THE TEAM TODAY: Big Week Ahead
Oilers have off-ice workout in preparation for a key game Wednesday vs. San Jose
BIG WEEK AHEADEDMONTON - With two days between games and the team stationed at home for the first time in a month, the Oilers took part in an off-ice workout at Rexall Place prior to Wednesday's huge contest against the San Jose Sharks.
The Oilers are on a roll, having picked up seven of a possible eight points in their last four games. This, coming off a stretch of five games where they failed to win a game. Their recent success has moved them to within two points of a playoff spot and their target is those same Sharks.
"We're feeling pretty good about what we're doing and I think that we made a point of cleaning up our end a little bit and really making hard plays in our end," said goaltender Devan Dubnyk. "If you don't have anything, getting the puck out and going to chase it down. We're doing such a great job -- when we do get the puck in the other end -- of being responsible and working the other team. It's fun to watch. It's fun to be out there with the guys and I think we all know that it's nothing magical and it's no real secret as to why we've been successful in the last few games and we need to keep doing it if we want to make a push here."
The standings are airtight with four points separating 6th through 12th and only eight points between last-place Colorado and first-place Minnesota in the Northwest Division.
"It's crazy how tight it is," Dubnyk continued. "Especially in the West right now. It's an exciting situation for us, obviously. We'd like to be in the playoffs right now but it's a great situation compared to years before to be (in it) at this time of year and having every single game be meaningful. We need to continue to work to make sure that's the case right through to the end of the season and obviously to playoffs."
Dubnyk added that it's nice that the team can be in the thick of the race and challenging for a spot at the midway point of March.
"It's a different situation. It's kind of like the end of the year in any year but it's that much more important to manage the highs and lows because you're either playing the next day or you're playing one day after. There's no time to feel good about yourself if you win and there's no time to feel sorry for yourself if you lose. You just have to get out and go because the next game is extremely important. It's going to be that way right through to the end of April. It's going to be a grind here but it's a good spot for us."
Magnus Paajarvi has been a huge part of the team's recent success with four goals and six points in his last eight games while playing a much-increased role in the team's offence.
"Magnus has worked so hard as a professional here to build a foundation. His physical side, his speed, all those things were something we never questioned. It was understanding the game that needed to be played here in the NHL -- not only the NHL -- but what we needed from him here in Edmonton. He went into OK City (at the start of the season) working on those elements. If you watched OK City earlier in the season, he wasn't necessarily always the brilliant offensive player because he was working on a lot of the other elements that we needed to see here," began Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger.
"That line with Lander and Hartikainen really became a character line for Oklahoma City behind our kids. He's taken those lessons here into the NHL. He's battled hard. He knew there was a lot of pressure with the spots that would be available and he took that battle face on and now, since he's become a fixed part of the roster, he's seemed to be blooming even more. It's exciting to see a player who's worked so hard for what he has, giving us what we need."
Krueger added that Paajarvi's speed has become a huge part of his game as has been noted in recent goals, most notably last Tuesday in Denver.
"One thing he learned is the speed on the outside in the National Hockey League is not worth very much. You need to bring it inside the dots and that's somewhere where we're feeling his speed. We're feeling it inside the dots, inside the opposition and it was an area that he wasn't getting to as consistently in the last few years and now we're seeing it in him. He's a guy who just gets it."
Paajarvi said that the increase in minutes has been a big reason for his boost in confidence. He had one game with 13 or more minutes in his first 15 games of the season but eight of his last nine have been well above that mark, peaking at 18:34 several weeks ago.
"I've been playing better lately, getting more minutes. It's been good lately," he said. "I think (hard work) goes a very long way. I've been having a lot of help. It was a tough year last year for me, mentally first and foremost but mentally I feel very, very strong right now. I feel like I know what I want to do out there and what I'm supposed to do."
Paajarvi elaborated on what he's done as of late to enjoy the success he has had.
"Driving to the net way more, with or without the puck. Just always be present there because things happen there. That's where the goals are and it's been happening lately."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com