following the loss to Phoenix? We know that the coaching staff has shown incredible patience when working with this young team as they look to build a championship calibre squad for the future. We know that this group of teachers and innovators have attempted a number of different tactics to instil confidence in the minds of these players.

We know, more than anything, that the coach’s emotional investment runs deeper than anyone could imagine.

The team is currently growing through a rough patch that has seen them play some uninspired and sometimes emotionless hockey. Whether this can be attributed to nervousness, the fear of making a mistake, or something else beyond that, Renney has made his presence known as he looks to inject the passion himself.

Sometimes the message is more about the delivery than the content itself. If the team truly has been playing with nerves or the fear of making an error, this was Renney’s way of telling them to suck it up and just play the game the way the Oilers know how.

Whether this message has a positive or negative effect remains to be seen. But we now know that patience, even in a rebuild, can only last so long before the method changes.

Renney has done his part in that regard. Now it’s up to the team to step up and respond.


Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com
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