With an extra day in between games providing a more relaxed game schedule early in the team’s six-game homestand, the Oilers took the opportunity today to further refine their skills in areas most in need of improvement.
Throughout practice, the coaching staff alternated roles at the white board, with Assistant Coach Kelly Buchberger kicking off practice with the instructional duties. Midway through the session, Head Coach Tom Renney stepped in and quickened the pace with some heart-pumping drills and a demand for perfection.
Although the team has recorded four consecutive victories in the past week, certain holes still exist in the team's game. Edmonton's powerplay currently sits 25th in the NHL with a 14.3 percent efficiency rate, and has been cause for concern despite the recent success.
As such, the final 20 minutes of today’s practice were spent working on zone entry, getting the puck deep and, of course, executing when the opportunities came with the man-advantage.
After stopping the session for a brief motivational speech with his players, Renney’s demand for precise execution hit home with the Oilers showing a greater commitment to powerplay success; effort, creativity and execution highlighted the waning moments of practice as the extra time spent with the powerplay seemed to provide the players with a boosted level of confidence.
Head Coach Tom Renney says that although confidence is improving, that the group needed to experience the early bumps of an NHL season to help develop character in the long 82-game grind.
"You've got to let them go out and play and experience that, and maybe draw their own conclusions; make some mistakes, and those types of things," said the coach.
"We are still only a third of the way into the season, and there's a lot of hockey to play and a lot to experience that's going to put them in tough spots, no question. We're far from a finished product, but we're certainly getting there because of the nature of the type of people that we drafted."
Taylor Hall, who has now scored six goals in his past eight games, says that confidence is everything -- both from an individual perspective, and for the team moving forward.
"Confidence is a big thing for any player," said Hall. "At the start of the year, it took me eight games to score, and obviously my confidence wasn't where it's at now. Confidence is huge, especially for a forward and for someone that needs to score points. It's definitely a good feeling right now."
While the confidence is currently at a season-high for many players, Hall was adamant that it was simply a product of the development phase.
"You want to worry about putting yourself in those positions to score, getting a lot of shots on net, and getting chances to score. When you're doing that, you're playing in their end. That's obviously a good thing because they can't score on you, but it gives you confidence when you get those chances."
The upbeat atmosphere is a pleasant change, and Hall continues to show his enthusiasm while keeping a level head during the four-game winning streak.
"Right now it's certainly a fun environment to be in. I think Tom (Renney) is keeping us on an even keel. We can't get too high -- it's only four wins in a row, but there are definitely a lot of positives we can take from this stretch."
Magnus Paajarvi, who has seen an increase in his point-totals since being put on a line with Ryan Jones and Sam Gagner, says that the work is far from over despite the overall improvements.
"We knew it was going to take time to turn this around -- and we haven't turned it around yet, but we're on a good way right now," said Paajarvi of the winning streak.
"We're just going to keep working on those things that we worked on before. We've got to stay patient and stay humble in every day and I know we're going to do well. We're doing really good right now."
Team confidence is often the result of developing chemistry between linemates, and Paajarvi seems to have found an excellent fit between Jones and Gagner. The highly skilled Swede agrees that his play on an individual level has reached a new peak.
"I feel better right now. I've been playing better the last couple games. It's the same as the team, I think. Just stay patient there and keep working and keep practicing; and right now I'm finding my lanes a little bit more."
"I know where I can go right now and I feel comfortable with it, too. I think if I can do that, I'm going to play good hockey. Right now I'm doing a lot better, and when I do that the offence is going to come, and I think that's proven in the last couple games."
Defenceman Jim Vandermeer, who has been playing some outstanding hockey during the winning streak, agrees that an increased level in confidence usually nets positive results from an individual perspective.
"I think it was just a matter of just not worrying about making small mistakes. I think when you're more concerned about not making mistakes, that you're more prone to making mistakes," said the physical blueliner.
"By simplifying things, I'm in better position and not really lunging at guys or trying to make hits. I'm just in a better position to be making better hits that way. Just simplifying my game helps me be in a better position."
Ales Hemsky was once again absent from practice this morning, and the coach says that a timeline isn’t available at this time.
"These are temperamental things in terms of healing, so when I suggested indefinite, that was as accurate as I could be at the time -- and I'm not sure that I can be much better than that, other than I think that it's going to take some time," said Renney. "It could be upwards of a month for all we know."
When asked if the team was preparing to call someone up from Oklahoma City, Renney says that the process is already underway.
"We're just talking about that now again, as Steve (Tambellini) is here and we're going through that right now. I think we will at some point in time, but I'm not exactly sure when or who."
HALL NAMED NHL’S THIRD STAR
Just behind Sidney Crosby and Ryan Miller, Taylor Hall was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week this morning. Hall, known for his modesty in the locker room, was thrilled with the honour but credited much of his individual success to the team’s latest charge.
"Pretty good company, I'd say. It's certainly nice to get recognized; and I think as much as it's an individual thing, I think you can attribute a lot to the team. We've been winning games, we've been playing well, and everyone does well when that's happening."
Read more on Hall's selection
Hall Named NHL's Third Star of the Week
In the latest edition of our fan question series, James from St. Albert, Alberta submitted a question for Jason Strudwick.
JAMES: "During practice you participate in the drills that the coaching staff schedules, but on an individual level, what kind of things do you like to personally work on away from the formalities of practice to better your game?"
JASON: "Off the ice, I try to work on my quickness. Our trainer Simon Bennett will set up some drills and I'll try to do them -- especially the day before the game, I'll work on that.
On the ice, every day I like to spend about five minutes just by myself in one corner of the ice and just work on different skills that I know will happen over and over during a game, such as pivoting with the puck or going back for the puck with my head up.
I don't do a lot every day, but a little bit every day helps and over the course of the season it really adds up."
Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Jack Michaels