PACK MENTALITY

Robin Brownlee
December 22 2016 01:00PM

When you’ve been the designated free space on the Bingo card for as long as the Edmonton Oilers have, you cannot expect to return to contention and respectability in one fell swoop. It’s more often an evolution rather than a revolution. It’s one step at a time.

The Oilers took another step, a big one, Wednesday by beating the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 at Gila River Arena to end a 25-game winless streak against the Coyotes. It’s not that the Oilers won the game – let’s face it, the Coyotes have been a bad team with a ridiculously good record (21-0-4) against the Oilers in recent years.

It’s how the Oilers won this game, with players like Zack Kassian, Matt Hendricks, Mark Letestu and Eric Gryba stepping to the forefront and sending a message that’s been woefully lacking for far too many years when push came to shove. Call it a pack mentality, all-for-one-and-one-for-all, whatever you want, but the bottom line is this group of players is willing to play for each other.

This edition of the Oilers doesn’t meekly turn the other cheek when the going gets tough, like it did against the Coyotes. If you take on one of them, you will have to take on all of them. These Oilers aren’t fun to play against anymore, and, really, when’s the last time you could say that?

STICKING TOGETHER

“That’s been something we’ve harped on, and with the new management and coaching staff coming in, we want to be a big, heavy team,” said Hendricks, who contributed a goal and an assist, crushed Jakob Chychrun with a big hit and was in the middle of a third-period rhubarb.

“It’s no secret to anyone in the league that’s what we’re trying to create in Edmonton, and we’re taking the right steps. We’re a proud group, we play hard for each other, we stand up for each other and we want to be a team that doesn’t get pushed around.”

When Oliver Ekman-Larsson pounded Hendricks into the boards in the third period, Kassian, who chipped in a couple of assists and had yet another goal waved off, responded with a cross-check and then poked Anthony Duclair in the mouth, just for good measure. Letestu, who had a goal and two assists, got into things in another fracas. Then there was Gryba, who scrapped with Luke Schenn, who didn’t like a hit he’d laid on Chychrun.

“Sometimes those guys are stars in their own right, too,” coach Todd McLellan said of the Hendricks-Letestu-Kassian line. “The way they grind it out, the way they penalty kill. You have to have a whole bunch of different types of ingredients to come out with wins in this league and as the year drags on games get heavier and harder, those guys become even more important.”

BUILDING BLOCKS

There’s no way to say with any certainty what a game like Wednesday means in the bigger picture because being willing to answer the bell physically and stand up for each other is just one aspect of what successful teams tend to do. I can’t put numbers to it. You still win games by scoring more goals than the other team and, most nights, skilled players like Connor McDavid are going to have a bigger impact on who wins and who loses.

What my old eyes have told me while watching and writing about hockey over the years, though, is that what we saw from “lesser lights” like Hendricks, Letestu, Kassian and Gryba against the Coyotes is one of the essential building blocks and an aspect that allows the men higher up on the marque to better do what they do. It matters. 

Mix the kind of skill the Oilers possess with a heaping helping of stubbornness and willingness to stand up for one another and you get what we have here – the Oilers are now 18-12-5 for 41 points 35 games into the season and look like playoff contenders at long last. They aren’t there yet, but Wednesday was another one of the steps the Oilers must take along the way – a big one.

It’s a no-shortcuts journey down the road to contention and success this team hasn’t travelled in a very, very long time. Make that trek together, truly together from the top of the roster to the bottom, and this edition of the Oilers will get there. 

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 Space Pants
December 22 2016, 04:20PM
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Beaumatters wrote:

I wonder how big the lynch mob would have been had Hendricks taken OEL into the boards like that? To me, THAT was the cheap shot. As for Button's, I liked him when he was Calgary's GM.

Button did a fan-fkn-tastic job destroying that team when he was GM.

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#52 916oiler
December 22 2016, 04:43PM
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A+ for Kassian on that play. Love how he knows what's coming and pops Duclair. Talk about a lesson haha

And ya what about that takedown from OEL on Hendricks?? Reverse that and Hendricks has a hearing. Screw OEL, that was a dirty play!

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#53 Retired Secret Agent
December 22 2016, 04:43PM
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Danger Pay wrote:

http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/video/will-any-additional-discipline-be-handed-out-to-oilers-and-coyotes~1021503

Thanks for the link. I love the part where Button says Zach is chicken to punch Doan. Let's see, Zach has a hold of Doan's jersey with his left hand and the moronic zebra has a hold of Zach's cocked and ready right arm. Probably lucky for Doan.

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#54 ATL Oiler
December 22 2016, 04:46PM
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Paging Serious Gord, you're missing again? If you want to gift us at ON anything stay away. Merry Christmas you ignorant Oiler hating bastard!

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#55 No.9
December 22 2016, 04:56PM
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ATL Oiler wrote:

Paging Serious Gord, you're missing again? If you want to gift us at ON anything stay away. Merry Christmas you ignorant Oiler hating bastard!

LMAO! Hehehehe...

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#56 ubermiguel
December 22 2016, 05:38PM
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I've always said Kassian's the guy you love only when he's on your team. His biggest improvement is he's not crossing the line into suspension or match penalty territory, he's keeping it pretty level while still agitating.

One key with Kassian, Maroon and Letestu is they have some skill so they can contribute on offence. This is what functional toughness looks like, and it's been sorely lacking for years.

Edit: I should acknowledge Kassian got a match penalty last night, but that was objectively a BS call.

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#57 Spydyr
December 22 2016, 05:52PM
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It about time the Oiler players started to arrive at the scene of a cheap shot with ill intent instead of checking to see if their skates are tied. So long overdue.

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#58 Gravis82
December 22 2016, 06:27PM
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OilBlood wrote:

Pack mentality is what you get when you remove a player that embodies the exact opposite of that in Taylor Hall

Love this team, love that they are playing as a TEAM

Still not firing on all cylinders but we will get there

LETS GO OILERS

What do you have against Taylor Hall?

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#59 Frank Rizza
December 22 2016, 06:36PM
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Derian Hatcher wrote:

What...you didn't like it when Hall skated away from scrums while Nuge was getting facewashed? Being a little hard on Taylor aren't you?

"So that what it's like to have teammates come to your aid, who knew?"

Yup!!!!! I never needed anyone to tell me about Halls character. I never needed to be in the room to know that something was missing there. I never needed Gregor or anyone else to tell me that I didn't know the man and couldn't comment on team chemistry in the room. I watched every minute, literally, of Halls career in Edmonton. I never knew the man but Too many times I saw the man get facewashed and his teammates not do a damn thing. Too many times I saw teammates get facewashed and Hallsy seemed to be always checking his laces. I saw a guy smash his stick on the ice in disgust after not getting a pass on a two on one. He's a very very good hockey player but he's not a franchise guy. He's not a guy that could bring a team together and I am positive that the new coach and new management figured this out pretty quick last year.

Just for the record I was never a Hall hater. I like every player that plays on my team and when he was on it I wanted him to succeed just like I wanted the team to succeed. I was never disappointed when I first heard about the trade last June. I followed Larson a little and watched him own both Hall and Mcdavid in the two games the Oilers played the devils last year. I thought we might have been able to get more at the time but I knew the team would be better after the trade ... and guess what... they are! I will "lose" a trade any day if it makes them team better.

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#60 Total Points
December 22 2016, 07:07PM
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Frank Rizza wrote:

Yup!!!!! I never needed anyone to tell me about Halls character. I never needed to be in the room to know that something was missing there. I never needed Gregor or anyone else to tell me that I didn't know the man and couldn't comment on team chemistry in the room. I watched every minute, literally, of Halls career in Edmonton. I never knew the man but Too many times I saw the man get facewashed and his teammates not do a damn thing. Too many times I saw teammates get facewashed and Hallsy seemed to be always checking his laces. I saw a guy smash his stick on the ice in disgust after not getting a pass on a two on one. He's a very very good hockey player but he's not a franchise guy. He's not a guy that could bring a team together and I am positive that the new coach and new management figured this out pretty quick last year.

Just for the record I was never a Hall hater. I like every player that plays on my team and when he was on it I wanted him to succeed just like I wanted the team to succeed. I was never disappointed when I first heard about the trade last June. I followed Larson a little and watched him own both Hall and Mcdavid in the two games the Oilers played the devils last year. I thought we might have been able to get more at the time but I knew the team would be better after the trade ... and guess what... they are! I will "lose" a trade any day if it makes them team better.

Watching NJ and Flyers game. Devils up 3-0, with Hall making a great play for the third goal.Great offensive skill.

In the second period Hall cross checked a player who got up and punched Hall who didnt respond with a push or anything but looked at his laces.

Hall has not changed, great skills but does not fight for himself or other team members.

That is why he not here and the Oilers are a better TEAM.

He checks just like Eberle, a lot of fly bys

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#61 Jaxon
December 22 2016, 08:16PM
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Lucic, Maroon, Nurse, Kassian, Hendricks, Gryba - I'm not sure many teams can match that top 6 in toughness.

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#62 Anton CP
December 22 2016, 09:45PM
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Wish for a quick recovery by Nurse.

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#63 Gravis82
December 22 2016, 10:40PM
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Total Points wrote:

Watching NJ and Flyers game. Devils up 3-0, with Hall making a great play for the third goal.Great offensive skill.

In the second period Hall cross checked a player who got up and punched Hall who didnt respond with a push or anything but looked at his laces.

Hall has not changed, great skills but does not fight for himself or other team members.

That is why he not here and the Oilers are a better TEAM.

He checks just like Eberle, a lot of fly bys

McDavid doesnt do these things either, and I assume you are fine with that, right?

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#64 Reg Dunlop
December 22 2016, 10:59PM
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Gravis82 wrote:

McDavid doesnt do these things either, and I assume you are fine with that, right?

Hold on a second. Are you seriously saying that McDavid is a selfish, immature, entitled brat like Taylor Hall? Time to put down the spreadsheet and watch some Oiler hockey. They have a really good team this year, unlike the last few years when Hall led the team to lotto finishes.

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#65 M22
December 22 2016, 11:17PM
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Frank Rizza wrote:

Yup!!!!! I never needed anyone to tell me about Halls character. I never needed to be in the room to know that something was missing there. I never needed Gregor or anyone else to tell me that I didn't know the man and couldn't comment on team chemistry in the room. I watched every minute, literally, of Halls career in Edmonton. I never knew the man but Too many times I saw the man get facewashed and his teammates not do a damn thing. Too many times I saw teammates get facewashed and Hallsy seemed to be always checking his laces. I saw a guy smash his stick on the ice in disgust after not getting a pass on a two on one. He's a very very good hockey player but he's not a franchise guy. He's not a guy that could bring a team together and I am positive that the new coach and new management figured this out pretty quick last year.

Just for the record I was never a Hall hater. I like every player that plays on my team and when he was on it I wanted him to succeed just like I wanted the team to succeed. I was never disappointed when I first heard about the trade last June. I followed Larson a little and watched him own both Hall and Mcdavid in the two games the Oilers played the devils last year. I thought we might have been able to get more at the time but I knew the team would be better after the trade ... and guess what... they are! I will "lose" a trade any day if it makes them team better.

^ ^ Very well said. This should be the final word on Taylor Hall- unfortunately, it won't be. There will always be fans (and bloggers) who are fooled by his stats and skating ability, and see an elite player. He ain't elite - he just looks that way.

I can't improve on what you've said in your post. 100% in agreement.

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#66 tron
December 23 2016, 12:07AM
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Gravis82 wrote:

McDavid doesnt do these things either, and I assume you are fine with that, right?

Hall is nowhere near what McDavid is. Somehow you have failed to notice this.

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#67 Gravis82
December 23 2016, 12:23AM
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@Reg Dunlop

You obviously frequently jump to large unfounded conclusions based on little direct causal evidence to support these conclusions. The question is, why do you do that?

Because its too scary to admit that maybe Hall wasn't the selfish immature brat etc that you described him to be...because if he wasn't that would mean Chiarelli is just as clueless as the rest of them and is leading the team astray. And that, my friend, is way too painful to consider. Its just so much easier to blame things irrationally on Hall. Falling back on, "oh, well we were bad last year and good this year it must have been Hall" , is naive and short sighted. So many other things have changed, and that includes the Hall trade. But any changes due to the Hall trade are surely because we now have a defenseman rather than have removed a toxic player.

I have watched hockey religiously for over two decades, and not once did I see Taylor Hall as the player you described. He is a great player, that is not a fighter, and probably not a leader, but a stellar winger, and ideally is placed on the 2nd line on a TOP 3 team andsurrounded by the right complementary line mates. He is not cut from the Mark Messier cloth, which was what everyone expected for some reason.

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#68 Gravis82
December 23 2016, 12:37AM
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tron wrote:

Hall is nowhere near what McDavid is. Somehow you have failed to notice this.

Somehow you have completely failed to understand what I was saying.

All those things that people wish Hall did, McDavid also does not do. Many players do not do them. Why did we expect Hall do to them is the question, and not the others?

The team was lacking complimentary players.

The Hall trade may have even been good, but it wasn't because an immature player was gone, its because we now have a real D-man.

I seriously have no idea where all the Hall hatred ever came from. Sure he may not have acted like the perfect blue collar hockey player on the ice, but really how much of that perception is actually related to being a good hockey player between the whistles. That's what matters. If you want someone who is good after the whistles in the scrums, maybe the play was to get a D-corps that could always step in so Hall wouldn't have to. Its called a balanced lineup. Which we now have. And it is good. But I would argue that it could have been better.

I refused to accept mediocrity here. I want a team that dominates the league. That Hall trade gave us a pretty good one. A pretty good one wont win us a cup. Having two all world drivers on the top two lines, probably would have. Chia took the easy way out to building the defense, anyone could have traded Hall for Larson.

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#69 Oilerchild77
December 23 2016, 08:00AM
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Gravis82 wrote:

McDavid doesnt do these things either, and I assume you are fine with that, right?

First off. McDavid is 10 times the player Hall is. Second, he doesn't do those things very often, but when he does, he has the guts to look opposing players in the eye. He's done it a few times. Connor isn't afraid of the opposition the way Hall is.

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#70 ATL Oiler
December 23 2016, 08:23AM
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@Gravis82

McDavid leading the league in points and some how you found a way to compare? Be smarter ...

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