January 21 2014 12:04PM
John Tortorella is on third day of his 15 day suspension, but tonight is the first game he'll miss as head coach of the Canucks. It is too early to tell how the Canucks will react to 15 days without their fiery coach.
You have to believe the Canucks will bring a lot energy and emotion into Rexall tonight, and it would be nice to see the Oilers match their desire. The Oilers don't have enough guys to brawl with them, but they need to learn to match the intensity of their opponents.
Tonight will be a good test.
Recently the Canucks have tried to ignite their passion with fighting. Their recent games vs. Calgary and LA have the Canucks tied with the Flyers for most fights in the league, and you can expect they will try to intimidate the Oilers tonight.
After Saturday's loss I wrote about the Oilers losing too many one-on-one battles, and yesterday I asked Eakins about those battles and specifically Jeff Petry.
Gregor: Petry was in the right position to make a play twice against the Jets, but both times he lost his man. How can you instill an increased competitive level amongst the players, because too often your team is losing too many important one-on-one battles?
Eakins: It is interesting we were talking about it after the game and then this morning. Early in the season we had some guys who didn't understand where they were supposed to be and we were teaching that. Now it has come down to we have people in the right spot, but we need them to finish off the execution. There are a number of things that go into it...
I'm guessing I know the plays you are referring to. Every player wants to do it, they are going to dig their heels in and do the best they can. Sometimes it is not being so aggressive, or overplaying the guy, sometimes it is not being aggressive enough. And what we try to do with that is we may show instances to the whole team with a video session, but a lot of times it is one-on-one stuff.
I think we have been doing a good job of instilling winning those one-on-one battles in practice, whether it is full ice one-on-one, down low two-on-twos or three-on-threes and the importance of not getting beat one-on-one...cause in the end that is what it comes down to. You can run whatever system you want, offensively or defensively, but the winning of the one-on-one battle is huge and the creating of a two-on-one battle is huge when you have the puck.
For some players it is small adjustments and for some it is experience."
Gregor: Being a former player, I'm sure you played with guys who found ways to win more battles than they lost. Is that something you gauge, and if you are going to improve do you need more guys who are winning instead of losing those battles?
Eakins: Exactly. A lot of times it is the personality test. There are some guys, that are just so...it doesn't matter what they are doing, they are competitive and they have just that slight uncertainty....listen they are polite guys in public... your wife walks in, they will hold the door open, but if you look sideways at you they might smack ya...there has to be a little meanness in them.
That is part of the evaluation going forward for, not only are coaching staff, but for Craig and managment. We've got some good, good players and we've got to see if they fit...especially playing in this conference; this conference is nasty. The game is being played by strong men who enjoy doing hard things. Not only do we have to look at our skill set, we have to look at the makeup of the guy's DNA when it comes to the level of battle that comes naturally to him.
I don't expect, or need, every player to be aggressive or a banger, but you need a team filled with players that when they find themselves in a one-on-one situation have the internal drive to make it difficult for their opponent.
Randy Gregg is a perfect example. To be clear I'm not saying Petry is as good as Gregg, I'm just comparing styles.
Gregg was a valuable member of the Cup winning teams, but he wasn't nasty or a banger. They had Craig Muni, Jeff Beukeboom, Kevin Lowe and Steve Smith who played gritty, but Gregg was a guy his teammates could rely on when he engaged in a battle. He was a very cerebral player, and usually used his positioning and smarts to make good plays, but whether it was battling for positioning in front of the net, in the corner or fighting for a loose puck he always held his own.
The Oilers don't need Petry to suddenly become nasty, that isn't his persona, but he has to show more effort than he did in those two one-on-one situations in Winnipeg. I'm a firm believer that when the Oilers acquire more guys with a fierce desire to win battles it will rub off on other players.
It can be contagious, and if every player becomes even 5% grittier for lose pucks or battles, then the team's chance of success will improve.
Eakins alluded to the fact the Pacific division is filled with strong men who enjoy doing hard things, and while the Oilers try to improve their blueline and forward group, it sounds like they will also be looking for players who, not only fill those holes, but also possess a strong desire to compete.
Two changes. Belov comes out and Potter takes his place in the 3rd pairing, and Ben Scrivens gets his first home start as an Oiler.
- After watching Dubnyk and the other goalies in the Oilers organization, I sense there will be a new goaltending coach next season. Which goalies have continually developed during Chabot's time? Maybe the goalies simply weren't good enough, but with little progress look for a new goalie coach next year.
- Ales Hemsky skated after practice with no equipment yesterday, while Nail Yakupov was on the ice with him in full equipment. Hemsky has a deep bone bruise, but no broken bones. They Oilers need him healthy for the Olympics and up until March 5th so he has trade value.
I've always liked Hemsky as a player, there are very few players who can skate as fast with the puck as without it, and won't be surprised if he produces elsewhere, but I believe he has less than 10 games remaining as an Oiler. If he plays nine more games before being dealt he will be 12th all-time in GP as an Oiler and he'll finish 8th all-time in points. The only way I see him staying past the deadline is if he is injured. I don't see him re-signing in the summer, so there is no point letting him leave without getting some sort of asset in return.
- The Oilers could keep half of his remaining salary in a trade, just over $600,000, and that would make him even more attractive to potential trading partners. If the Oilers keep part of his salary, the return will likely be more.
- I wonder if a team will inquire about Nick Schultz or Ryan Smyth?
GAME DAY PREDICTION: I have no idea about tonight. Gut says Oilers lose, likely because that is the smart bet, but I'll pick the Oilers to win, 4-2, which is still smarter than the actions of the above Canucks fan. What is your best guess why the guy behind him is carrying a pillow? Never change Canucks fans, never change.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Gazdic ends his 12-game fighting drought with a first period tilt against Tom Sestito. Sestito is first in the NHL in fights, 15 while Gazdic is second with 10.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: One day after writing his letter to the fans, or at least signing the bottom of the letter, D. Katz makes an appearance at Rexall. During the 2nd intermission he hangs out on the concourse chatting with fans and thanking them for their support. **I know this will never happen, but it should happen a few times a year.**